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Russia Report: March 6, 2002

6 March 2002, Volume 4, Number 8
Not only the Kremlin but also voters are facing a difficult choice in upcoming elections in the republics of Tuva and Karelia and in Lipetsk and Penza oblasts, "Izvestiya" argues on 5 March. In Tuva, the daily suggests, the interests of the local elite are locked up in one strong authoritarian leader, President Sherig-ool Oorzhak. And while the republic has stagnated under Oorzhak's rule since 1990, "his departure would lead to a shake-up of the entire bureaucratic and economic structure in the republic." Therefore, Moscow must tread carefully, the daily concludes. In Penza Oblast, the choices are likewise not easy. The main contenders are incumbent Governor Vasilii Bochkarev and State Duma deputy Viktor Ilyukhin. Bochkarev reportedly considers himself "the 'master' of his oblast" and has attracted the disapproval of presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko. Ilyukhin, on the other hand, is a hard-line leftist and has opposed the Kremlin for many years. The daily concludes that it is possible that the Kremlin will be forced to support the old regional elite in a number of regions because of the "deficit of new cadres" and "opposition from the local political elite" to change at the top. JAC

According to "Obshchaya gazeta" (no. 9), a draft program laying out a strategy of development for Siberia, if approved, would give presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Leonid Drachevskii "real power based on economic levers." According to the weekly, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin both oppose the program that Drachevskii's office drafted. And Drachevskii has reportedly now appealed to President Vladimir Putin for his approval. The program would introduce tariff privileges for Siberian enterprises to compensate them for their higher transportation and energy costs. In addition, revenues from the tax on the extraction of natural resources would be used to boost the competitiveness of the Siberian economy. Drachevskii argues that such measures are needed -- otherwise the region, whose population is already dwindling, will become backward. The weekly noted that the cabinet's lack of support for Drachevskii's program might be interpreted as a direct challenge to Putin, who had earlier asked that a special economic program for Siberia be created. JAC

Legislators in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic approved a bill on 4 March amending and changing 11 articles of the republican constitution -- a measure designed to bring the latter document into compliance with the federal constitution, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Legislators repealed the stipulation banning the storage of spent nuclear fuel or the placement of any weapons of mass destruction on the republic's territory. Sakha legislators had resisted making the changes in the constitution for some months last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). However, the republic's prosecutor, Nikolai Polyatinskii, was not pleased with their effort and said he is going to recommend that Sakha President Vyacheslav Shtyrov seek to dissolve the legislature. According to Interfax-Eurasia, he said that five laws making changes and amendments to the constitution adopted during 2001-02 introduced new violations of the federal constitution. JAC

Following the passage in its first reading of Tatarstan's new constitution in the republican legislature, State Duma Legislation Committee head (Union of Rightist Forces) Pavel Krasheninnikov has declared that some paragraphs of the draft constitution contradict laws crafted by his committee, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 4 March. Specifically, he said stipulations regarding republican citizenship may spark new protests by prosecutors. Tatarstan's legislature passed in its first reading on 28 February a bill amending the republic's constitution. According to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau, the most heated disputes were devoted to the 1994 power-sharing treaty between Russia and Tatarstan, as well as citizenship in Tatarstan, which is separate from citizenship in Russia, according to the bureau. "Izvestiya" reported on 1 March that the new version still defines Tatarstan as a sovereign state. Tatarstan's president, Mintimer Shaimiev, said at the legislative session that "we realize that some will not like the mention of sovereignty in the Constitution of Tatarstan. However, the Russian Constitution recognizes republics as states. Consequently, it is impossible to reject the notion of sovereignty either hypothetically or in practice." In addition, in the new version, Tatarstan also retains its own citizenship, but "citizens of the Republic of Tatarstan are at the same time citizens of the Russian Federation." According to Shaimiev, the notion of "citizenship of Tatarstan" is symbolic, linked with the fact that Tatarstan is acknowledged as a state but regulates no relations in reality. A second reading is slated for late March or early April. JAC

According to "Vek" on 22 February, Tatarstan's new constitution does not give Tatarstan the right to its own separate judicial system or the right to conclude international treaties. And Tatarstan also rephrased its sections regarding its "association" with the Russian Federation. In exchange for these concessions, according to the weekly, the republic won economic benefits, such as some 12.8 billion rubles ($420 million) earmarked in the federal budget for Tatarstan's socioeconomic development in 2002. In comparison, a development program for the entire Southern federal district of Russia was funded at the level of only 600 million rubles, according to the weekly. JAC

Amur Oblast Governor Leonid Korotkov issued a decree on 27 February pertaining to the opening of an office in Blagoveshchensk for registering visas to China, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Korotkov's administration, previously the nearest office for registering for visas was located in Khabarovsk, which was not always convenient for organizations and individuals engaged in foreign economic activities. JAC

Kamchatka Oblast administration announced on 27 February that it will no longer allow new Chinese traders who are not already located in the oblast to sell goods in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, following protests from local businessmen that the traders are "dumping" their goods on local markets, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Colonel Ivan Dankulints, deputy head of the Interior Ministry's regional administration, said: "[W]e are a civilized society, so we cannot let troops on the streets to go after Chinese citizens. Only lawful actions can be implemented. At the moment, we can promise that exclusively Chinese trade districts and markets will no longer exist." JAC

A conference was held in the city of Svobodnyi in Amur Oblast on 5 March to establish the Amur Association of Fathers, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to a press release issued by the oblast administration, the association was created with the goal of raising the role of men in the upbringing of children and also in work with troubled teenagers. The project is being launched in Svobodnyi, but officials hope to replicate throughout the oblast. JAC

Russian and foreign tourists will soon be allowed to attend rocket launches from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Interfax-Northwest reported on 28 February. Oblast administration spokesman Dmitrii Isupov said the project was endorsed by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Arkhangelsk Governor Anatolii Yefremov. VC

The Myasishchev experimental machine-building factory, based in Zhukovskii, near Moscow, is preparing to unveil on 14 March a model of the first vessel designed for space tourism, reported on 1 March. According to, the vessel will be able to carry three passengers and a crew on short-term trips around planet Earth. VC

President Putin has signed a decree dismissing Major General Viktor Yevtushenko from his post as head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate in Bashkortostan, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir service reported on 4 March, citing Bashkortostan's presidential press service. Colonel Igor Chernokov, formerly deputy head of the FSB's directorate in Omsk Oblast, will replace Yevtushenko, according to Interfax-Eurasia. Also on 4 March, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov sacked his deputy prime minister, Midkhat Shakirov, ITAR-TASS reported. Shakirov will be replaced by Engels Kulmukhametov, formerly head of the Federal Tax Police Service's branch in Bashkortostan. JAC

The mayor of Petrozavodsk, Andrei Demin, announced on 1 March that he plans to introduce an experimental program for alternative military service, RFE/RL's Petrozavodsk correspondent reported on 4 March. Demin plans to offer no less than 300 spots for young men seeking to declare themselves conscientious objectors. He is also planning to suggest that the term of alternative service be two and a half years. A federal bill on alternative military service is expected to be considered by the State Duma this session. JAC

The head of the Karelia Republic, Sergei Katanandov, told Interfax-Northwest on 2 March that he intends to seek a second term in office in elections scheduled for 28 April. State Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Artur Myaki also intends to run, according to the agency. The Karelian branch of Unified Russia announced on 1 March that it will support Katanandov in the elections. JAC

Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed signed a decree on 27 February naming nine new deputy governors, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Lebed dismissed all of his previous deputies on 28 January and announced a competition for their positions. According to, local analysts, who had predicted that the dismissals were merely a pretext for Lebed to introduce new people from Norilsk Nickel into his team, turned out to be correct. Lebed and the leadership of Taimyr Autonomous Okrug have been battling over control of the region's tax revenues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002). The okrug is headed by former Norilsk Nickel head Aleksandr Khloponin, and the okrug's legislature is headed by another former Norilsk Nickel executive, Vladimir Sitnov. The legislature has spearheaded efforts to free the okrug from the krai's economic authority. RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported last year that soon after he was elected, Khloponin told corporations registered in Taimyr to pay their taxes there rather than to Krasnoyarsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). JAC

Representatives of the Marii political opposition recently took part in a press conference organized in Kazan by the Tatar Public Center, Liberal Russia in Tatarstan, and the public political movement Idel-Ural, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 1 March, citing "Vostochnyi ekspress." Viktor Nikolaev, the chairman of the All-Marii Council and a former Marii El culture minister, said Marii opposition movements are preparing to protest against pressure being exerted on the Marii language and culture in the republic. They are appealing to Tatars, as well as to related Finno-Ugric peoples, for support. Nikolaev said that since Leonid Markelov, who was supported by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, took over as president of the republic, a government body in charge of ethnic issues has been abolished and a major discussion on the necessity of teaching the Marii language has been initiated. In addition, the Education Ministry's National Education Department has also been closed, while its employees have been accused of "spreading the Marii language," he said. The opposition newspaper "Kudo-Kodu" is printed outside the republic with the support of George Soros's Open Society Fund. JAC

Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin dismissed on 5 March the head of Public Television Primore, Andrei Kholenko, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The daily charged that Darkin has started the process of replacing the media personnel who were in place under his predecessor, Yevgenii Nazdratenko. According to the daily, Darkin recently clashed with Nazdratenko, who is now chairman of the State Fishing Committee, on the question of distributing fishing quotas among enterprises in the krai. Subsequently, Darkin, according to the daily, has launched a purge of Nazdratenko loyalists. The governor's press-secretary, Natalya Vstovskaya, who had worked for Nazdratenko for eight years, was also dismissed recently. JAC

At a press conference in Pskov on 27 February, when asked whether the recent arrest of a local legislator was linked to an upcoming election in which the legislator was participating, Pskov Oblast prosecutor Nikolai Lepikhin said that "prosecutorial offices fulfill political orders all the time," adding that he does not exclude the possibility that "the Prosecutor's Office was carrying out the political aims of the local elite," reported. However, he added that his office "investigates criminal matters independently of who provides the materials." JAC

Deputies in Tver Oblast's legislature voted on 1 March to approve amendments to the oblast's charter, bringing it into conformity with the federal legislation, reported. In addition, the bill lengthens the term in office of the governor, oblast legislators, and election commission members from four years to five. JAC


By Jolyon Naegele

Across Siberia, small, traditionally nomadic ethnic groups have been fighting a losing battle for decades, if not centuries, against encroaching Russian settlement and the ensuing pressures of assimilation, economic development, and alcoholism. The collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago resulted in new hardships as cradle-to-grave socialism gave way to dog-eat-dog Wild East capitalism. A case in point is one of Russia's least developed regions, Evenk Autonomous Okrug, a vast area of more than three-quarters of a million (767,600) square kilometers, nearly as large as Turkey, inhabited by some 20,000 people -- 8,000 of them Evenks. The remainder are settlers from elsewhere in Russia who arrived in several waves -- the first with the founding of the settlement of Vanavara in 1921.

During the economic upheavals in Russia during the 1990s, many residents left the region for more populated districts far to the south, leaving behind a decimated, formerly nomadic population no longer able to survive in the taiga and devastated by rampant alcoholism. Pavlina Brzakova, a Czech doctoral candidate in anthropology at Prague's Charles University, has made seven solo expeditions to Evenkia during the past decade. She has been witness to a disappearing way of life, recording the last shamans and traditional singers, interviewing the last nomadic reindeer herders and collecting, translating and publishing folk tales.

According to Brzakova, there are fewer and fewer families who have succeeded in maintaining a herd (through Soviet times) or won back possession of their herds after the collapse of the sovkhozes and kolkhozes (state and collective farms). A program supporting nomads was established in 1991 but soon collapsed when the government realized that the oldest generation was dying out -- mainly people who are no longer able to live in the taiga and can no longer take care of themselves. A center was set up for the elderly at Vanavara to care for former nomads who are too old and infirm to rough it in the taiga. But the nomads inevitably succumbed to depression and alcoholism.

There have been a variety of attempts to encourage Evenks and other small, northern peoples in Siberia to return to a nomadic way of life, with mixed results. Brzakova says the Evenk generation that, theoretically, would be able to return to the region's original nomadic way of life no longer has the experience to do so. Starting in the 1930s, 24-hour-a-day nursery schools and boarding schools were established so that parents could lead a nomadic life and watch over the herds. Meanwhile, their children were educated by Russian teachers and began to speak Russian, not Evenk. After a while, they were no longer able to communicate in any language other than Russian. Brzakova told RFE/RL that "since they've been living in a village, are sedentary and have gone through the whole system of boarding schools until adulthood, they are not capable of orienting themselves in the taiga." She continued: "They haven't even any basic know-how about how to look after the herd [or] what it means to be a nomad. At best, they are able during hunting season to catch fur-bearing animals. That's all they are capable of. And so they spend all summer in the village doing nothing -- at the most fishing and drinking vodka."

Nevertheless, Brzakova says the idea of nomadism is receiving considerable publicity: "Now, within the framework of national revival [among northern nomadic peoples], handbooks on nomadic life are being published. There's a lot of interest all across Siberia in these. These books have been a great success. But of course there's the question of what practical effect they will have. Everyone is buying them, and everyone has the tendency to return to being a nomad because of pressures from the difficult economic situation. They are aware that if they don't look after themselves, no one else will either."

From 1993 to 1994, local authorities made herds of reindeer available. Whoever wanted to raise the reindeer would receive a subsidy in the form of fodder. Evenks would claim a herd, Brzakova says, but not bother to build fences. Inevitably, the herd would wander off, or else the owners would slaughter the herd for food. As a result, Brzakova says a return to a nomadic way of life has proven difficult in all but a few cases, mainly in the area around Tura and Baikit. As Brzakova puts it, "Basically, the nomadic way of life is all but gone, and it appears that attempts to revive it are not succeeding because these attempts are too artificial and people don't really want to" return to the taiga.

Yet, the Czech anthropologist notes, even amid the despondency and alcoholism, there appears a growing sense of national identity among the Evenks. "The Evenks only began expressing themselves [nationally] in the last two years, possibly at the urging of the Yakuts in the [neighboring] Sakha Republic, because the contacts are very close, even though traditionally they were enemies," she says. "But all the same, the fact that the Yakuts are advancing and are organizing all sorts of conferences, it seems that they are having an effect on the Evenks because they are in close proximity to each other and participate in these conferences and are trying to express themselves as a nation."

But Brzakova notes that the wide dispersion of Evenks across northeastern Asia is a handicap. "The Evenks are spread out from the Yenisei [River] eastwards across all of Siberia. Those who live in the Evenk Autonomous Okrug number 8,000, but in total there are about 29,000 Evenks. Ten thousand of them live in China, and 4,000 live in Mongolia. So they really are spread out, which is to their great disadvantage because they have fallen victim to assimilation, in contrast to the Yakuts, who are concentrated in their Republic of Sakha, or Buryats who have their own territory," Brzakova says. "Where they are more compact, they are capable of resisting assimilation and acculturation. In these places, they are more nationalistic [toward the local Russian population]. They won't let Russians work as civil servants and the tendencies for [national] revival are stronger."

Brzakova says the "Evenks want the Evenk Autonomous Okrug to be Evenk." However, she says Evenk nationalism is not expressed in terms of violence but rather in an interest in gaining positions in the local administration -- and in the development of a fledgling Evenk intelligentsia. In addition to publishing a bilingual newspaper, "Evenkiiskaya Zhizn" (Evenk Life), Evenks in the okrug capital, Tura, have published an Evenk grammar book, a songbook, a cookbook, a dictionary of Evenk names, and a catalogue of Evenk artists. Brzakova notes that there aren't many university-educated people among the Evenk intelligentsia. "Within the framework of the national revival, these people are largely the offspring of parents who were nomads, and they remember this, but they don't live in the taiga. Simply put, there is a kind of deep sympathy," she says. "They feel the need to look for their roots, and so they try, for example, to compose songs, even if Evenk songs were originally improvised. They sang what they saw around themselves."

Brzakova acknowledges that the chances of the Evenk intelligentsia helping the region find a way out of its dire economic situation are "very small." But she says young Evenks represent a certain hope for the future. The old nomadic world is probably gone forever, so they must become accustomed to the contemporary world. In Brzakova's words, "They will have to learn to accept responsibility for their decisions." In Soviet days, someone else always assumed responsibility. Now, she says, most Evenks do not know how to deal with the new conditions. They do not understand that living somewhere and having electricity all cost money. They are unable to evaluate their work, or to plan. Instead she says, they live from day to day.

Thus, Brzakova says, it is hardly surprising when the Russian oil company Yukos, which is building up its operations in Evenkia, says it is unable to find suitable Evenks to hire. But, she warns, "We just can't chase them back into the forest."

Jolyon Naegele is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.