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Tatar-Bashkir Report: January 4, 2005

4 January 2005
Strasbourg Court To Hear On Lawsuit Promoting Tatar Latin Alphabet
St. Petersburg resident Chulpan Bolgari told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 26 December that his appeal against the prohibition by the Russian government on the introduction of Latin script in Tatarstan has been accepted for consideration by the Strasbourg-based International Court of Human Rights. In 2003, Bolgari's appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court was denied because it does not hear claims by individuals. In his latest appeal, Bolgari reportedly listed five articles of the Russian Constitution that violate the law stipulating the mandatory use of the Cyrillic script by all state languages in Russia, which was passed by the Federal Assembly and signed into law by the Russian president.

Tatarstan Is Largest Contributor To Volga Federal District Budget
Tatarstan provided the largest contribution to the federal budget among Volga Federal District entities in the first eleven months of 2004, accounting for 17.5 percent of the district budget. Tatarstan was followed by Bashkortostan and Samara Oblast with 13.7 percent each and Perm Oblast with 10.7 percent, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 28 December, citing the Volga Federal District press service. In Tatarstan, transfers to the federal budget increased during the same period by 38 percent while in Bashkortostan they decreased by 9.3 percent. Regional budget revenues grew in all of the district's regions in comparison to the same period in 2003, with the exception of Bashkortostan, where revenues fell by 3.4 percent, or 2.3 billion rubles. Mordovia, Tatarstan, Orenburg, and Perm oblasts posted gains of more than 30 percent.

Court Annuls Tatarstan's Law On Restoration Of Tatar Latin Script
Tatarstan's Supreme Court on 28 December ruled that a case filed by Tatarstan's prosecutor against the 1999 Tatar law allowing for the use of Latin script for the Tatar alphabet contradicted federal legislation, Tatar-inform and Regnum reported. The prosecutor contested the law in the court in January 2004. In March, the court froze hearing the case pending consideration of the issue by the Russian Constitutional Court, which on 16 November issued a verdict prohibiting Russian republics from choosing scripts for their official languages on their own. The Tatar Supreme Court ruled that the verdict on the annulment of the 1999 law will come into force in 10 days.

Tatar State Council Culture, Science, Education, and National Issues Committee Chairman Razil Weliev said the verdict of the court was "political, not legal." Weliev said that by passing the 16 November verdict, the Russian Constitutional Court violated provisions of the Russian Constitution and international law, including the Strasbourg framework convention of the Council of Europe on the protection of national minorities. In 2003, Tatarstan's Constitutional Court issued a verdict recognizing the right of republics to choose scripts of their official languages on their own.

Meanwhile, Tatar State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin told a press conference on 28 December that the ongoing experiment on teaching Tatar in Latin script in secondary schools will be continued. He said that "in the future, we will possibly raise the issue on the transition of the Tatar alphabet to the Latin script and appeal to the federal legislature with such a proposal."

Public Figures Protest Against Perceived Discrimination Against Muslims
A group of public and political activists in Tatarstan have sent a letter to leaders of Islamic countries regarding mass arrests of Muslims in Russia and asking for help, Ekho Moskvy reported on 28 December. The activists claimed in the letter that detainees are being held for investigation without being told why they are being held. Close relatives are not permitted to visit detainees suspected of having ties with Muslim organizations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. Among those arrested, most of whom are men between 20 and 30 years old, there are some 20 residents of Chally, 16 people from Bashkortostan, more than 20 from Nizhnii Novgorod, and some 20 Kazan residents. The rest are from other towns of Tatarstan and regions of Russia.

FSB, Human Rights Expert Deny Reports Of Mass Arrests Of Muslims
The head of the Tatarstan Federal Security Service's press group, Eduard Ismegilev, said on 28 December that all claims by filed by representatives of Chally national organizations to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and published in an appeal to leaders of Islamic countries (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 December 2004) are unfounded, Regnum reported. Ismegilev noted that one of the FSB's major tasks is combating terrorism, but stressed that the service makes no differentiations along ethnic lines.

Meanwhile, Moscow Human Rights Bureau expert Semen Charnyi said in reference to the letter published by the website Kavkaz-Tsentr that that he does not trust reports claiming that 200 Muslims have been detained in Tatarstan under the pretext of fighting terrorism, Ekho Moskvy reported on 28 December.

State Council Chairman Says Court Ruling On Tatar-Language Rights Is Biggest Event Of 2004
Tatar State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin told a press conference on 28 December that he considers the year's biggest event to be the verdict issued by the Russian Constitutional Court recognizing Tatarstan's right to have two state languages, Russian and Tatar, and the right for its citizens to study Russian and Tatar in equal volumes, reported. "I cannot imagine what the consequences would be if the court had passed a different decision," Mukhametshin said. "Distrust of Tatars toward Russians and vice versa could have appeared and led to tensions."

Political Analyst Suggests Tatarstan May Become Parliamentary Republic
The head of Kazan State University's Political Science Department, Midkhet Faruqshin, predicted in "Zvezda povolzhya" of 30 December that Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev is unlikely to surrender presidential powers under the administrative reforms initiated by President Vladimir Putin until his current term ends in 2006. Faruqshin suggested that an attempt might instead be made to transform Tatarstan into a parliamentary republic to allow Shaimiev to maintain his prerogatives. Faruqshin said the Kremlin considers Shaimiev a guarantor of stability in Tatarstan, a net donor to the federal budget that regularly secures what Faruqshin called the "required" results in elections, especially federal ones. Asked about the chances of Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhaqov becoming the republican leader, Faruqshin said some members of Putin's administration support Iskhaqov but others back Shaimiev; the result, he predicted, will depend on the distribution of such supporters and opponents.

Tatar, Bashkir Leaders Tumble In 'Kommersant-Daily' Ranking Of Russian Elite
Tatarstan President Shaimiev appeared in the 64th spot on the "Kommersant-Daily" ranking of Russian elite that was published on 30 December, down from 35th the previous year. Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov shares 158th place with 24 participants, down from the previous year's 122nd place. The VTsIOM poll was conducted on 20-21 November with 1,555 respondents among Russia's 39 oblasts, krais, and republics.

Tatarstan's First Internet Gift Service Launched
Tatarstan's first Internet-based gift and greetings service opened in late December, reported on 31 December. The service, which focuses on orders in the Tatar and Russian languages and offers Tatar national gifts, operates in Kazan as well as several cities and towns of Tatarstan and is represented in Moscow. Its founders plan to spread activities to other regions with sizable Tatar populations. The range of souvenirs provided by the service includes Tatar national souvenirs.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Human Rights Organizations To Investigate Alleged Violations By Interior Ministry In Blagoveshchensk
Some 1,000 people, predominantly men between 14 and 40 years old, were detained by interior bodies in Blagoveshchensk, Bashkortostan, in an operation carried out by the Interior Ministry's local bodies on 10-13 December, Ekho Moskvy and "Izvestiya" reported on 24 and 27 December, respectively. Bashkir Interior Ministry press service head Ruslan Sherefetdinov told Regnum on 27 December that all 130 employees of the Blagoveshchensk town and raion interior bodies and 15 special detachment privates took part in the operation.

The operation came in the wake of an 8 December incident in which several local Interior Ministry employees were beaten by a crowd of people and three of them were hospitalized. In reaction, Interior Ministry special detachments carried out an operation in which young men were arrested in discos, clubs, cinemas, and in their apartments. Many detainees claimed to have been subjected to physical punishment and about 100 reportedly sought medical aid after their release.

At a press conference in Moscow on 27 December devoted to the events in Blagoveshchensk, For Human Rights head Lev Ponomarev said that the "Chechen-ization of Russia is taking place."

Moscow Helsinki Group Head Lyudmila Alekseeva said at the press conference that human rights organizations plan to conduct an independent public investigation into the events in Blagoveshchensk. An appeal to Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev signed by 75 residents of the village of Ilyino-Polyana, as well as the results of medical examinations of people who claim to have been assaulted by police during the action were introduced at the press conference. Russian Human Rights Representative Vladimir Lukin sent a telegram to Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to investigate the matter.

Bashkir Authorities Keep Pressure On Supreme Court Chairman
Bashkortostan's State Assembly on 16 December passed an appeal calling for the dismissal of Bashkortostan's Supreme Court Chairman Marat Wekilov, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 26 December. It was the fifth such move by the Bashkir parliament against Wekilov. The republican leadership began focusing Wekilov after the Bashkir Supreme Court under his guidance annulled some articles of the Bashkir Constitution as contradicting Russian law (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 20 March, and 15 and 19 April 2002). Wekilov subsequently faced allegations of corruption that were then dropped.

Russian Interior Officials Meet With Human Rights Defenders Regarding Crackdown In Blagoveshchensk...
Russian Interior Ministry officials met on 28 December with human rights activists in Bashkortostan to discuss recent events in Blagoveshchensk (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 28 December 2004), Regnum reported the same day. Major General Nikolai Mamontov, the deputy head of the ministry's Chief Inspectorate Board, and Valerii Gribakin, the acting head of the Information, Regional, and Public Relations Board took part in a two-hour meeting during which human rights activists presented appeals by alleged victims of a 10-13 December crackdown carried out by Bashkortostan's Interior Ministry in Blagoveshchensk. Ildar Isengulov, the head of Bashkortostan's For Human Rights movement, told the news agency that human rights activists were told that Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev has ordered an investigation into the events in Blagoveshchensk.

...As Bashkir Prosecutor Says He Not Aware Of Violations
Acting Bashkortostan's Prosecutor Mikhail Zelepukin told Interfax on 28 December that he plans to look into the possibility that human rights violations may have occurred during the coarse of the crackdown in Blagoveshchensk on 10-13 December. Zelepukin said during a press conference in Ufa on 28 December that he has yet to hear of any such violations committed by interior bodies in Blagoveshchensk, although human rights activists have claimed that violations took place. He said not a single appeal from residents has been received by prosecutor's bodies.

Russian Human Rights Official Criticizes Bashkir Interior Ministry
Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin has sharply criticized the heads of Bashkortostan's law enforcement agencies, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 29 December. Lukin said that officers had subjected "500 to 1,000 people" to reprisals during 10-14 December after three police officers were beaten in Blagoveshchensk. Lukin said he discussed the matter with Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev on 29 December. Nurgaliev said a group of experts has been sent to the republic to inspect the situation. Nurgaliev also said, "We are preparing a normative document on cultured and polite relations of Interior Ministry personnel toward citizens," RIA-Novosti reported on 29 December.

Lukin said at the meeting that he has received repeated complaints this year from Bashkortostan residents and human rights activists about local law-enforcement agencies. Lukin then called for the dismissal of Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev, Regnum reported the same day.

Prosecutor Says Addresses Ongoing Investigations
Bashkortostan's acting prosecutor, Mikhail Zelepukin, told a press conference on 28 December that the rate of solving cases of theft and robbery remains very low and in some regions does not exceed 30 percent, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 30 December. At the same time, the rate of solving cases of attempted murders reaches 90 percent, one of the highest in Russia. Commenting on the investigation of the kidnapping and killing of lawyer Konstantin Del, Zelepukin said he is sure that the case will be solved. Zelepukin also said that charges will filed against several Bashneft officials for illegal business practices in the near future.

Interior Operation Victims File Lawsuits To Compensate Financial Harm
The civic group For Human Rights coordinator in Bashkortostan, Vyacheslav Bikbulatov, told Regnum on 31 December that some of those who suffered as a result of the security operation in Blagoveshchensk on 10-14 December (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 and 30 December 2004) are preparing lawsuits against security bodies to cover purported damages. The owners of a cafe in Blagoveshchensk claimed losses after authorities detained guests who had not paid bills, for instance. A group of claimants were arrested while they were driving their cars, which were then impounded. Detainees said mobile telephones and money were seized from them and not returned.

Bashkir Cinematography Presented In Moscow
Bashkortostan's plenipotentiary to Moscow held a party devoted to Bashkir cinematography at the Moscow House of Nationalities in late December, Bashinform reported on 31 December. Members of Moscow's Bashkir diaspora and others interested in Bashkir culture saw films in the Bashkir language at the event.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Plans To Serve Term Till End
In an interview with the Nizhnii Novgorod Telegraph Agency on 27 December, Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev said he won't resign before his term expires as President Vladimir Putin's administrative reform suggests. Khodyrev said Putin clearly announced at a Russian State Council meeting on 24 December that he is not going to cause any rush on this matter. According to the new law on the election of governors, heads of regions will be elected by local legislatures after their nomination by the Russian president. Presidential envoys to the federal districts will submit at least two candidates per governorship to the president. Meanwhile, governors who resign before their term ends will be considered for reelection without any other candidates.

Nizhnii Novgorod Bank Obtains $7.2 Million Credit
Raiffeisenbank Austria will provide in next six months a 200 million-ruble ($7.2 million) credit for two years to Nizhnii Novgorod's NBD-Bank to support small and medium-sized businesses, Regnum reported on 27 December, citing the NBD-Bank press service. An agreement was signed on 24 December. This is the first credit agreement signed by NBD-Bank under the program of credit guarantees of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The program's conditions include 50 percent guarantee from USAID for NBD-Bank's potential creditor on up to $3.5 million for the period of two years. Raiffeisenbank Austria is a branch of Raiffeisen International.

Prosecutors File Criminal Case Against Samara Oblast Governor
The Samara prosecutor's office has filed a criminal case against several officials of the Samara Oblast government, including Governor Konstantin Titov, Samara prosecutor Viktor Kazberov told a press conference on 30 December, Regnum reported the same day. The criminal case is based on material collected by the Russian Interior Ministry Antieconomic Crimes Chief Directorate. The Samara officials are accused of abuse of power.

U.S. Company Purchases Two Aluminum Plants
The Federal Antimonopoly Service allowed on 30 December the international Alcoa group to purchase controlling interests in the Samara Metallurgy Plant and Rostov Oblast's Belokalitvinsk Metallurgy Industrial Association, Regnum reported on 31 December. Given that the companies dominate the Russian market in terms of some aluminum production and defense industry production, Alcoa was had to meet certain requirements on competition and the defense of Russia's economic interests. The Antimonopoly Service also signed special agreements with Alcoa regulating employment and pricing issues and implementation of long-term state orders. Service deputy head Andrei Tsyganov told the news agency that the development of a special mechanism using antimonopoly legislation to defend the interests of national security and the state's defensive capability preceded the purchase of the plants by the Alcoa group. Previously both plants were run by the Russian aluminum holding Rusal.

Saratov, Yekaterinburg Continue To Subsidize Use Of City Transport
Saratov Mayor Yurii Aksenenko announced an agreement with city public transport companies to maintain the right of free use of city transport for World War II veterans in 2005, the Saratov state broadcasting reported on 28 December. The veterans will still be paid their monetary compensation for use of transport.

Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii issued a resolution according to which over 84,000 pensioners in the city will be provided an opportunity to use city public transport for free in 2005, Uralinformbyuro reported on 28 December.

New Hunger Strike At Sverdlovsk Oblast Plant
Twenty-eight former workers from Sverdlovsk Oblast's Ivdel Hydrolyz Plant (IGZ) began a new hunger strike on 28 December to demand payment of back wages and severance pay, Regnum reported the next day. On 30 December, the number of strikers reached 35. Workers went six months without pay several times in the past several years. This is the second hunger strike by plant workers in the past month. As a result of a strike by some 30 employees on 20-25 December, they were fully repaid three years' back wages while two hunger strikers were hospitalized.

IGZ competitive manager Yurii Kulikov was arrested on 27 December, Uralinformbyuro reported on 28 December, citing the Sverdlovsk Oblast prosecutor office's press service. Kulikov is accused of nonpayment of wages, tax evasion, and improper activity during bankruptcy. Earlier in December, former Krasnouralsk Chemical Plant Director Grigorii Yeremeev and former Tavda Hydrolyze Plant Director Sergei Bagreev were also arrested. Workers at the two plants also held hunger strikes to protest the nonpayment of wages.

Udmurt Pensioners Demonstrate Against Monetarization Of Benefits
Some 200 pensioners demonstrated against the replacement of in-kind benefits with monetary compensation in front of the Udmurt presidential-administration building in the capital Izhevsk on 29 December, Kupol-Media reported the same day. The protesters demanded a meeting with Udmurt President Aleksandr Volkov, rejecting a proposal by Volkov's chief of staff, Aleksandr Goryainov, to meet with Social Care Minister Svetlana Andreeva. Pensioners, who were promised compensation between 100 rubles and 300 rubles a month, said that the money won't cover growing housing and municipal-services tariffs, after the price of electricity alone was raised by 12 percent on 1 January.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova