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Tatar-Bashkir Report: September 6, 2002

6 September 2002
Tatar Parliament Resumes Law Harmonization...
Tatarstan's State Council began work in this year's new parliamentary season on 5 September by passing a new law on parliamentary elections in the first reading, which will cut the number of State Council deputies from the current 130 to 50, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Half of the new State Council deputies would be elected to represent Tatarstan's territories, while the other half will be elected according to party lists. Regional administration heads, who currently represent the executive branch in the State Council, would no longer be allowed to run for deputies' seats.

During the plenary session, deputies also satisfied protests by republican Prosecutor Kafil Amirov regarding the nonconformity of local laws to federal laws on minimum wages, minimal living wages, and real estate assessment by abolishing the aforementioned laws. The State Council also agreed to amend the Tatarstan Land Code's provisions that the prosecutor objected to.

While considering the protests, Deputy Fril Akhmetov emotionally noted that the "discussion of endless [prosecutor's] protests by the parliament gives rise to a negative reaction among the people, as if deputies intentionally endorsed numerous laws contradicting the federal legislation. After all, we know ourselves what legal acts are to be amended." He suggested that the State Council be allowed to work on harmonizing laws "without them being hinted at by the prosecutor." Parliamentary speaker Ferit Mukhametshin ironically admitted that this was a "sensible proposal, but we cannot leave the Prosecutor's Office without any job to do at all, because its work is assessed according to such indicators as the number of protests filed."

Prosecutor Amirov immediately responded to this remark by saying that he "didn't work to make a positive impression" of himself, "but to make the laws of my native republic conform to the federal ones." Mukhametshin emphasized that "it's more important that the legislation was for the people's benefit," while Amirov brought on laughter in the parliament by answering that "anything federal works for the people's sake."

...Considers Three Budget Reports At One Time...
The Tatar parliament on 5 September also considered government reports on the execution of the republic's budget in 2000, 2001, and the first half of 2002, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Deputies and the government had to go back to the 2000 and 2001 budgets because on 26 February Tatarstan's Supreme Court upheld a claim by the opposition Equality and Legality movement (RiZ), which sued the Cabinet of Ministers for failing to present a detailed and audited list of budget expenses.

According to Finance Minister Radik Giizatullin, who presented the budget reports, in 2000 Tatarstan's budget income exceeded the planned revenues by 129 percent, while expenses also went up by 111 percent and in 2001 budget incomes surplus only reached 25 percent due to increased tax revenues so that budget expenses were also marked up by 16 percent.

During the first six months of 2002, Tatarstan's consolidated budget (which includes the federal and republican budget revenues and expenses) gathered 25.44 billion rubles ($775.87 million), which is 10 percent higher than the planned amount. Nevertheless, none of the budget expenses planned for that period were paid in full and 84 percent of the payments were executed. About 18 billion rubles (17.84 billion: $566.35 million) of budget revenues were left at Tatarstan's disposal, an amount which also exceeded the republican Finance Ministry's expectations by 10 percent, while only 83 percent of republican budget expenses were actually financed.

...Agrees To Rename The Republican Ministry
Also on 5 September, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev appealed to the State Council to rename the republican Ministry of Construction and Housing the Ministry of Construction, Architecture, and Housing, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Addressing parliament, Shaimiev said that architecture was becoming more and more important in the republic, which is currently in the midst of a building boom, "but some of the new buildings are not designed [well enough]." Shaimiev also noted that no changes would be made to the existing State Architecture Service in Tatarstan and the ministry will not get any extra funding after being renamed. The parliament voted in favor of the name change.

Parliament Speaker Says Tatar Parliament Won't Be Dissolved
State Council Chairman Mukhametshin reminded the deputies that the draft law on parliamentary elections in Tatarstan would only apply for the future Council, which will be elected in late 2004, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Mukhametshin said that the current parliament "is legitimate until the end of its term in December 2004" despite rumors that the Council will be dissolved. The current shape of Tatarstan's parliament violates the Russian Constitution, the federal law on basic guarantees of electoral laws, and the right of Russian citizens to take part in a referendum for them.

Tatar Muslim Leaders Argue Over Putin's Comment On 'Headscarves Affair'
Mukaddes Bibarsov, chairman of the Muslim Religious Board in the Volga region, announced on 5 September that Muslim women in Tatarstan will insist on their right to wear a headscarve in the photos for their passports, Tatnews reported the previous day. Bibarsov added that the wearing of headscarves is "an actual religious duty and not a trend in fashion." He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement regarding the "headscarf affair" on 30 August in Kazan "confirmed the incorrectness of comparing clothing fashion with the regulations of Islam." Meeting with World Tatar Congress delegates, Putin said that Muslim women should not be allowed to wear their traditional headscarves for their passport photographs because such photos must conform to "national standards" (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 30 August 2002). In Bibarsov's words, the ban on headscarves in photos "infringed on the dignity and freedom of expression of Muslim women."

Following Putin's statement, Almira Adiatullina, the leader of Tatarstan's Muslim Women organization, told "The Washington Post" correspondent (in a yet unpublished interview) on 1 September that the Russian president "did not understand the gist of this issue," an RFE/RL Kazan correspondent reported the next day. She also said that 400 Muslim women's and men's signatures were collected under an appeal to Putin asking that the headscarves be allowed (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Daily Report," 5 and 27 August). The appeal has already been given to the Russian Presidential Staff with the help of Tatarstan's plenipotentiary representative in Russia, Nezif Mirikhanov.

New Dictionary To Improve The Spelling And Speech Of Tatar Journalists
Experts of the Language, Literature, and Art Institute (IYaLI) of Tatarstan's Academy of Sciences are working on a new dictionary for workers in the mass media, Tatar-inform reported on 5 September. The dictionary is reportedly to solve the problems of frequent misunderstandings of words that have more than one meaning or are spelled differently but sound similarly.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Bashkortostan, Austria Pledge To Boost Ties
Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov met on 4 September with Johann Zax, who is in charge of foreign economic relations at Austria's Federal Economy and Labor Ministry and is deputy chairman of a joint Russian-Austrian intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation, the presidential press service reported the same day. Rakhimov and Zax stressed positive trends in bilateral relations in recent years. Rakhimov stressed the importance of business seminars held in Austria for managers within Bashkortostan's timber industry. He encouraged the further development of relations in trade, education, science, sports, and tourism. He called for further development of the network of Bashkir-Austrian joint ventures.

Zax said Austrian businessmen have expressed interest in Bashkortostan companies' production. Zax said Austria is going to take part in environmental programs under the Kyoto agreement to reduce the burden on Bashkortostan's environment.

Meanwhile, Austrian Airlines hopes to open a route to Ufa, Bashinform reported on 5 September. A company delegation is to arrive in Ufa on 15 September for talks on the plan.

Tatar Congress Leader Rejects Extreme Views Voiced At Recent Congress...
The executive committee chairman of Bashkortostan's Tatar Congress (BTK), Eduard Khemitov, called "unacceptable" provocative statements by some participants at the third World Tatar Congress in Kazan on behalf of Bashkortostan's Tatars, Bashinform reported on 5 September. Khemitov said those individuals were not empowered to make such statements, adding that assertions about infringements on the rights of Bashkortostan's Tatars are biased. Khemitov said references by writer Aidar Khelim to "genocide" of Tatars in Bashkortostan are nothing more than fantasy. He said the same can be said about the speech of a "self-styled" participant in the congress from Belebei, Nurmokhemmet Khoseinov, a school director who said Tatars are prevented from studying their native language (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 and 4 September and item below). Those who make such statements wish to drive a wedge between Bashkortostan and Tatarstan, betraying weakness and unbridled chauvinism, Khemitov charged.

...While Tatar Groups Say Persecution Has Followed Vocal Criticism Voiced At Congress
Tatar groups in Bashkortostan appealed on 4 September to the Russian presidential administration and to Russian National Policy Minister Vladimir Zorin to resist reported attempts by Bashkortostan authorities to persecute secondary-school Director Khoseinov, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 4 September. Khoseinov was critical of conditions for ethnic Tatars in Bashkortostan during a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the World Tatar Congress delegates on 30 August in Kazan. The Tatar civic groups said republican authorities threatened to dismiss Khoseinov and called on the Russian officials to stop such improper actions.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova