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Tatar-Bashkir Report: September 12, 2002

12 September 2002
Shaimiev Comments On Sovereignty, Latin Script
Meeting in Kazan with a group of journalists from Britain, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Switzerland, and Turkey on 10 September, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev spoke about Tatar-Russian relations, saying that the Tatar people have developed an ideology of their own sovereignty and thus, cannot give up this notion.

Commenting on the issue of switching to the Latin alphabet for the Tatar language, Shaimiev said the issue had become overpoliticized. "Before the 1917 Revolution, [Tatar] used the Arabic script, then the Latin one was introduced, and then Cyrillic [was introduced]." Shaimiev said that as a result of the constant introduction of new alphabets, several generations have become isolated while awaiting the transcription of literary works. As a result, Shaimiev said, the republic decided to continue the experiment on the reintroduction of the Latin alphabet. At the same time, Shaimiev said that the amendments to the law on the languages of the peoples of Russia that were passed in the first reading on 5 June contradict principles of international law (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 6 June 2002).

Federal Minister Comments On Census Issues
AFP quoted Vladimir Zorin, Russian minister in charge of nationalities policy, as saying that data in the October census in Russia could be falsified to increase the population of ethnic groups in certain republics, such as Tatarstan, where Russians are a minority. Zorin said that a test census will be conducted in an attempt to avoid fraud. The results of the test census will be compared with the results from the actual census to look for any discrepancies.

Zorin had previously said that Tatars were the third-most-populous ethnic group in the Russian Federation following Russians and Ukrainians (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 11 July 2002). According to the previous census in 1989, however, Tatars were the second-largest ethnic group, with 5.5 million members. Russians formed the largest group with 120 million, while Ukrainians were third with 4.4 million, followed by 1.7 million Bashkirs, 1.2 million Belarusians, 1.1 million Mordovins, and 900,000 Chechens.

Valerii Tishkov, head of the Ethnology and Anthropology Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, had earlier claimed that Tatar authorities may try to influence census results in order to pad population statistics of ethnic Tatars (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 10 September 2002).

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Russian Paper Claims 'New Ethnic Conflict' Brewing In Bashkortostan
The "Argumenty i Fakty" weekly published an article titled "Who needs a second Chechnya" on 11 September, devoted to the current developments with the "Tatar issue" in Bashkortostan, describing the situation as an "interethnic conflict growing before our eyes, similar to the Chechen one." The article says that "the first bell rang in early September during the third World Tatar Congress in Kazan. At that time many of those present, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, were shocked by the speech of writer Aydar Khelim, who spoke about the alleged genocide of Tatars in neighboring Bashkiria."

Disregarding previous media reports saying that the World Tatar Congress took place in late August and President Putin was not present at the Congress's plenary session during which Khelim made his statement (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 August 2002), "Argumenty i Fakty" added that Putin "strictly rebuffed the attempts to raise interethnic discord."

"Argumenty i Fakty" also wrote that "several days later a group of journalists from one of the central TV channels arrived in the republic with the task of registering violations of Tatar population's rights by Bashkir authorities.... It turned out that nobody fired the 'persecuted Tatar,' a gymnasium director M. Khoseenov...." Nevertheless, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 4 September cited the Belebey Tatar gymnasium principal Nurmokhemmet Khoseenov as saying that local authorities have launched a dismissal procedure against him (See "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 4 September 2002).

The paper suggests that these developments were "preparations for the presidential campaign in Bashkiria. Especially given that the slogans of protecting the oppressed nation (particularly Russians) had already been used by [PR] consultants during the previous elections." "Argumenty i Fakty" hypothesizes that the "sudden and provocative escalation of the 'Tatar issue'" was masterminded by Moscow PR experts to create a clash between Tatars and Bashkirs in order to promote the ethnic Russian candidate. It emphasizes that "the federal center always had enough claims against the Bashkir government. But no one had yet accused Ufa of wrongful interethnic policies.... Precisely like this, by setting one people against the other, almost all conflicts in the Northern Caucasus began. And now a similar mechanism seems to be launched against the Tatars and Bashkirs, who have deep kindred roots.... If this genie is let out of the bottle, there will be more terrifying consequences than in Chechnya."

Election Commission Head Suggests Moving Presidential, Parliamentary Votes To December 2003
Bashkortostan Central Election Commission Chairman Baryi Kinzyagulov said on 11 September that in his opinion "it would be reasonable to move" the dates of the republic's presidential and parliamentary elections to December 2003 "to bolster electoral activity and increase the citizens' responsibility for their choice," Interfax reported.

The current term of Bashkortostan's parliament expires in March 2003 and President Murtaza Rakhimov's second term in office will be over in June, while the Russian State Duma elections are to be held in December the same year.

Kinzyagulov pushed for the rescheduling of the elections by saying: "Even if the new [Bashkir] Constitution is adopted in October-November [this year] there won't be enough time to amend the [republic's] laws on elections anyway. In this case we will have to launch the election campaign for the State Assembly in December this year." He also added that there won't not be sufficient time for preparing the local election commissions, which will have to recruit more than 30,000 officials. Admitting that in case the elections are in fact scheduled for the same date in December 2003, voters "will have some serious work to do, filling in six or seven ballots...but it's better to come to the voting station once and spend some time filling in several blanks than go to elections every month, like going to work."

Harvesting Figures In Bashkortostan
According to Bashkortostan's Ministry of Agriculture, 73 percent of the republic's crops have already been harvested, BashInform reported on 11 September. The Boray, Baltach, Ilesh, Nuriman, and Chishme regions are reportedly closest to completing their harvest. Some 2,840 tons of grain have been harvested.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi