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Tatar-Bashkir Report: May 6, 2003

6 May 2003
Could Tatarstan Be A Model For Iraq?
"The New York Times" published on 4 May an article by Bill Keller in which Tatarstan is proposed as a model for a successful Muslim state. Noting that U.S. President George W. Bush will probably not be looking to Russian President Vladimir Putin for advice on how to proceed in Iraq when they meet later this month in St. Petersburg, Keller wrote that "since the end of Soviet rule, Moscow has accomplished in one Islamic province here in central Russia, called Tatarstan, something we seem to want for Iraq: an easygoing, secular, peaceable, multicultural society that is, in a small way, a model for its neighbors" and added that "we might learn something here."

Keller described Tatarstan as "a far cry from Iraq, although Islam was imported here from Baghdad in the 10th century. The most conspicuous difference is that Muslims here constitute only about half of the population. During four centuries of stressful coexistence with Russian Orthodox Christians, the Muslim Tatars have necessarily become the most adaptable of Islamic peoples." The author noted that, like the Iraqis, Tatars have a historical memory of a time when they were part of a cosmopolitan culture and that for many Tatars, as for many Iraqis, Islam is just one component of a rich ethnic identity.

According to Keller, the first thing Moscow, which feared that Tatarstan could become the epicenter of an Islamic uprising, did well "to leave Tatarstan under the control of someone who knew the lay of the land. The Tatars got as their new boss not a retired general or a democrat from exile but their durable old party boss, Mintimer S. Shaimiyev, shrewdly repositioned as a Tatar nationalist. Mr. Shaimiyev is more a feudal populist than a democrat. But he regularly wins elections because he has figured out how to keep peace with Moscow without seeming to be a puppet."

The author commented that "Ahmad Chalabi, the Pentagon's favorite in Iraq, probably knows more about democracy than any mullah angling for influence. But so did the man we brought from exile to run Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and he now seems to be little more than the mayor of Kabul. The Russian experience suggests we take a closer look at the independent local talent." He added that: "For now, by the standards of communist times or, for that matter, most Arab states, Tatarstan is a zone of religious tolerance."

RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service said on 5 May that Keller misunderstood to some extent the situation in Tatarstan, first of all by claiming that religious and interethnic concord in the republic was an achievement of Moscow, rather than the local authorities. Thus, Shaimiev, who, according to RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, maintained power because of the support of the Tatar people, is touted by Keller as a "Moscow man." Keller is mistaken, the service added, when he said that the decisions on the construction of the Qol Sherif mosque in the Kazan Kremlin and on the opening of the Kazan-based Russian Islamic University were passed by Moscow in an attempt to prevent the deterioration of the situation in Tatarstan.

History Of Tatars Launched In Kazan
The first volume of the "History of Tatars Since Ancient Times" was launched on 5 May in Kazan, Tatar-Inform and reported the same day. The volume -- the first of seven -- written by scholars from Tatarstan, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other countries covers the period from 3000 B. C. through the 10th century. The second and third volumes, devoted to the history of Volga Bulgaria and the Golden Horde, should be finished by 2004. Speaking at the launch ceremony, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said the appearance of the book became possible only after the fall of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet regime, the history of not only Tatars but also of many other peoples of Russia was suppressed and distorted, Shaimiev said.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Court Lifts Most Charges From Marine Recruited In Bashkortostan
The tribunal at the Makhachkala military base in Daghestan on 5 May lifted charges against Sergei Tiunov of plotting an assassination, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported yesterday. Tiunov, a Russian Marine Corps serviceman from Ufa, was detained at the Chechen-Daghestani border in November 2001 while traveling in the same car with British citizen John Benini, an ethnic Turk, and Russian citizen, Mukhtar-Pashi Ismagilov, who is Chechen. Their vehicle reportedly carried firearms, ammunition, drugs, and a military radio. Initial charges against the three were that they were planning to assassinate Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, but these charges were replaced with siding with Chechen militant groups, the illegal carrying of firearms, and drug trafficking. In addition, Tiunov was charged with deserting his military detachment. The 5 May court ruling means that Tiunov is only guilty of deserting the army, and he was sentenced to two years in prison, though he was freed due to his poor health. While incarcerated the last 18 months during the investigation, Tiunov had a foot amputated as a result of a wound received in combat.

Bashkir Communists Hold High Hopes For December Duma Vote
Valerii Shiryaev, deputy head of the Russian Communist Party branch in Bashkortostan, said on 5 May that during this year's campaign for the Russian State Duma his party would "try to use the negative experience of the March 2003 vote for the republican State Assembly and implement its ideological potential in full," Rosbalt reported yesterday. None of the 33 Communist candidates were elected to the Bashkir parliament in March. Shiryaev said that the list of Communist candidates for the State Duma will be finished in June.

Minimum Living Wage For Bashkortostan
According to a Bashkir governmental decree cited by Bashinform on 5 May, the official minimum living wage for a representative monthly set of essential foods and services is estimated at 1,717 rubles ($54.5) per person. This figure is reportedly used for calculating the necessary financial supplement given to an individual in case his or her income is below the minimum living wage. Meanwhile, according to an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent on 5 May, the population sees the minimum wage as an "unofficial poverty line."

First SARS Patient Isolated In Kumertau
Bashkortostan's medics hospitalized the first person suspected of having severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the city of Kumertau on 1 May, the republic's chief sanitary doctor, Gennadii Minkin, said at a press conference on 5 May, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported yesterday. The woman residing in Chita Oblast was visiting her relatives in Bashkortostan when she had a high temperature, headache, and strong cough. She is reported to have returned from China on 21 April. Blood samples were sent for SARS testing in Moscow.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi