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Russia Report: May 10, 2000

10 May 2000, Volume 2, Number 17
At a 6 May meeting of regional electoral commission heads in Moscow, then President-elect Vladimir Putin commented that it would be a "mistake" to deprive the people of the right to elect their own regional leaders, Interfax reported. Describing governors as "an important institution of power," Putin said that central control can be increased without denying the people that right, according to ITAR-TASS. He also argued that appointing governors, rather than electing them, would result in those regional heads feeling less responsible about fulfilling their duties (see also 'RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 23 February 2000). JC

The State Duma Committee for Federal Affairs and Regional Policy recommended on 27 April that the lower house reject the Federation Council proposal whereby governors would be allowed to serve more than two terms in office, Interfax reported. Eight committee members voted in favor of that recommendation, while four abstained. The news agency quoted one committee member, Sergei Reshulskii (Communist), as saying that according to his information, the Federation Council will soon change its position and that Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev himself, whose second term in office is due to expire early next year, will propose that there be no extension of the period that a governor can serve in office. JC

Interfax reported on 28 April that the State Duma approved in the first reading amendments to the budget code, including one that would prohibit the regions from accepting foreign loans. "Kommersant-Daily" commented the next day that this amendment, proposed by the government, is aimed at curbing the sense of "political independence" that developed among the regions when former President Boris Yeltsin granted them the right to borrow from abroad. Under the amended budget code, only federal organs of power would have the right to take out foreign credit (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 19 April 2000). JC

"The Moscow Times" reported on 27 April that then President-elect Putin has ordered the federal government to increase spending on local courts and ensure that regional administrations no longer finance them. The latter provision is required under the constitution but is rarely observed in practice, according to the daily. "Izvestiya" reported on 28 April that the economic program or national development strategy for the next 10 years, which was recently finished by the Center for Strategic Development, calls for making local courts more independent of regional political authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2000). Meanwhile, lawyers in St. Petersburg welcomed Putin's call for more federal funds for local courts, saying that in their city the courts always take the side of Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, in part because they are financially dependent on his administration, "The Moscow Times" reported. However, Yakovlev's spokesman told the daily that the city budget needs to finance the court system, since Moscow does not provide any funding. The federal budget currently owes St. Petersburg more than 16 million rubles ($564,000), intended to cover operational costs, including utility payments and office supplies, according to the head of the St. Petersburg branch of the federal court, Yurii Ryabtsov. In another effort to increase the power of the local judiciary, the Constitutional Court ruled in April that courts in any of the country's 89 regions can delay the enforcement of decrees by the local executive. JAC

A majority of members of the Federation Council are reportedly opposed to State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev's proposal that the Federal Assembly move to St. Petersburg. Interfax on 4 May quoted Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev as saying the proposal was nothing more than "political intrigue." He pointed to the colossal costs such a move would entail at a time when most of the regions lack funds for the sowing season and are unable to pay public-sector workers, including teachers. Tomsk Governor Viktor Kress saw the proposal as aimed at putting pressure on Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to provide a favorable site for a new parliament building in the capital city. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev commented that moving the Federal Assembly to St. Petersburg would have no positive impact on the parliament's work, while speaker of the Khanty Mansii Duma Sergei Sobyanin noted that such a move would require redefining the concept of what constitutes the capital city or amending the federal constitution. Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev and his deputy Vladimir Platonov have both spoken out against Seleznev's proposal, which is receiving strong backing from St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev in the run-up to the 14 May gubernatorial ballot. At the 6 May meeting of regional electoral commission heads, then President-elect Putin, for his part, said that it is premature to speak of moving the Federal Assembly to St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, "The Moscow Times" on 4 May quoted Seleznev as telling Russian Television that governors need not worry about having to split their time between Moscow and St. Petersburg since "it's likely that, in accordance with a new law on the Federation Council, governors won't be representing the federation in the upper house." The newspaper noted that Seleznev did not elaborate on that comment. JC

In an interview with "Izvestiya" of 6 May, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev said that the introduction of the free sale of land would be premature in today's Russia. Given the level of corruption and crime in the country, he argued, such a step would be tantamount to "suicide." Tuleev also noted that according to his information, President Putin's economic program for the federation preserves the country's reform course but "with a greater social orientation and with a tightening of state regulation." JC

At the 25 April All-Russian conference of coordinators of regional organizations of Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), leaders of the LDPR's central apparatus noted that the party polled 8-12 percent of the vote in recent national elections, which was less than they had expected, Interfax reported. Participants in the conference said one of the reasons for the party's poor performance was that regional organizations are riven by conflicts and are struggling for the party's influence and money. One region where LDPR performed particularly poorly during the 26 March presidential elections was Pskov Oblast, whose governor, Yevgenii Mikhailov, is an LDPR member. Almost 63 percent of voters in the oblast supported then acting President Putin, while LDPR candidate Vladimir Zhirinovskii won only 2.7 percent, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony" reported on 25 April. One reason for the LDPR's poor performance, the newspaper suggested, is that residents of the oblast have simply become poorer and poorer. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 April, Zhirinovskii reportedly ordered that in those regions where the LDPR performed worse, party offices will be closed and the buildings sold or put up for rent. The daily also reported that regional leaders, in turn, are complaining that Zhirinovskii himself is to be blamed for his lack of support among voters, since with each of his television appearances, his ratings have dropped. JAC

The Russian News Bureau on 3 May quoted Igor Yakovenko, secretary-general of the Russian Journalists Union, as hinting that Russia's regions may be well represented on the list of "Enemies of the Russian Press," whose creation he announced the same day. Candidates for the list are "more than sufficient," he commented, since in Russia "89 different political regimes" exist According to news agency, the leaderships of at least two regions--the Republic of Bashkortostan and Saratov Oblast--have already been reserved places on the list. To be published in January 2001, the list will also include politicians, state officials, parliamentary deputies, and ministries deemed to pose a threat to freedom of speech in the federation. JC

On 26 April, then President-elect Putin bestowed honors on 12 regional leaders, including Yakutia President Mikhail Nikolaev, Karelia President Sergei Katanandov, Mordovia President Nikolai Merkushkin, Krasnodar Governor Nikolai Kondratenko, Perm Governor Gennadii Igumnov, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, Amur Governor Anatolii Belonogov, Kaluga Governor Valerii Sudarenkov, Khanty Mansii Governor Aleksandr Filipenko, Astrakhan parliamentary head Pavel Anisimov, and Kabardino-Balkaria head Zaurbi Nakhushev. According to "Izvestiya," the governors of Perm and Kaluga received the most prestigious prize: the order in the second degree for service to the fatherland, while Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel had to make do with the third degree. The newspaper, which is funded by Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group and LUKoil, concluded that it is impossible to understand why these governors--and not others--received the awards, although the official reason given was for their "significant contribution to the social and economic development" of their regions. At the same time, it noted that all of the regions have at least one thing in common: Putin received more than 51 percent of the vote in all these regions in the 26 March presidential election, with the exception of Amur Oblast, where he polled 49.5 percent. The newspaper also speculates that the awards are not just a token of "gratitude" but were meant as a "soothing gesture." JAC

The educational center of the local branch of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is to hold its first course for private detectives. The center told Interfax on 5 May that there is not one licensed private detective in the republic. The fee for the one-month course is 900 rubles ($31.70). JC

Addressing the oblast Council of People's Deputies on 28 April, Governor Aman Tuleev remarked that conditions for the sale of federal stakes in three Kemerovo coal-mining companies are "unacceptable" for the region, "Segodnya" reported the next day. Those conditions are currently being drawn up by the Ministry of State Property and the Ministry of Fuel and Energy. Tuleev argued that the state's shares in the three companies have been valued too low and that the 10 percent of privatization revenues promised to the region is too small. Kemerovo should receive at least 50 percent of those revenues, he added. Within this context, he pointed to an agreement reached between himself and former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov in January 1999, which stipulated that agreement be reached with the region on the sale conditions. JC

At a closed meeting on 27 April, deputies of the krai's Legislative Assembly voted to appeal to Prosecutor Ivan Borisenko to release former head of Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Anatolii Bykov from jail in exchange for a signed statement pledging not to leave the region, "Pravda" reported. Earlier last month, Bykov, who is an ally-turned-foe of Governor Aleksandr Lebed and is suspected of money-laundering and conspiracy to commit murder, lost a bid to gain political asylum in Hungary and was extradited to Russia. One deputy told the newspaper that the assembly is prepared to turn to Russia's prosecutor-general if its appeal is not satisfied at the local level. JC

Speaking to local journalists in Kursk on 8 May, where he took part in events commemorating the 55th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, President Vladimir Putin said that there would be "nothing unusual" if the presidential Control Directorate were to carry out an investigation into the activities of Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi. Such an investigation, he said, could be conducted immediately if there were sufficient reasons to do so, ITAR-TASS reported. A group of local lawmakers, including the chairman of the oblast Duma, recently sent a letter to Putin asking him to rein in Rutskoi, whom they accused of allowing corruption to flourish, attempting to abolish local government, and violating the constitution and oblast legislation (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 April 2000). JC

Several weeks after he resigned as governor of Samara, Konstantin Titov has announced he will seek re-election in an early ballot scheduled for 2 July, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 29 April. Titov's resignation came in the wake of the 26 March presidential elections, in which he finished sixth nationwide, polling 1.5 percent of the total votes cast, but received only 20.5 percent backing in his home region (compared with 44 percent for Vladimir Putin and 29 percent for Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov). As a result of his resignation, the gubernatorial ballot has been brought forward by six months. Interfax on 5 May reported that besides Titov, five individuals have so far expressed their intention to compete for the governor's seat: Viktor Tarkhov, vice president of the Alyans company; Nikolai Sorokin, president of the Samara Anti-Crisis Center; Gennadii Zvyagin, director-general of Samaratransgaz; Sergei Nikitin, director-general of the Middle Volga Gas Company; and Albert Makashov, a former State Duma deputy who gained notoriety for his anti-Semitic comments in the lower house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1999). JC

Following the announcement of Igor Artemev's victory in the 4 May unofficial "primary" election, Yulii Rybakov announced his withdrawal from the gubernatorial ballot scheduled for 14 May. Yabloko's Artemev garnered 72 percent of the vote, while Rybakov, backed by the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), won 28 percent. Some 20,000 people cast their votes in the contest to decide which of the two candidates would run against incumbent Governor Vladimir Yakovlev this weekend. "The St. Petersburg Times" on 5 May cited Gallup as predicting that Artemev, as the single candidate of Yabloko and the SPS, would win 11 percent of the vote and Yakovlev 61 percent on polling day. JC

On the eve of Victory Day, the oblast State Duma adopted a law banning the preparation, dissemination, and display of Nazi symbols, Interfax reported on 6 May. Those found guilty of breaking the law will be punishable by a fine of up to 100 minimum wages. The same fine will be levied for recruiting minors into fascist organizations. JC


By Paul Goble

Russia's government has extended extraterritorial cultural autonomy to the country's 1 million Roma, an arrangement that will almost certainly benefit them but could call into question Moscow's commitment to territorial autonomy for other small groups.

Last month, the Russian Ministry for Federation and Nationality Affairs publicly announced the creation of a federal national-cultural autonomy arrangement for Russia's Roma. This was the final step in a process that began in November 1999 and was legally registered by the Justice Ministry in March 2000.

This kind of autonomy, ministry officials pointed out, is not like the territorial autonomy enjoyed by many other groups. It does not give the Roma control over any particular territory but does strengthen their rights by establishing a special council under the Federation and Nationalities Ministry.

For a group like the Roma, who live dispersed in relatively small groups across the entire Russian Federation, such an arrangement is a major step forward. Until now, the Roma have been subject to discrimination in Russia, as in many other countries. They do not have a single school or newspaper using their own language, and their past suffering has often been ignored.

Consequently, the establishment of a special council gives them a chance to speak out in defense of their national interests. And that is what they did late last month. Their leaders attacked Romani stereotypes in the Russian media and the failure of the Russian government to acknowledge the murder of Roma in Nazi concentration camps.

Even if that is all this council is able to do, the opportunity to speak out will be welcome in a group that has seldom had a chance to make its voice heard at an official level. But the provision of this new kind of extraterritorial autonomy for one group raises the possibility that Moscow or someone else might come to see it as an option for other groups.

The territorial autonomies within the Russian Federation are the product of a decision taken by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik Party before the 1917 revolution and institutionalized by Joseph Stalin after that time.

Indeed, the Soviet commitment to territorial autonomy was defined by opposition to the concept of extraterritorial cultural autonomy advanced by Austro-Hungarian Marxists Otto Bauer and Karl Renner.

In the early part of the 20th century, Bauer and Renner sketched out a system whereby individuals would enjoy national rights, regardless of their place of residence, rather than only in places where they constituted a majority of the population.

Such an arrangement appealed to many dispersed groups, including the Jews of tsarist Russia, but it was opposed by Lenin and others who saw it both as unwieldy administratively and as a threat to the unity of the working class.

As a result, the communist authorities always opposed the idea of extraterritorial cultural autonomy for any group, and the Russian Federation until now has continued that Soviet-era opposition.

Now, however, Moscow has extended precisely that kind of autonomy to the Roma, and other widely dispersed groups may come to see that as a goal for themselves, especially if they are not one of the nationalities currently enjoying even the limited rights of territorial autonomy.

But the extension of extraterritorial cultural autonomy to the Roma could have another consequence for non-Russians in the Russian Federation, one that could threaten the rights and privileges they now have.

In 16 of the 22 non-Russian autonomies inside the Russian Federation, the titular nationality forms less than half of the population and in some cases vastly less than half. That has angered many Russians, and at least some might see an extraterritorial arrangement as a way of reducing non-Russian privileges.

At the very least, this possibility is likely to provoke debate both in Moscow and in non-Russian regions. And in that debate, ideas born at the turn of the 20th century may structure new thinking about arrangements at the beginning of the 21st.