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Tatar-Bashkir Report: March 13, 2002

13 March 2002
Duma To Tackle Script Issue
The State Duma Council on 12 March voted to include a draft amendment to the Russia's Peoples' Languages Act on the agenda of the Russian parliament's plenary session, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. The draft was proposed by 10 deputies including Sergei Shashurin, Communist Aleksandr Saliy, and Marsel Akhmetkhanov, elected in Tatarstan. Later that day, Shashurin, who enjoys a somewhat dubious business reputation and failed in a bid to contest the republican presidency, said the draft -- mandating that ethnic republics use the Cyrillic script -- was designed to thwart current efforts at script reform in Tatarstan. "Trying to switch the Tatar language to Latin is the same as riding donkeys in Afghanistan," Shashurin said, adding that the switchover would "threaten Russia's national security and integrity via Turkish expansion" in republics like Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. The deputy also claimed that script reform would lead Tatarstan to "what we have now in Afghanistan, thanks to the Taliban."

Fandas Safiullin, a Duma deputy and former Tatar Public Center chairman, proposed to the Duma Council his own amendment to oppose the first one, but it was rejected by a parliamentary majority. Nevertheless, Safiullin told the assembly that the approved draft amendment "has nothing to do with linguistic science, but is purely politically motivated." In Safiullin's words, the draft "accused the entire Tatar nation [and] its intelligentsia by declaring them a collective Turkish spy." He cited international law allowing people to choose their own alphabet to express their language.

In 1997 Tatarstan's State Council and the government passed a law on a gradual transition to Latin-based Tatar script from the Cyrillic one introduced by Soviet authorities in late 1930s.

Pharmaceutical Market Grows By 10 Percent
Deputy Health Minister Rustem Safiullin told reporters on 12 March that the average Tatarstan citizen spent 741 rubles ($29.90) on medicines in 2001. He said 52 percent of this sum was refunded by the state via subsidies for pensioners and other beneficiaries. Despite the relatively low expenditures per capita, Tatarstan's pharmaceuticals market grew by 10 percent last year to 2.8 billion rubles ($90 million), Safiullin said. Also in 2001, the federal government allocated up to 63 million rubles ($2 million) of the total 266 million rubles for drug subsidies to the poor. General pain relief and stomach-ache tablets are reported to the best-selling drugs in the republic, while rural areas maintain their long-term "tradition" of mostly relying on medicines against heart pains and headache.

President Meets Federal Stock Market Commission Head
Meeting the chairman of federal securities commission, Igor Kostikov, in Kazan on 12 March, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev said it is necessary to " treat carefully the population, because it won't be able to withstand" financial crises or misguided reforms such as those of 1997 and the early '90s. Kostikov agreed, saying Russia's stock market is being brought into "civilized shape" so that investors and other participants on the market have greater guarantees. Kostikov, on the behalf of his commission, and Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov signed a symbolic agreement on mutual cooperation.

Tatneft Stocks Performing Well On Russian Bourse
Tatneft oil company's shares are showing some of the highest growth among stocks traded on the Russian Trading System (RTS), Tatar-inform reported on 12 March. Tatneft managers told the agency that the price growth can be explained by the company's plans to place global depositary receipts (GDRs) on the New York Stock Exchange and issue Eurobonds in the second half of 2002.

Official Unemployment Figures Remain Low
Tatarstan's Labor Ministry announced on 12 March that 21,300 people are officially registered as unemployed in the republic, representing 1.17 percent of the economically active population. The ministry's report says that the current fluctuations in unemployment figures are not excessive, highlighting a stable situation on the labor market.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Passport-Visa Service Steps Up Distribution Of New Documents
Bashkortostan's passport and visa service on 12 March announced plans to complete the distribution of new Russian passports before the 31 December 2003 deadline by expanding its staff and holding special raids to reach the population. Sixteen percent of Bashkortostan's 4 million residents have so far been provided with passports in exchange for their Soviet documents. Citizens are officially allowed to apply for new passports with or without notes in Bashkir and Bashkortostan's state symbols. Due to long-running negotiations between federal and republican authorities, citizens of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan began receiving their new identification documents in 2001, four years after residents of other regions.

Bashkortostan Falling Behind Electricity Payments
Prime Minister Rafael Baydavletov told a government meeting on 11 March that only 60 million rubles ($1.9 million) of the republic's debt to electricity suppliers has been paid off in 2002, while the amount owed totals 2.5 billion rubles ($80.64 million). Bashkortostan�s industrial companies reportedly owe 1.2 billion rubles [$38.71 million] in electricity dues and the farms owe some 985 million [$31.77 million]. Speaking of natural gas, Baydavletov said that although the debts for this fuel dropped by 33% in 2001, during the two moths of 2002 the remaining sum doubled, reaching 600 million rubles [$19.35 million].

University Policy Could Prompt 'Brain Drain' Among Rural Population
Bashkir State University will resume a state policy aimed at encouraging residents of rural areas who otherwise have lower chances of entering the university, the Russian "Trud" daily reported on 12 March. Some 600 students from villages in the republic will be allowed to study on grants from the federal budget as part of joint federation and the republican efforts to cultivate more specialists for the agriculture sector. However, the newspaper added that, due to the current level of agricultural salaries, chances are that graduate students will not rush back to rural areas.

Republic Marks 'Bashkiria' Anniversary
The Republic of Bashkortostan on 12 March commemorated the 83rd anniversary of the Bolshevik government's signing of a historical agreement with the Bashkir government on establishing the Soviet Autonomy of Bashkiria in 1919. Before that, the future Bashkortostan was represented by six rural areas around Sterlitamaq called "Malaya [Smaller] Bashkiria."

Tax Police Target Foreign-Trade Operations
The republican branch of the Russian Tax Police have investigated a number of complicated cases of tax evasion in the area of foreign trade, forcing the repayment of 563 million rubles ($18.16 million) in taxes. Thirty-five companies in the republic exported goods exceeding their professional profile or illegally applied for a value-added tax refund from the state.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi