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Tatar-Bashkir Report: May 25, 2004

25 May 2004
Tatar Internet Promoters Make Their Organization Official
The international public organization of "Tatar Internet" held its first official meeting and a roundtable on 18 May in Kazan with the support of the World Tatar Congress and Russia's Federal National Cultural Tatar Autonomy, RFE/RL's Kazan Bureau reported the same day. The organization, which has been unofficially operating for the last two years, was established to promote Tatar resources on the web and solving technical problems pertaining to the publication of material in the Tatar language.

Aside from discussing organizational issues, Tatar web promoters decided to appeal to Tatarstan's government to create the republic's first domains -- .ts and .tat.

According to Rimzil Weli, the chairman of Russia's Tatar national-cultural autonomy organization, "besides the existing technical difficulties with finding a single Tatar script for web publications, the Tatar segment of the Internet is also experiencing a lack of high-quality ethnic content."

The Tatar Internet organization also resolved to elect its leader by means of an Internet vote. The founder of the online publication "Tatar Gazette," Irek Bikkinin, and the Tatar editor of the republican-government owned, Elfie Minnullina, are considered the top candidates for this seat.

President Offers Views On Future Chechen President
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev told Interfax on 19 May that there are "enough decent people in Chechnya and beyond its borders who could lead the republic and represent it as an equal member of the Russian Federation." He suggested that suitable candidates to replace assassinated pro-Moscow President Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov exist "among the parliamentary deputies, businessmen, and the Chechen intelligentsia." The Tatar president suggested that the new Chechen president must enjoy authority among a majority of Chechens and be acceptable to federal authorities.

"When choosing the future Chechen leader, we will have to avoid basing [the selection] upon who has the most machine guns and militant groups," Shaimiev said. He added that only free elections -- as an indicator of a democratic society's level of development -- can serve such a purpose. Shaimiev also emphasized that, in light of Chechen traditions, the republic should grant a special role to its legislative assembly, which will also have to "become a real support for the future president."

Tatarstan's Media Report Pressure From Local Bureaucrats
Addressing journalists and editors from major media outlets on Press Day in Tatarstan on 19 May, State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin said the republic has one of the largest media markets in the Russian Federation, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. More than 800 media outlets are registered in the republic, he said, and three in four of them are privately owned.

The head of the regional and municipal newspapers association, Nina Kirkina, told the same meeting that local newspapers in Tatarstan's regions are suffering from a lack of freedom, since they are funded by local authorities interested in loyal -- rather than independent -- media. In response, Mukhametshin urged journalists to report cases of pressure from local bureaucrats and take legal action where appropriate.

The republican government plans to halt direct subsidies to the official media and replace them with competitive grant processes.

Federation Council Official Promotes Project On Region Mergers
Federation Council Committee on Federation Affairs and Federal Policies Chairman Aleksandr Kazakov backed on 20 May the idea of dividing Russia into 28 governorates, "Kommersant" reported on 22 May. In the proposal developed by the Economic Development and Trade Ministry's Council on Studying Production Forces, Tatarstan would merge with Ulyanovsk Oblast, with the administrative center in Kazan. Several Federation Council members have supported the idea. Kazakov commented that national-cultural peculiarities "need to be taken into account but not at all in the first instance."

Tatar Constitutional Court Chairman Saifikhan Nefiev told the daily that "the ideas of Russia's reorganization can be seen as an attack on the constitutional norms of Russia's basic law." Nefiev said the Russian Constitution clearly describes the order of the founding and merger of subjects that can only be changed through referendums. He added that the existing constitutional norms are most suitable and there is no need to conduct unification of the state.

Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko believes that only federation subjects with other subjects within them can be merged, like the recent merger of Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug and Perm Oblast into Perm Krai, the daily reported.

Crimean Tatars Mark 60th Anniversary Of Deportation
Some 30,000 Crimean Tatars gathered on 18 May in Simferopol to mark the 60th anniversary of their deportation from Crimea, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 May, citing Crimean Tatar Mejlis spokesperson Lilya Muslimova. Participants appealed to the Ukrainian and Crimean authorities to pass a law on the status of the Crimean Tatar people granting them the right to self-determination and a law on restoring the rights of those deported and members of their families to return to the places where they previously lived and providing compensation for confiscated property.

Crimean Tatar Mejlis Chairman Mustafa Jemilev said at the meeting that it is necessary to ensure that "the Crimean Tatar language, as the language of peninsula's indigenous people, is one of the [Crimean] autonomy's official languages. It is necessary that Crimean Tatars are represented in all elected, executive, and judicial bodies proportionate to their number." The meeting participants also demanded that education and TV broadcasting in Crimean Tatar be increased.

The same day, the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada discussed but failed to pass the draft laws promoted by the Crimean Tatars. Jemilev commented that the authorities chose "methods of political provocation for the sake of keeping their power." "So-called Cossack detachments, which are illegal paramilitary units, that constantly provoke conflicts with Crimean Tatars are formed with the silent agreement and approval of the authorities and often under their patronage," Jemilev added.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Investigators Conclude Probe Of 2002 Bashkir Airlines Disaster
The final report on the investigation into the 1 July 2002 midair collision of a Bashkir Airlines passenger jet and a DHL cargo jet over southern Germany (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 July 2002) are to be published on 19 May, "Vremya novostei" reported on 17 May. Meanwhile, Swiss newspapers on 16 May published records of conversations between pilots of the two jets involved in the accident with the air-traffic controller working for the Swiss company Skyguide. "Matin" outlet commented that "the records show that the Russian crew did not precisely follow orders by the Skyguide air-traffic controller and discussion took place in the airliner on what to do." However, "Vremya novostei" commented that according to the record, on the contrary, the crew precisely implemented the order by dispatcher Peter Nielsen, which unfortunately resulted in the collision. The daily also cited Swiss outlets as reporting that Skyguide is prepared to pay $100,000 in compensation for each person killed in the accident. However, the German lawyer who is representing many of the victims' families is reportedly seeking $1.5 million for each victim. However, Skyguide's offer has reportedly been accepted by relatives of 11 members of the Bashkir Airlines crew. The German lawyer also reportedly plans to file suit in a U.S. court on the basis that a telephone line used by Skyguide that was out of order at the time of the accident was installed by a U.S. company. The collision claimed 71 lives, most of them schoolchildren from Bashkortostan.

Skyguide Apologizes For Midair Collision...
The Swiss air-traffic-control service Skyguide agreed on 19 May with the conclusions of the German investigation and accepted its guilt in the 1 July 2002 midair collision over Lake Constance, of a Bashkir Airlines Tu-154 and a DHL Boeing 757 (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 July 2002), Russian news agencies reported. Skyguide General Director Allen Rossier told a press conference in Zurich on 19 May that Skyguide takes full responsibility for its mistakes and offers its apologies to relatives of the 71 victims in the crash. Rossier also apologize in Russian.

The German report said the collision was caused by the actions of an air-traffic controller who ordered the Tu-154 pilots to reduce altitude too late, only 50 seconds before the crash. Dispatcher Peter Nielsen, who was on duty on the night of the collision, was killed on 24 February (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 25 February 2004). Vitalii Kaloev, a Vladikavkaz resident who lost his wife and two children in the collision, was arrested on suspicion of murdering Nielsen (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 March 2004).

The report criticized Skyguide for allowing a single controller to be on duty at night. It noted, however, that pilots of the TU-154 also made "wrong decisions" as they followed instructions by the dispatcher to lose altitude while the automatic collision-prevention system recommended they gain altitude.

...As Does Swiss President
Swiss President Josef Dais on 19 May sent Russian President Vladimir Putin a letter of apology for the midair collision over Lake Constance, Russian agencies reported the same day. He assured Putin that Switzerland will determine who is responsible and take action against them, including criminal. Dais also said that his country making every effort to pay "fitting compensation" quickly and without bureaucratic obstacles to relatives of the victims.

Religious Leaders Say Religions Misrepresented In Secondary Schools
The Russian Interreligious Council appealed to Russian Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko to allow secondary-school students to study religious culture from the viewpoints of religious organizations, reported on 19 May, citing Interfax. The letter was signed by Moscow Patriarchate Foreign Relations Department head Metropolitan Kirill, Russian Council of Muftis Chairman Rawil Gainetdin, Russian Central Muslims Spiritual Directorate Chairman Telget Tajetdin, Caucasus Muslims Coordinating Center Chairman Islail Berdiev, Russian chief Rabbis Adolf Shaevich and Berl Lazar, and Russian Buddhist leader Damba Ayusheev. In it, the leaders said information about the history and values of world religions in school courses is fragmentary, tendentious, and misrepresented. Graduates know almost nothing about the values and religious culture of their own and neighboring peoples in Russia, the leaders argued. Information about religions in schools is currently represented from an atheistic viewpoint, they added, and proposed that religions be taught in secondary schools with the participation of religious organizations.

Ufa, Kazan Take Step Toward Each Other
Bashkir presidential administration head Radii Khebirov met on 19 May with his counterpart from Tatarstan, Eqzem Gobeidullin, in Tatarstan's Aqtanysh Raion, RosBalt reported on 20 May, citing the Bashkir presidential press service. According to the service's official report, the "stage-by-stage implementation of the federal law on general principles of the formation of local self-government bodies" and a "wide range of issues concerning bilateral cooperation of the neighboring republics" were on the agenda. The agency cited an unidentified source close to Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov as saying the officials also exchanged opinions on the issue of the status of the Tatar language in Bashkortostan and "other issues that have caused tension between the neighboring republics." The source said the meeting was initiated by the Tatar side and a private conversation between President Rakhimov and Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev in Moscow during the inauguration of President Vladimir Putin last week initiated the event.

Ufa Seeks To Maintain Control Over Airline
Prime Minister Rafael Baidavletov told reporters on 19 May that at least 50 percent of Bashkir Airlines shares should remain the Bashkir government's property, "Kommersant" reported on 20 May. Baidavletov said Moscow's demand that the airline's 100-percent stake become federal property is "unfair, as the republic has invested large sums in the development of the airline and [the] airport." He said that the construction of the international terminal in the Ufa airport cost the republican budget $10 million. In addition, the republic supplied jets with navigational equipment and purchased several Tu-154s for the company. Baidavletov said republican authorities will insist that the republic remain among the owners of Bashkir Airlines and the Ufa airport, adding that the republic can claim 60 percent of the shares.

Bashkir Airlines owns 12 jets, including nine Tu-154M and three Tu-134. The company's turnover the previous year totaled 1.2 billion rubles ($41.5 million). The privatization of Bashkir Airlines is slated for December.

International Oil And Gas Exhibition Opens In Ufa
Over 250 domestic and foreign companies are taking part in an international exhibition titled "Gas. Oil. Technologies" that opened in Ufa on 18 May, RosBalt reported the same day. Thirteen foreign companies from Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, and other countries are represented at the forum aimed at exposing new achievements in oil production and processing, advances in the petrochemical and energy sectors, and in oil and gas transportation. President Murtaza Rakhimov, Prime Minister Rafael Baidavletov, and Russian Oil and Gas Industrialists Union President Gennadii Shmal took part in the opening ceremony. On 19 May, Linda Cross, the United Kingdom's consul-general to Yekaterinburg, is to arrive in Ufa to attend the exhibition. Cross is scheduled to meet with Minister of Foreign Economic Affairs and Trade Boris Kolbin.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Plan To Reduce Russian Entities To 28 Proposed...
Federation Council Committee Chairman Aleksandr Kazakov backed on 20 May a suggested reform of the system of Russia's territorial entities to reduce the number to 28, reported the same day. According to the plan, the Central Russian Governorate would unite Mordovia and Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast with the center in Nizhnii Novgorod; the Volga Vyatka Governorate would include the Republic of Marii El, Chavashia, and Kirov Oblast with the center in Kirov; the Volga Kama Governorate would comprise Tatarstan and Ulyanovsk Oblast with the center in Kazan; the Central Volga Governorate would merge Penza, Samara, and Saratov oblasts with the center in Samara; the West Ural Governorate would unite Udmurtia Republic and Perm Oblast with the center in Perm; the South Ural Governorate would be comprised of Bashkortostan and Orenburg Oblast with the center in Ufa; the East Ural Governorate would merge Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk, and Kurgan oblasts with the center in Yekaterinburg; and the Ob Irtysh Governorate would be comprised of Tyumen Oblast and Khanty-Mansii and Yamal-Nenets autonomous okrugs.

The authors of the proposed plan said new entities can be temporarily formed without changing the Russian Constitution and can be governed by a governor-coordinator appointed by the Russian president in turn from heads of merged regions. They also added that the merger should be held only after being approved by referendums.

...As Volga District Ideologist Specifies Requirements For Merger Plans
The head of the Volga Federal District's Center for Strategic Studies, Sergei Gradirovskii, told Regnum on 21 May that the existing division of Russia into federation entities is outdated, as it is a heritage of the Soviet Union. Gradirovskii also said there are no satisfactory variations for reform in this sector. A concept of such a reform should target implementation of national economic goals and should take into account demographic trends, he said. It should also reflect cultural and religious peculiarities of the regions. And finally, possible military conflicts also shouldn't be ignored and variants for redistribution of troops must be provided, according to Gradirovskii.

Ethnic Discrimination In Volga District Discussed In Nizhnii
Caucasophobia and xenophobia are widespread in the Volga Federal District, participants at a 15-17 May conference on ethnic discrimination in the district in Nizhnii Novgorod concluded, Regnum reported on 22 May. It was reported at the forum organized by the Moscow Human Rights Bureau that Nizhnii Novgorod is Russia's third-leading city in terms of the number of skinheads, with some 2,500. Participants asserted that the police often consider skinheads their assistants, referring specifically to the incident in the Udmurt capital Izhevsk where skinheads broke up on 23 February a demonstration against the war in Chechnya. There have also been displays of anti-Semitism in the district, panelists noted. A synagogue was vandalized in Nizhnii Novgorod. In the Chavash capital Cheboksary, anti-Semitic literature was openly sold at the central market. In Saratov Oblast, anti-Semitic slogans were for the first time used during the 2003 oblast duma elections. Discrimination against Roma is also common in the district, according to human rights activists, who said anti-Roma comments are regularly broadcast by the Bashkir Vsya Ufa television station.

Prosecutor-General's Office Cancels Criminal Case Against Saratov Oblast Governor
The Prosecutor-General's Office canceled on 20 May the decision by the Saratov Oblast prosecutor's office to file a criminal case against oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Interfax reported the same day. The Prosecutor-General's Office said the decision to initiate a criminal case against Ayatskov was premature, as financial documents of the oblast administration were not audited in full and procedural violations took place. On 17 May, the Saratov Oblast prosecutor's office charged Ayatskov with exceeding and misuse of authority. Ayatskov was accused of paying 70 million rubles from the oblast budget in custom duties for 100 Case harvesters imported in 1998 by a private agricultural company that was unable to cover those duties following that year's default. The governor was also accused of violations during privatization of state-run companies by his close relatives.

Senior prosecutor of the Prosecutor-General's Volga Federal District Department Nikolai Sorshnev told RosBalt on 24 May that the Prosecutor-General's Office began its own probe of the case that is to be completed within three to 10 days.

Prosecutors Accuse Heads Of Saratov Oil, Gas Company...
The Saratov city prosecutor's office plans to file charges against Saratovneftegaz General Director Stanislav Tyurev, investigator Andrei Morozov told Interfax on 21 May. Subdivisions of Saratovneftegaz, a TNK-BP subsidiary, have been producing oil since 2000 from four deposits in Saratov Oblast without required licenses. The production caused damages of 160 million rubles ($5.5. million) to the state. On 19 May, former Saratovneftegaz General Director Aleksandr Kosyak, who occupied the post in 2000-02, was arrested.

...Question Ulyanovsk Administration
The Ulyanovsk prosecutor's office announced that money paid by Ulyanovsk residents for municipal services were illegally spent by the city administration on the purchase of furniture, computers, and repairs of the administration office, Regnum reported on 20 May. The audit of the administration's financial activities held at the request of the energy provider Ulyanovskenergo revealed that the administration in so doing misused 33 million rubles ($1.1 million) the previous year and in the first three months of the current year. The result was the city having its heat cut off on 14 April when the temperature was only 3 degrees.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova