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Tatar-Bashkir Report: December 12, 2002

12 December 2002
Report: Putin Signs Cyrillic-Only Bill
President Vladimir Putin has signed into law controversial amendments to the law on the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation that mandate that all such written languages be based on the Cyrillic alphabet, reported on 12 December, citing the amendments' author, Duma Deputy Kaadyr-ool Bicheldei (Unity). The amendments have met fierce opposition in Tatarstan, Karelia, and other republics (see "REF/RL Newsline," 14 and 27 November and 3 December 2002). According to ITAR-TASS, residents of Karelian ethnic communities on 11 December issued an open letter to Putin asking him to reject the amendments. "They cast doubt on the prospect of the further development and recognition of the ethnic languages of Karelia," the letter read.

Shaimiev Slams Planned Federation Council Reform...
In his interview with "Argumenti i Fakti" published on 11 December, President Mintimer Shaimiev said "to my regret, the [Russian State] Duma's centrist majority including the Unity faction supported the flagrant amendments to the law on the Russian Federation Council" allowing senators to not follow the guidelines of their regions and disabling the regions from calling off their senators (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2, 6 December 2002). He said that due to these amendments, "as a matter of fact the senators will become fully dependent" on Moscow and the Federation Council will "be able to form itself" without the participation of the country's territorial entities. "As for Tatarstan's position," he added, "in the case of further attempts to adopt such amendments we will call off our representatives in the Federation Council because they will not have an opportunity to defend the republic's interests."

...Admits Discontent With Unity Faction In Duma...
In Shaimiev's opinion, stated in the same interview, the fact that the progovernment Unity faction "supported the aforementioned draft amendments" caused it to "lose face before the voters." The Tatar president described his status within the Unified Russia party, created by a merger between Unity and Fatherland-All Russia as "not a member but an informal leader, just as [Moscow Mayor] Yurii Luzhkov or [Minister of Emergencies Sergei] Shoigu." Formerly a member of the Fatherland-All Russia Political Council, Shaimiev said that he "had no moral right to directly appeal to the Unity" faction in the State Duma, which according to the paper "often voted against [Tatarstan's interests]." He admitted that "when our party [Unified Russia] wins [the 2003 elections] we will be able to speak about the responsibility to be born by the deputies. Today we may only to express our indignation."

...Expresses Bewilderment With Plans To Introduce Obligatory Lessons Of Orthodoxy In Schools...
Commenting on the possibility of introducing lessons on Orthodox Christian culture in Russia's schools (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 December 2002), Shaimiev emphasized that "first of all we should base our considerations on [the fact] that religion is separate from the state. But religion is not separate from the society, that is why [Tatarstan's] legislation provides forms of state assistance, for example, for rebuilding the historically important structures. We are operating within this framework, Orthodox churches are being recovered, more than 1,000 mosques were built, while before perestroika we had 23." He said that he was bewildered by the "Russian education minister, a person who by definition is an educated person, proposing the lessons on Orthodoxy in such a manner. We have mixed classes and schools.... For centuries we have had two major confessions -- Islam and Christianity."

...And Says The Federal Ban Not To Affect The Future Of Tatar Script Reform
Shaimiev also commented on the federal law restricting the use of non-Cyrillic scripts in the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 December 2002) by saying that he considered "this Duma move an invasion of human rights. This way we may end up in full absurdity when, for example, some of the nationalities will be banned from learning in their native languages." He referred to Article 68 of the Russian Constitution, which states that the federation guarantees the right of all peoples to preserve their native languages and create conditions for teaching and developing them. Shaimiev also hinted at that "the absence or presence of a law prohibiting the transition of Russia's peoples to another way of writing for us does not predetermine the process of switching the Tatar script to the Latin-based one.... We are taking this problem very responsibly and that's why we made a decision on holding a long-term experiment for switching to the Latin Tatar script."

Karelia's Public Organizations Join Move Against Cyrillic-Only Bill
Meanwhile, the 11 December congress of Karelia's ethnic organizations made a statement opposing the Cyrillic-only bill, adding that it "compromised the perspective of further development and acknowledgment of Karelia's ethnic languages," ITAR-TASS reported. The congress appealed to the Russian president, calling the draft bill "insufficiently considered and contradicting the Russian Constitution." It also warned that the obligatory introduction of the Cyrillic script would bring to full extermination the currently emerging Karelian and Vepps languages and their written expressions." The Karelian and Vepps are the local ethnic languages and belong to the Finnish-Ugric language group.

Parliamentary Speaker Greets Tatarstan On Russian Constitution Day...
State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin issued a greeting message to Tatarstan's people on the eve of Russian Constitution Day, which is marked on 12 December, the parliamentary press service reported yesterday. The message said that the new fundamental law adopted in Russia nine years ago let the country "to open a new page in its history and in the process form the basics of civil society, expand the incidence of law and legality, [and to] create operational market institutions." However, he also noted, "much is yet to be done for consolidating the democratic values and true federalism. The most important goal standing before us is to protect and strengthen the constitutional fundamentals of Russian statehood, consistently ensuring human rights and freedoms, the collective rights of peoples, and increasing the strength of civil peace and consent in the society."

...As Shaimiev Uses Message To Remind Putin Of Multiethnic Russia
Also on 11 December, President Shaimiev sent a telegram to Russian President Putin, congratulating him on Constitution Day and saying that this document "based upon the principles of equality and self-determination of peoples, became a strong foundation for the democratic developments of the Russian State, strengthening the values of federalism. Only by remaining faithful to the principles of true democracy, treating the rights and freedoms of citizens in multinational Russia with care, we will be able to create a united and prospering Russian Federation."

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Parliamentary Election Campaign To Begin On 20 December
Official campaigning for upcoming elections to the Bashkir State Assembly will begin on 20 December, Bashkir Central Election Commission Chairman Baryi Kinjegulov told Interfax-Eurasia on 11 December. Kinjegulov said the campaign will be run in accordance with the new Electoral Code, which was amended following the adoption of a new Bashkir Constitution (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 4 December 2002). Kinjegulov said that in conjunction with the code, only courts, not election commissions, have the power to remove candidates for violations, adding that such a decision must be made several days before a planned election. (In the past, candidates could be removed from a ballot right up to several hours before an election was to begin.) Kinjegulov said that the amended Electoral Code allows candidates to be nominated in two ways: either by self-nomination or nomination by political parties or election blocs. The former practice of allowing groups of voters to nominate candidates has been abolished. Finally, Kinjegulov said that in order to elect a unicameral parliament with 120 members, the republic will be divided into 120 voting districts, each with approximately 24,000 voters.

Bashkir-Finnish Economic Cooperation Group Gathers In Ufa
The Bashkir-Finnish working group on economic cooperation held its 10th meeting in Ufa on 10 December, RosBalt reported the next day. The deputy general director of Foreign Trade Department of Finland's Ministry of Trade and Industry, Erkki Palmkvist, called for the conclusion of direct contracts between Bashkir and Finnish companies, while Bashkortostan currently imports Finnish products via Moscow or St. Petersburg. The two sides signed a protocol naming the petrochemical, metallurgical, timber, and woodworking industries as priority areas for cooperation.

The annual trade turnover between Bashkortostan and Finland fell from $80 million in 1998 to $73 million in 2001. Finland is Bashkortostan's 10th-largest trading partner, providing 2 percent of trade turnover.

Muslim Leaders Speaks Out Against Wahhabism
The head of the Central Muslim Religious Board of Russia and the European countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Telget Tajetdin, said at a plenary session of the board on 10 December in Ufa that the spread of Wahhabism in some of Russia's regions -- Penza, Ulyanovsk, Orenburg, and Sverdlovsk oblasts, as well as Tatarstan -- is disturbing, reported the next day, citing The session was attended by Muslim leaders and rectors of Muslim schools from 29 Russian regions. Tajetdin said that young people between the ages of 13 and 25 make up the majority of the supporters of Wahhabism. He also said that those promoting Wahhabism have taken advantage of the lack of a state ideology in Russia over the decade and are filling this gap. Several participants at the session also accused the Tatar Muslim Religious Board and the Kazan Islamic University, which oppose the central Muslim board, of supporting Wahhabism and promoting its principles. In addition, the session discussed the unification of educational programs in religious schools subordinated to the central board, the printing of literature for the board's educational institutions, and strengthening cooperation between Russian authorities and regional Muslim religious boards, reported on 11 December.

Federal Official Gets Suspended Sentence For Fraud
The Ufa Kirov Raion Court has handed Vladimir Akhrameev, a department head at the Bashkir branch of the Russian Property Fund, a three-year suspended sentence for fraud, RosBalt reported on 11 December, citing the Bashkir Prosecutor's Office. Akhrameev was arrested on 4 September while accepting 100,000 rubles ($3,140) from the head of the Bashoilservis company, whom he allegedly helped win a tender for the purchase of a filling station under construction in Birsk. During the trial, however, it was revealed that Akhrameev had no influence on the commission selecting the winner of the tender, thus leading to a reduced charge of fraud as opposed to bribe taking, which could have led to a much harsher sentence. The court also took into account Akhrameev's remorse, the agency said.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova