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Tatar-Bashkir Report: March 4, 2004

4 March 2004
Tatar Supreme Court Appeals To Russian Constitutional Court On Tatar Script
The Tatar Supreme Court will ask the Russian Constitutional Court to rule whether the provision of the federal language law making use of the Cyrillic script mandatory for all state languages is in line with the Russian Constitution, and other Tatar and Russian news agencies reported on 3 March. This was the court's decision in considering Tatarstan's prosecutor's complaint against Tatarstan's 1999 law on restoring the Tatar Latin-based script as contradicting federal legislation. Tatarstan's State Council made a similar appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court on 26 February.

At the hearing, State Council Legislation, Regulations, and Ethics Committee Chairman Midkhet Qormanov called on the court to postpone the trial until the Russian Constitutional Court issues a ruling on the State Council's appeal or to send a similar appeal to that court.

Tatneft Rejects Reports Of Violations Of UN Sanctions In Iraq
Tatneft on 3 March issued a statement denying reports in some foreign and Russian media claiming it was among several Russian companies that received millions of barrels of oil from Saddam Hussein's regime in violation of UN sanctions, reported on 3 March. Tatneft management said that neither it nor any of its affiliates ever took part in any oil-related transactions during the period of UN sanctions outside the "oil-for-food" program. Moreover, Tatneft says it trained over 400 oil-industry specialists at the request of the Iraqi Oil Ministry for free and took part in several charity programs for the Iraqi people. During the entire period of its cooperation with Iraq, Tatneft said it has never violated UN sanctions. The media reports are intentional misinformation that appeared as soon as increased efforts by Russian companies to return to the Iraqi market, the statement said.

Police Checking Documents Near Moscow Mosques
Council of Muftis of Russia co-Chairman Nafigulla Ashirov said on 3 March that law-enforcement bodies are insulting Moscow Muslims, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 March. Ashirov said that last Friday, they checked documents of everyone prayed in the Historical and Memorial mosques and detained 84 people who did not have registration or whose documents looked counterfeit. After identifying the detainees and writing up those without registration, all detainees were released.

The daily quoted an Interior Ministry source as saying that they were checking information about possible "pre-election" terrorist acts in Moscow. Police said that before Muslim fanatics commit acts of terrorism they usually ask Allah for blessing during Friday prayers.

Meanwhile, Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Colonel Sergei Ignatchenko told the daily that all public places are checked when necessary in order to secure public safety, and actions of security services "are in no way linked to the religion or nationality of those checked."

Commenting on the incident, Russian Muslim Spiritual Directorate deputy head Damir Nigmetullin said he knows nothing about specific violations of the rights of Muslims. He added that the directorate has good relations with the Interior Ministry in Moscow and if there were any complaints about violations by policemen, his directorate would react appropriately.

Opposition Newspaper Issue Seized In Kazan
Local Interior Ministry economic-crime officers on 29 February seized the print-run of 142,500 copies of the Party of Life's "Puls zhizni" newspaper as it was being delivered to Kazan from Marii El's capital Yoshkar-Ola, reported on 3 March, citing newspaper Editor in Chief Yelena Chernobrovkina. On 3 March, the same department seized Party of Life campaign materials paid for by the party in a Chally printing house. Representatives of the party have complained to the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office about the seizures. The Tatarstan branch of the Party of Life is led by Refget Altynbaev, a former representative of the Tatar president to the Federation Council, who has announced he will run for the Tatar presidency in the next election.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Head Of Presidential Staff Calls Tatar-Language Issue 'Provocative'...
A special governmental commission headed by the chief of the presidential staff, Radii Khebirov, began considering requests from residents of Bashkortostan sent during the December 2003 election campaign, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 3 March. According to Khebirov, cited by RFE/RL, most of the some 20,000 appeals are related to problems in the housing sector, the environment, or social and economic policies. Khebirov said there were also appeals aimed at political "speculations" such as requests that the Tatar language be given an official status. Tatar is spoken by some 1 million Tatars in Bashkortostan who make up the second-largest ethnic group in the republic. During his December 2003 campaign, President Murtaza Rakhimov pledged to consider the possibility of altering the status of the Tatar language.

...As Ethnologists Say Public Is Ready For Tatar As An Official Language
Fail Safin, an expert of the Ufa Anthropology and Ethnography Center under the Russian Academy of Sciences, told an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent on 3 March that although the republican authorities seem not to be ready to discuss this issue, "our recent ethnicity-based public opinion research showed that residents of Bashkortostan, including some 40 percent of ethnic Bashkirs, are ready for having Russian, Bashkir, and Tatar as their state languages."

Safin noted that "sooner or later" the Bashkir presidential administration "will have to grant official status to the Tatar language, which is a part of the inevitable democratization processes."

Safin's colleague, Ildar Gabdrefiqov, told RFE/RL that recent presidential elections demonstrated the strong discontent of a sufficient part of Bashkortostan's population and with the republican government's policies. In Gabdrefiqov's opinion, the authorities have "chosen to pursue a hard-line policy on the Tatar issue," thus making the existing disagreement even stronger.

One-Third Of Ballots To Be Printed In Tatar And Bashkir
Marina Dolmatova, the deputy chairwoman of Bashkortostan's Central Election Commission (USK), told Rosbalt on 3 March that one-third of the some 2.9 million ballots to be used during the 14 March Russian presidential election in the republic will be printed with pages written in both the Tatar and Bashkir languages; half of them in Russian and Bashkir; and the remaining ones in Russian and Tatar.

Dolmatova also said that more than 60,000 citizens of Bashkortostan who will be outside their home areas on the day of the election will be given special identity documents that will allow them to vote where they are temporarily staying.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi