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Tatar-Bashkir Report: March 29, 2004

29 March 2004
Tatar Parliament Speaker Re-Elected...
Farid Mukhametshin on 26 March was elected Tatar State Council chairman by a vote of 81-14, Tatar and Russian media reported. Independent deputy Foat Komarov received seven votes; Aleksandr Salii, proposed by the Communist faction, received four; independent deputy Aleksandr Shtanin received two; and one deputy voted against all candidates. This marks the third time Mukhametshin will serve as the head of the Tatar parliament. President Mintimer Shaimiev said Mukhametshin's victory is a natural outcome stemming from his experience and authority. In outlining his tasks, Mukhametshin rated the reform of the housing and municipal-services sector, development of legislation on local self-government, and land legislation as his top priorities.

...As Unified Russia Fills Key Posts In Legislature
At the first session of the newly elected Tatar State Council on 26 March, Unified Russia deputies occupied all the key positions in the legislature, reported the same day. First Deputy Social Defense Minister Yurii Kamaltynov and Tatar-Inform news agency General Director Rimma Ratnikova were elected deputy State Council chairpersons, while Valentina Lipuzhina was re-elected as the parliament's secretary. Seven State Council committees were formed at the session. Ilsur Safiullin was re-elected as chairman of the committees on budget, taxes, and finances; Marat Galiev as chairman of the committee on economy, investments, and entrepreneurship; and Razil Weliev will again head the committee on culture, science, education, and national issues. Aleksandr Fedorov was chosen to head the committee on state system and local self-government; Aleksandr Gusev the committee on legislation, regulations, and deputies' ethics; Rinat Abdullin the committee on environment, natural resources, and land use; and Chyngyz Mekhmutov to head the committee on social policy. A presidium of 11 members and 20 permanently working deputies were also elected.

Shaimiev Delivers Annual Message To Parliament
In his annual address to the State Council, President Mintimer Shaimiev on 26 March noted that for the first time representatives of the most influential parties were elected to the Tatar legislature alongside single-mandate deputies. He expressed the hope that the opposition Communist faction in parliament will bring a healthy element of competitiveness and criticism. Shaimiev stressed that the power-sharing treaty between Tatarstan and Russia was recognition by Moscow of the republic's sovereignty and that the formula of the republic's sovereignty fully corresponds to Article 73 of the Russian Constitution. Shaimiev added that a revised draft of the treaty made to bring it into line with the amended Tatar Constitution will meet new requirements and maintain Tatarstan's key positions.

The primary issue is maintaining two state languages in Tatarstan -- Tatar and Russian -- so that both are valuable and have no restrictions, Shaimiev said. He noted that Tatarstan's deputies have appealed to the Russian Constitutional Court concerning the legality of amendments to the federal law on languages that made the Cyrillic script mandatory. Shaimiev asserted that the development of language is the exclusive right of the people, as fixed in several international documents signed by Russia. Speaking on the necessity of radical improvement of education of both of Tatarstan's state languages, Shaimiev criticized the Education Ministry and other organizations lack of work toward expanding the use of the Tatar language.

Shaimiev said the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin stated the country's readiness to join the Organization of the Islamic Conference as an observer is a sign of recognition of the role of Muslims in Russia. Shaimiev also called on Muslim leaders to continue the glorious traditions of Jadidism, the modernized version of Islam developed by Tatars in late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bashkir Parliament Ignores Tatar-Language Issue
Deputies in the republican parliament avoided any mention of the current status of the Tatar language during 26 March debate of draft amendments to controversial legislation on state languages, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. Some Tatar civic groups in Bashkortostan have reportedly expressed disappointment with the legislature, which was expected to consider granting official status to Tatar, a language spoken by more than 1 million of Bashkortostan's residents. Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov hinted at such a move during his December re-election campaign.

During the 25 March session, some deputies suggested that the language issue should be completely withdrawn from the parliament's agenda after its second reading but before a third and final reading. Legislative executives insisted such a move would violate parliamentary procedure.

Sociology Professor Rushan Gallyamov, a member of the leadership of the Tatar Congress in Bashkortostan, told RFE/RL the same day that the only path left to promote official status for the Tatar language in Bashkortostan is a republican referendum on the question. Meanwhile, local Tatar groups are reportedly working to organize a newspaper to cover their activities and unite supporters.

Bashkir State Media Accuse Tatarstan Of Pressuring Their Republic
The chief executive of the World Bashkir Congress, Ekhmet Soleimenov, wrote in a 26 March article titled "Is It Easy To Be A Bashkir In Bashkortostan?" that it is difficult for ethnic Bashkirs to live in that republic "due to the natural tolerance of ethnic Bashkirs toward people of other nationalities." The piece appeared in the "Yeshlek" weekly. Soleimenov accused the neighboring Republic of Tatarstan of pressuring ethnic Bashkirs and planning "to take over Bashkortostan."

The "Bashkortostan" daily expressed a similar sentiment on 25 March, claiming that Tatarstan's authorities organized a media campaign against the Republic of Bashkortostan's leadership during the recent presidential election there. The piece accused RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service of participating in that purported campaign, "funded by the U.S. Congress and pouring dirty information against" the republic. The daily warned of possible efforts by Bashkortostan's Tatar community to "organize a referendum on granting official status to the Tatar language or annexing the Tatar-dominated northwest region of Bashkortostan for the Republic of Tatarstan."

Chelyabinsk Hopes To Expand Cooperation With Bashkortostan
Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin said during a visit to Ufa on 26 March that he would like to see annual trade between his oblast and Bashkortostan to reach 10 billion rubles ($360 million), an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. Mutual trade is currently $267 million a year, which makes Chelyabinsk the second-largest consumer of Bashkortostan's industrial production. Chelyabinsk hopes to boost metal ware sales to Bashkortostan, and the two sides signed a protocol on the implementation of an existing bilateral-cooperation treaty to further those goals on 26 March.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi