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Tatar-Bashkir Report: December 14, 2001

14 December 2001
Tatarstan Leadership Seeks Return Of Kazan Divine Mother Icon
President Mintimer Shaimiev told RTR on 13 December that Tatarstan is seeking to facilitate a process for the return of the Kazan Divine Mother icon from the Vatican. Shaimiev said the icon's return would contribute to an improvement in relations between Russian Orthodox and Catholic believers. On 12 December, "Argumenty i Fakty" reported that Rafail Khakimov, a state adviser to Tatarstan's president, held unofficial talks with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican to discuss the issue.

The paper commented that the issue on the icon, stolen from a Kazan church in 1904, is the major problem in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican as both sides want the icon to be returned to Russia but cannot agree on conditions. John Paul has a strong desire to return the icon to Kazan but has agreed to do it only during a personal visit to Russia -- something that the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church, Aleksii II, has not agreed to. Tatar authorities hope the icon will be returned by 2005 when Kazan's millennium will be marked. They have said they would reconstruct the biggest Catholic Church if the pope visits Kazan.

Shaimiev Says Unity and Fatherland Far From Being 'Ruling Party'
President Mintimer Shaimiev told the RTR program "Persona grata" on 13 December that the newly created Unity and Fatherland party is a huge political force promoting reforms in Russia. But he opposed those who call the new body a "ruling party" and said it is to become an influential party by providing well-organized structure, attractive programming, and good results in the next Duma elections.

In other comments, Shaimiev said Tatarstan has increased its grain harvest by 35 percent in the past decade. He said the improvement was made due, to a great extent, by the implementation of the republican Land Code.

TPC Calls On Tatars To Resist Attempts To Divide Them
Tatar Public Center leader Rashid Yagfarov told Tatar Radio on 13 December that efforts to divide Tatars into six different ethnic groups in the 2002 census is an attempt to eliminate the people's historical perspective, to provide conditions for the hegemony of ethnic Russians in different Russian regions, and to speed up the assimilation of large ethnic groups. Yagfarov noted that there are no plans to divide Russians or Jews in the next census and that those groups, as well, consist of numerous ethnographic groups. He said that if groups within the Tatars separate from each other in terms of linguistic differences, religion, or territory, they will remain a minority wherever they live. Yagfarov called on all Tatars to unite and to protest against the policy aimed at dividing Tatars.

WTC Promotes Turkey-Wide Tatar Organization To Overcome Tatars' Disintegration
World Tatar Congress (WTC) leaders told Tatar Television on 13 December that a WTC meeting in Istanbul passed a decision on the establishment of a Turkey-wide Tatar organization. The head of the Istanbul Tatar society in Idel-Ural, Atilla Kunduz; professor Nadir Devlet; the chairman of the Tatar World League, Gunel Pultar; and representatives of Tatar communities from Ankara, Iskesheher, and Izmir were in attendance. Participants reported that Tatar communities in Turkey are currently divided into several groups that do not cooperate with each other. WTC Executive Committee head Indus Tahirov said that the aim of maintaining the Tatar language and recognizing Kazan as the capital of all Tatars should unite the Tatars living in Turkey. A cooperation agreement signed by the education ministers of Tatarstan and Turkey promotes studying of the Tatar language in Turkey and the Turkish language in Tatarstan as well as the holding of joint educational forums.

WTC Leaders Say Headquarters Of Tatar Organizations Won't Be Moved To Moscow
World Tatar Congress leader Indus Tahirov announced during a WTC roundtable on Tatar Radio on 13 December that a principal decision to establish the Tatar National University has been made. He also said that switching from Cyrillic to the Tatar Latin script has not been stopped and will continue. Roundtable participants denied rumors -- widely spread recently -- about the possible shift of the WTC and Tatar national-cultural autonomy headquarters from Kazan to Moscow.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Hundreds Of Officials To Be Sacked Under Administrative Reform
Some 800 to 850 state officials will be dismissed as a result of a reform of state government bodies in Bashkortostan, the presidential chief-of-staff, Ildar Gimaev, told on 13 December. Gimaev said the republic has some 20 percent less state officials per thousand of the population than in Russia (6.4 and 8, respectively), but nevertheless will still cut spending on state bodies. He said the measure is expected to let the republican budget save several tens of millions of rubles which will be spent on raising the salaries of state employees and for the social needs of the population. The reform will be finished by February, Gimaev said.

Bashkortostan Said To Be The Victor Of Reduced Oil Exports
National Bank Deputy Chairman Gabbas Akhmetshin told a news conference in Ufa on 13 December that Bashkortostan's economy will gain rather than lose from Russia's reduction in the exporting of oil. Akhmetshin said that as a result of the Kremlin decision to reduce oil exports, the republican oil processing plants will be better supplied with fuel and will be able to increase the export of oil products.

Shulgan-Tash Reserve Territory To Be Increased
Bashkortostan's Academy of Sciences has recommended that the government increase the territory included in the Shulgan-Tash state nature reserve threefold as compensation for the harm it has suffered from the Yumaguzy reservoir, Bashinform reported on 13 December. Shulgan-Tash is used, among other things, for special research on bees.

Bashkortostan's Bankers Unhappy With Draft Federal Law On Central Bank
The heads of Bashkortostan's National Bank on 13 December sharply criticized a draft federal law on the Central Bank of the Russian Federation currently being considered by the Duma that would decrease the independence of the Central Bank, Bashinform reported. The acting chairman of the National Bank, Rustem Mardanov, said if the Central Bank's activity depends on the Russian government -- as it is written in the draft -- it will be unable to insure the ruble's stability.

Anti-Terrorist Body Inspects Air Transport Facilities
The government's antiterrorist commission discussed on 11 December the results of its order that airport and airline staff be trained to prevent hijackings, the presidential press service reported on 13 December. It was reported that the employees of Bashkir Airlines and the Ufa airport who were involved in the training are now trained and equipped well enough to prevent any terrorist attempts. The commission did, however, recommend improving the psychological training of personnel.

Environmentalists Demonstrate To Protect Park
Some 50 Russian Nature Protection Society members, along with people residing near the Ufa Kalinin Park, took part in a picket near the city administration building to protest the use of that park as the city's snow dump, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 13 December. Greens Party deputy head Boris Pavlov said the Ufa Vodokanal company began constructing a snow-storage facility in the park without the necessary environmental permits, and that such actions violate Bashkortostan's Land and Forestry Codes as well as the Russian Constitution. Ufa City Council deputy Artur Asafyev, who is a member of Yabloko, promised to include the issue on the agenda of the council's next session and to send inquiries on the affair to the prosecutors' office and Ufa authorities.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova