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Russia Report: October 20, 1999

20 October 1999, Volume 1, Number 34
The leader of the Grain Union, Arkadii Zlochevskii, and former Agriculture Minister Viktor Semenov sent a letter to Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev protesting restrictions that Russia's governors have placed on the transport of grain across regional borders, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 14 October. Semenov told the daily that the letter had so far elicited no response from Stroev. Semenov told "Segodnya" on 16 October that he believes that only the Federation Council can solve the problem of grain separatism and that governors "have turned bread into a political commodity." Meanwhile, in Kursk Oblast, a local court upheld oblast Prosecutor Nikolai Tkachev's appeal to annul four resolutions issued by Kursk's governor restricting the "export" of some agricultural goods (see item below.) JAC

Federation Council Budget Committee Chairman Konstantin Titov told Interfax on 13 October that "there is little hope" that the upper legislative chamber will pass the revised 2000 draft budget. He noted that the new draft does not allocate half of budget revenues to the regions, as many governors have demanded. Titov's remarks follow speeches by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to regional leaders in support of the budget. Putin earlier told members of the interregional association Black Earth to resist approaching the budget with an attitude of "territorial egoism," according to Interfax. JAC

A Buddhist school of higher learning opened on 18 October in Ulan Ude, Interfax-Eurasia reported. At the school's opening ceremony, the head of Russia's Buddhist Church, the Pandito Xambo Lama Damba Ausheev, said that the school's main goal will be strengthening Buddhism in the republics of Buryatia, Tuva, and Kalmykia (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 29 September 1999). JAC

In its 9 October edition, RFE/RL's "Korrespondentskii chas" reported that the editor-in-chief of "Rabochii krai," which, founded in 1905, is the oldest daily newspaper in the oblast, has been informed his contract will not be renewed when it expires at the end of October. Arkadii Romanov has held that post since after perestroika, and under his leadership, the daily, while receiving funding from the municipal authorities, has been moderately critical of the city administration. His job will now go to the head of a local advertising agency, Vladislav Korovkin, reportedly in exchange for helping secure Ivanovo Mayor Valerii Troeglazov's election. Korovkin has already been rewarded at least once for his loyalty: last year, Troeglazov founded a municipal agency that exercised control over the local advertising market and allowed Korovkin's company to assume a monopoly on that market. With elections in the city looming, the Mayor's Office is keen not to take any risks as regards personnel in media outlets, "Korrespondentskii chas" comments. JC

Elena Baturina, the wife of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, will face some serious competition for a seat in the State Duma from a single mandate district in Kalmykia, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 19 October. That newspaper, which is close to Mayor Luzhkov, reported that Aleksandra Burataeva, an anchorwoman at Russian Public Television, plans to run in the same district and that she was born in Kalmykia and is acquainted with the republic's leading politicians. She is also a Buddhist, as are many Kalmyks. JAC

"Krestianskie vedomosti" reported in its 4-10 October issue that the board of the Kursk Oblast Court has upheld oblast Prosecutor Nikolai Tkachev's appeal to annul four resolutions issued by Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi limiting the "export" of some agricultural goods beyond the region's borders. Rutskoi and Tkachev have long been at loggerheads: the former has sought, in vain, to have the latter dismissed, while Tkachev has brought criminal charges against the governor's brother and close associates and argued that the actions of the governor and his circle are dangerous for the oblast (see "EWI's Russian Regional Report," 18 and 25 June 1998). With regard to the limitations imposed by various regions on the movement of some food products, President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently agreed that measures must be taken to put a stop to such restrictions (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 6 October 1999). JC

Following power line thefts that recently left five regions in Ryazan without electricity (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 October 1999), Lipetsk saw its irrigation system put out of action when several kilometers of cable were swiped, depriving 35 pumping stations of power. Vladimir Chunikhin told ITAR-TASS on 15 October that thefts have caused losses to the oblast totaling some 60 million rubles ($2.3 million) a month. He added that most of the region's 45 scrap metal companies are operating illegally and do not care whether the goods they buy are stolen. JC

The city of Nizhnii Novgorod technically defaulted on an interest payment on its Eurobond after failing to persuade bondholders to approve a debt restructuring plan, Russian media reported on 14 October. This is the first case of a Russian municipal government's default, technical or otherwise, on a Eurobond payment (only Moscow and St. Petersburg have also issued such bonds). The $4.357 million interest payment on Nizhnii Novgorod's five-year, $100 million bond had been due on 3 October, after which the city had a 10-day grace period to make the payment (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 6 October 1999). However, at a meeting in London on 13 October, support for the Nizhnii restructuring plan among creditors fell just short of the required 75 percent, according to Interfax on 14 October and "The Moscow Times" the next day. Talks between the region's representatives and bondholders are to continue on 21 and 22 October.

Also last week, the Nizhnii Novgorod administration and the World Bank signed an agreement on restructuring a 1996 $8.8 million loan repayable over five years with a two-year grace period. Under that agreement, the loan, which was issued for the construction of housing projects, must now be paid by 1 February 2005 in six-monthly installments beginning on 1 August 2000, Interfax reported on 12 October. JC

The oblast administration has announced that it will move toward accepting budget payments only in cash rather than through barter or other non-monetary means, "Vremya MN" reported on 18 October. First Vice Governor Andrei Golushko explained that this move is necessary in order to ensure that public sector wages are paid. In August, he said, the administration had been unable to pay all such wages because only a quarter of payments into the budget had been in cash. Initially, it will insist that all barter transactions be replaced by a system of promissory notes. Noting that other regions such as Astrakhan and Volgograd have also insisted on cash-only payments, federal Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok commented that "the less regions engage in barter transactions, the better their [budgetary] situation." JC

The oblast administration is to appeal to the Prosecutor-General's Office over Volgograd Mayor Anatolii Shiryaev's July resolution granting city administration employees a 150 percent wage hike as of last April, "Izvestiya" reported on 16 October. Governor Nikolai Maksyuta, noting that the resolution violates both oblast and federal law, argued in a letter to Shiryaev that the wage hike should take effect when the order was released, not retroactively. The mayor's response was to issue a new resolution ordering a "150 percent indexation" rather than a hike. According to an oblast administration official quoted by "Izvestiya," as a result of Shiryaev's order, the wages of officials in the city administration exceed those of workers in corresponding oblast structures by 100-500 rubles ($3.9-19.4). JC

A ceremony for laying the foundation stone of a new mosque in Volgograd was postponed on 17 October after a group of locals staged a protest against the mosque's construction, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. The ceremony had been organized by representatives of the World Congress of Tatars (WCT). The head of Russia's Council of Muftis, Ravil Gainutdin, and representatives of the WCT said the construction of the mosque will be suspended until agreement can be reached with the local population. Volgograd, which is home to some 30,000 Tatars, currently has no mosque in which its Muslim population can worship. According to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau, the city's old mosque houses the local military commissioner's office. In other regions, there have also been protests against the construction of places of worship for congregations other than that of the Russian Orthodox Church (see, for example, "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 9 June 1999). JC

EYE ON THE FEDERATION COUNCIL: Tallying Kremlin Support.
The vote in the upper legislative chamber on 13 October to oust suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov was conducted by a secret ballot, but interviews conducted by "Kommersant-Daily," Independent Television, and Russian Public Television with some senators revealed the pattern of support. In addition, "Vremya MN" reported on 14 October that Fatherland-All Russia alliance members voted against Skuratov's ouster. The following table represents the sentiment expressed by these senators in their remarks, which may or may not reflect how they actually voted. In a two-hour discussion on 19 October with the governors of Tomk, Novgorod, and Sverdlovsk Oblasts, President Boris Yeltsin said that he believes the Federation Council should not dissolve into blocs. (JAC)

Volgograd Governor Nikolai Matsyuta

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev

Novosibirsk Governor Vitalii Mukha

Novosibirsk Legislative Assembly Chairman Viktor Leonov

Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev

Ingushetia President Ruslan Aushev

Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Surikov

Chuvash President Nikolai Fedorov

Primorskii Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko

Kursk Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi

Tver Governor Vladimir Platov

Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed

Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov

END NOTE: Mordvins Defend Statehood But Disagree Over Language Reform
by Liz Fuller

The Mordvins are the largest Uralic people within the Russian Federation, but even so their numbers are dwindling. At the time of the 1970 Soviet census, there were 1,262,670 Mordvins in the USSR, but by 1989 that figure had fallen to 1,153,516. At present, Mordvins, account for less than one third of the 959,000 population of the Republic of Mordovia, where they are outnumbered by both Russians and Tatars. Smaller groups live in other Russian republics, including Tatarstan, and in Estonia, Hungary, and Finland.

It is therefore hardly surprising that the problems of preserving the Mordvin identity and language(s) figured prominently during the proceedings of the third Congress of the Mordvin people, which opened in the republic's capital, Saransk, on 7 October.

The Mordvins constitute two distinct but related ethnic communities, the Erzya and the Moksha, with the former outnumbering the latter by approximately 2:1. The linguistic differences between the languages spoken by the two groups are so great that Erzya and Moksha frequently have problems in understanding one another. In 1970--the last year for which Soviet census data on linguistic affiliation is available--77.8 percent of Mordvins considered Mordvin, rather than Russian, to be their native language. (No distinction was made in those censuses between the two ethnic subgroups and languages.)

But that percentage is rapidly falling. Delegates to the congress expressed concern that Russian has replaced Mordvin as the lingua franca in day-to-day affairs in the Republic of Mordovia, that those languages are not adequately taught in schools, and that practically no Mordvin-language literature is published. The congress, which has been awarded the right of legislative initiative in the republic's parliament, therefore agreed to draft legislation to amend those shortcomings, including by introducing Mordvin-language teaching in schools from the first grade, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 October. (A law "On the State Languages of the Republic of Mordovia" has been adopted, but apparently its provisions have not been systematically implemented, partly for financial reasons.)

Delegates from the Mordvin diaspora in Moscow attending the congress said that when they gather together "like partisans" on the city's squares (they have no other place to go), Erzya and Moksha frequently cannot communicate with one another. The situation is no better in the Volga regions where Mordvins live compactly. But delegates to the congress disagreed vehemently over the expediency of implementing a linguistic reform that would create a unified Mordvin literary language.

What appears to be latent rivalry between the Moksha and Erzya was also manifest in their rejection of the 1997 Russian legislation on internal passports, which was collective and unanimous. Like the Tatars, the Mordvins are demanding that the bearer's ethnicity, as distinct from his/her republican citizenship, be designated in his identity document. The absence of that ethnic identification, delegates argued, deprives many citizens who wish to demonstrate their nationality of their constitutionally recognized right to do so. The congress delegates requested the Russian Federation leadership to make provision in internal passports not just to register the holder's ethnicity but also to provide for all data to be given in both Russian and "the state language of the republic." They also requested that in future Russian population censuses, Mordvins should be designated either as Mordvin-Moksha, or Mordvin-Erzya, or, if they wish, simply as Mordvins.

The issue of "sub-ethnicity" (that is, Moksha or Erzya) has also given rise to demands, apparently by a radical minority, for creating separate autonomous units for the Moksha, Erzya, and Tatars within the Republic of Mordovia. Delegates to the congress wholeheartedly rejected both that proposal and the argument that the status of a separate republic, with a bureaucracy of thousands, is an unnecessary luxury for a territory with a population of less than 1 million.

In short, while the congress served to identify and focus attention on issues that are of concern to many Mordvins, it failed to formulate concrete solutions to those problems. And, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," it may have generated unease among the non-Mordvin population of the republic that Mordvin radicals may at some point resort to violence to achieve their aims. Whether such fears are based on specific incidents is unclear.