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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 22, 2002

22 February 2002
Tatarstan Mufti Backs Capital Punishment
Tatarstan Mufti Gusman Iskhakov told "Vremya i dengi" on 19 February that capital punishment is a fair penalty. He said the Koran "tells us that everybody must pay the penalty for evil. 'An eye for an eye,' that is a principle of all faiths." It's fair that one must pay for a life taken away with his own life, more so because prisons improve almost no one, he said.

Tatarstan Census Commission Appeals To Kasyanov Not To Divide Tatars
A Tatarstan commission on preparations for the 2002 census appealed to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov not to divide Tatars and to unite four Tatar ethnic groups, including Tatars, Crimean Tatars, Siberian Tatars, and Kreshens, under a single Tatar category, "Izvestia" reported on 21 February. The Tatarstan State Council has approved a similar appeal, saying the move to divide Tatars is fraught with ethnic conflicts. Meanwhile, Kreshens, who were previously considered an integral part of Tatars, seek to be registered as a separate people and plan to hold a Russia-wide congress of Kreshens and adopt a declaration of self-determination, the daily said.

Kreshen leader Vitalii Abramov said Kreshens were counted separately in the 1920 and 1926 censuses, but under Josef Stalin's rule they were merged with Tatars. In 1926, more than 100,000 Kreshens were registered while currently they estimate their number at 300,000-320,000. Abramov said Kreshens are ready for a dialogue with authorities, as they are an indigenous people of Tatarstan and do not have another motherland. However, Rafail Khakimov, an adviser to Tatarstan's president, said, "Kreshens do not have grounds to pretend to be a separate people, as religion does not constitute an ethnic indication."

Parliamentary Commissions Discuss Draft Constitution
State Council commissions have begun debates on the proposed version of the Tatarstan Constitution, reported on 20 February. Many comments express fears that the draft presents a climbdown on some key issues, primarily regarding Tatarstan's status as a "full-fledged member of the Russian Federation," with sovereignty restricted by the frameworks of federal authorities' powers rather than a subject of international law. However, deputies agreed that the project is a "pragmatic" one and reflects the existing political reality in Russia, the agency said.

Greater Volga Calls On Government To Protect Regions From WTO Effect
Participants in a Greater Volga Association meeting in Kazan on 21 February said joining the World Trade Organization is a "realized necessity" for Russia despite the fact that the country is currently hardly ready for moving its goods to foreign markets. At the same time, association members called on the Russian government to develop programs to support regions that could suffer most from membership.

Academy Of Sciences President Given New, Five-Year Term
Academician Mansur Khasanov was re-elected president of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences at the academy's general meeting on 20 February, Tatarstan media reported. The republican academy includes 35 full members and 65 corresponding members, along with 300 doctors of science who work within its institutes.

TPC Takes Up Marii Rights Issue
The Tatar Public Center (TPC) issued an appeal to protest what it considers spiritual discrimination against Marii people, "Zvezda Povolzhya" reported on 21 February. Tatar activists said persecution against the Marii culture and education began after Leonid Markelov was elected as the Marii El Republic's president. They said the National Education Department was annulled at the republic's Education Ministry, and the number of students studying the Marii language has fallen by 15,000 in the past year. Book-publishing in Marii has nearly stopped, as only three books were published in Marii last year. The Marii State Drama Theater was recently closed. Tatar public leaders called such policies chauvinist and aimed at the annihilation of national cultures and the forcible assimilation of non-Russian peoples.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

President Demurs Over Issue Of New Term...
President Murtaza Rakhimov told "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 12 February that he does not yet have any plans regarding the next presidential elections since they are still far in the future. He will decide when the time comes, he said.

...And Backs Capital Punishment
In an interview with Interfax-Eurasia on 20 February, President Rakhimov said replacing capital punishment with life imprisonment has less support in Russia than in the European countries. Rakhimov said a humane approach to criminals has resulted in their becoming insolent, adding that the crime rate increased rather than fell after the moratorium on capital punishment was instituted. At the same time, Rakhimov said he shares the concern of opponents about possible judicial mistakes and executions of innocent people. However, appellate processes can prevent such cases, he added.

Salavat Mayor Dismissed, Replaced By Former Construction Official
The mayor of Bashkortostan's third-largest city, Salavat, has been dismissed from his post by the government, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir service reported on 21 February. Yurii Alimov, previously the republic's deputy construction minister, was appointed to replace Askhat Galiev.

At a government meeting the previous day, Mayor GAliyev was blamed for growing criminality and drug addiction in the city. A probe by the State Control Committee and the Finance Ministry's Control-Revision Board was said to have revealed abuses by Galiev. RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent cited rumors that Galiev's dismissal was a result of recent tension between him and the heads of petrochemical company Salavatnefteorgsintez, which provides 80 percent of the city's revenues.

Opposition Writers Criticize Writers Union Leader
The deputy chairman of the Bashkortostan Writers Union, Ekhmer Utebai, announced his resignation to protest at what he called the "amorality" of union Chairman Ravil Bikbaev, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 21 February. Utebai made his statement at Union's annual meeting on 20 February. Another Bashkir writer who opposes the union leaders, Taifur Sagitov, devoted a book titled "A Heartless Poet" to Bikbaev. Sagitov told RFE/RL that he does not have any private dispute with Bikbaev but rather is concerned about the state of Bashkir literature which, he said, is backward by some 70 to 80 years. Sagitov called the Bashkir Writers Union "the deceased" since members were left without orders from the Soviet Communist Party, adding they did not know what to write about and began writing about history without sufficient knowledge. Previously, Sagitov issued a novel, "Ninel" in which he condemned moral degradation within the Bashkir literary elite.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova