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1997 In Review: Tatarstan Faces Challenges

By Rimzil Valiev, Rim Sitdikov and Guelnar Khasanova

Kazan, 30 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- In 1997, the Russian Republic of Tatarstan was faced with a variety of enormous challenges.

Its priorities were to press on with reforms so as to pull the economy out of crisis, to expand trade links with other Russian regions and foreign countries, and to strengthen the republic's independence and statehood.

Less tangibly, but no less importantly, the authorities in Kazan were seeking to foster support for the idea of a national-cultural revival among Tatars.

Generally, it can be said that Tatarstan has made progress on all these fronts. In the economy, production levels began to grow as a spirit of independent enterprise took hold. Examples of this are the assembly of Chevrolet Blazer off-road vehicles in Alabuga, the production of buses in Yar Challi, and the assembly of Czech-designed Karosa buses in Zelenodol.

There was also the decision to go ahead with the production of TU-214 and TU-324 passenger jets in cooperation with the central Russian authorities. Also on the aviation scene, Kazan helicopters and fixed-wing models participated in international arms fairs in Abu-Dabi and Malaysia with Tatarstan present as an independent participant.

In the petroleum and chemical enterprises, Tatarstan managed to increase oil production, despite the continuing decline in overall Russian oil output figures.

As to investment, foreign countries, mainly Western, invested $180 million in Tatarstan in 1997 -- almost three times as much as the previous year.

Growth in exports overall was 7 percent, with petroleum at 55 percent of the total volume of exports. Oil products and synthetic rubber remained the leading export items.

On the urban renewal front, 1997 saw the start of construction on the metro in Kazan. Ramshackle habitations in the center of the capital were demolished and large-scale reconstruction of the city's historical core took place.

In the Kazan Kremlin, the construction of Qol Sherif Mosque and reconstruction of Blagoveshchenskii Cathedral were continued. In Kazan alone more than 3,200 families moved from slums into new apartments.

In agriculture, farmers set a Tatar and Russian productivity record -- a grain harvest of 37 centners per hectare (55 bushels per acre).

However, not all developments were positive.

In defense-related and other large enterprises, the year saw plummeting financial health. Terminal, Elekon, KamAZ and other enterprises teetered close to collapse, while non-payment of business partners for delivered goods, especially for energy, gas and petroleum, became standard practice, as did barter.

To illustrate the general situation, one can note that the KamAZ truck concern's debt to the federal budget reached $170 million, and that in September deliveries of gas to Tatarstan were blocked by Gazprom because of non-payment.

Tatarstan's intention to pay its debts to Gazprom by the end of the year was not fulfilled.

On a brighter note, shares of Tatneft, Tatarstan's petrochemical enterprises, and other companies debuted on the stock exchanges of Europe and America.

Tatarstan opened representation offices in Turkey, Cyprus and Kazakhstan. It signed agreements with the Ingush and Chechen Republics. Chechnya opened a representation office in Tatarstan.

Tatarstan also signed agreements with Orenburg, Saratov and other regions of Russia, and integration with Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine and other countries was supported.

In 1997 there was opposition in Tatarstan to Russia's new passport which does not include the holder's republic or ethnicity.

Tatarstan intends to adopt its own law on citizenship and protect its status as a sovereign republic. On December 27 the Tatar Parliament decided to delay discussion of the citizenship and passport issue until its next session in the new year.

The Second World Congress of Tatars also became a main event in Tatarstan's cultural and spiritual life in 1997. During the proceedings, the Congress decided to switch the Tatar language to the Latin alphabet.

Additionally, the Musa Jelil Opera and Ballet Theater and Symphonic Orchestra of Tatarstan had successful tours in Western Europe. World-renowned ballet star Irek Mukhamedov gave performances on the Kazan stage. Final competitions of the European command chess championship were also held in November in Kazan.

Furthermore, broadcast of radio programs from Kazan on the short-wave frequency band started, as did the re-transmission of Radio Liberty programs in Tatar through local radio channels.

Kazan historian, philosopher and archaeologist Mirqasyim Usmanov was elected president of the Orientalists' Society of Russia.

At the Tatarstan Parliament plenary session on December 27, the head of the Republic, President Mintimer Shaimiev, said that the coming year will not be easier than 1997 and the financial difficulties will increase, but that Tatarstan should not stop its economic reforms and would aim to maintain the living standards of the population.