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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 1, 2005

1 February 2005
Parliament Amends Law On Social Benefits
The State Council passed on 26 January amendments to the law on social benefits, and Tatar-inform reported the same day. The amendment adjusts the amounts of monetary compensation for abolished in-kind social benefits: 200 rubles ($7) to labor veterans, 250 rubles to victims of political repression, 300 rubles World War II labor veterans and rehabilitated people, and 1,800 and 2,300 rubles to orphans under and above 7 years old, respectively. Subsidies of three rubles a day will be allocated for feeding schoolchildren and students of professional schools. The amendment will require additional spending of some 1.2 billion rubles.

Meanwhile, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 January, average tariffs on housing and municipal services rose in Tatarstan by 60 percent as of 1 January, while heating and hot-water tariffs increased by 240 percent.

Russia Registers Tatarstan's State Symbols
The state symbols of Tatarstan have been included in the Russian State Heraldic Register,, Tatar-inform and Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 27 January. The certificates were given to President Mintimer Shaimiev by Russian Heraldic Council Chairman Georgii Velinbakhov the same day in Kazan. Shaimiev said at the meeting that "God willing, they will remain in [the Russian State Heraldic Register] forever [while the country itself will remain] a united state." Shaimiev said Tatarstan's state symbols were adopted in the most complex period, at the peak of an aggravated political situation. Nevertheless, the republic managed to overcome the difficulties and it always assigned primary importance to the integrity of the Russian state.

Political Scientist: Russia's Treaty With Chechnya May Be Bad Example For Republics
The head of the Political Science Department at Kazan State University, professor Midkhet Faruqshin, wrote in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 January that signing a bilateral power-sharing treaty between Moscow and Chechnya could result in a burst of separatism in the national republics. Faruqshin said if Chechnya is given the right to manage its natural resources, especially its oil, as it is assumed in the draft treaty, any other Russian entity will be able to demand a similar treaty, based on the principle of equal rights of federation subjects of the Russian Constitution. If the federal authorities agree to that provision in the treaty with Chechnya, what legal arguments will it be able to make against the demand, for example, by Tatarstan to let it manage its oil, Faruqshin asked. Faruqshin also said federal authorities, while saying they stand for the "dictatorship of law," overstep the limits of legal space itself. He argued that the principle of sovereignty of the Chechen Republic fixed in the Chechen Constitution that was passed in the March 2003 referendum contradicts the June 2000 Russian Constitutional Court ruling under which republics in Russia do not have sovereignty. This gave other republics an additional argument in defending their sovereignty, Faruqshin added.

Protesters Against Reforms Rally Again
An authorized meeting to protest the benefit reforms was held in Kazan on 30 January, ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported the same day. About 1,000 people, according to ITAR-TASS, took part in the demonstration in front of the Tatar State Drama Theater initiated by the Communist Party's (KPRF) faction in the Tatar State Council. Red flags and placards such as "Russia's Revival Is Main Aim Of KPRF," "Russia, Labor, People's Power, Communism," and "It's Enough To Rob People" were displayed. Protesters called for the annulment of the reform and dismissal of the Russian government. They also demanded that housing and municipal-services tariffs be reduced, pensions be increased to 4,000 rubles per month, and salaries be raised to 8,000 rubles.

Commission On Kazan Millennium Celebration Meets In Kazan
A meeting of the state commission on preparations for Kazan's 1000th anniversary was held in Kazan on 29 January by the commission's deputy chairman, Russian Finance Minister Kudrin, and Tatar-inform reported the same day.

Speaking at the meeting, Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhaqov said an additional 6 billion rubles ($214 million) is necessary to finish construction of the first line of the Kazan subway by the millennium celebration. Iskhaqov suggested that 3 billion rubles be allotted by the federal government, 2 billion rubles from the republican government, and 1 billion rubles be found by the city of Kazan. Opening the first line of a new bridge over the Kazanka River also requires 1 billion rubles, he said. Iskhaqov also requested 3 billion rubles for restoration of 4 square kilometers of streets by the jubilee. Iskhaqov said the most important events due to be held in Kazan as part of the millennium celebrations are a session of the CIS Council of Heads of State and a session of the Russian State Council. Both are slated for August.

The same day, Kudrin inspected construction of the Kazan subway and the Kazanka River bridge. Speaking at a press conference on 29 January, Kudrin said "we are on the last lap [of preparations for the jubilee] and it will be difficult now to increase spending. We have to implement what we have already planned." Commenting on the construction of the subway, Kudrin said he was convinced that it is being built as quickly as required, adding that "the pace of the construction is unique since there has never been anything like it in Russia before."

World Bandy Championships Start In Kazan
The 25th World Bandy Championships opened in Kazan on 30 January, Tatarinform reported the same day. Teams from Belarus, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United States, and Russia are taking part in the competition. President Mintimer Shaimiev said at the opening ceremony that Tatarstan has never before hosted any world championship and holding it in Kazan is an illustration of the significant successes of the republic in the socioeconomic sphere. The championship is the first among a sequence of events devoted to the Kazan millennium.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Court Upholds Fines Against Ufa Oil Refineries
Russia's Supreme Arbitration Court presidium has ruled that Ufaneftekhim, Ufa Oil Refinery, and Novo-Ufimskii Oil Refinery must pay the federal government roughly 12 billion rubles ($427 million) in underpaid taxes and penalties, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 January. The Federal Tax Service (FNS) accused the Bashkir companies of failing to pay taxes between April 2001 and January 2002 through agreements with the Bort-M and Korus-Baikonur companies registered in Kazakhstan's Baikonur off-shore zone (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 3 February, 13 and 20 March, 26 May, 6 June, 17, 18 and 23 July, 24 October 2003 and 9 April and 20 October 2004, "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 7 March 2003).

In 2003, the Russian Tax Ministry (MNS) claimed Ufaneftekhim owed 2.2 billion rubles, Ufa Oil Refinery owed 5.8 billion rubles, and Novo-Ufimskii Oil Refinery owed over 4 billion rubles in unpaid taxes and penalties. The companies won three suits against MNS in the Bashkir Arbitration Court, the Bashkir Arbitration Court Appeals Board, and the Ural Federal District Arbitration Court. FNS Bashkir legal department head Artur Kheiretdinov told the daily that the amounts owed by the plants may change since the court has ruled that the refineries' fines must be recounted.

Meanwhile, the FNS will hold an audit of Bashneft, Ufaneftekhim, Ufa Oil Refinery, and Novo-Ufimskii Oil Refinery for 2002-04, Interfax reported on 26 January, citing an unidentified source. The source commented that "it has been decided to thoroughly look into Bashkortostan."

Signatures Supporting Referendum To Elect Local Administration Heads Collected
The chairman of Bashkortostan's Tatar National-Cultural Autonomy and the head of Bashkortostan's Tatar civic groups union, Ramil Bignov, said on 26 January that signatures for holding a referendum to support direct elections of city and raion administration heads have been collected in 15 raions and 20 cities and towns in Bashkortostan, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. Bignov was speaking at a meeting of the coordinating council formed by opposition parties and groups that organized a 22 January protest in Ufa. Bignov said the Bashkir Central Election Commission (USK), which refused to accept signatures from Agidel residents on 24 January, begin accepting them on 25 January, only after referendum initiators appealed to the prosecutor's office. By 26 January, some 10 cities and towns have submitted collected signatures to the USK, Bignov said.

Meeting participants condemned local official media outlets, including "Vechernyaya Ufa," "Respublika Bashkortostan," and "Kyzyl tang" for articles defaming initiators and participants in the 22 January demonstrations that attracted 5,000 participants.

New Bashkir Ombudsman Elected
The Bashkir State Assembly on 27 January approved the nomination of Fetkhlislam Toqombetov by Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov to the post of Bashkortostan's human rights representative, Bashinform and RosBalt reported the same day. Toqombetov, 55, was previously the Bashkir deputy interior minister in charge of human resources. In January, he was appointed head of the republic's public council on supervision of observance of human rights by law-enforcement bodies. Toqombetov replaced Chyngyz Gazizov, who resigned after having completed his second term. Under the republican law, one cannot serve more than two terms as an ombudsman. "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" on 28 January reported, however, that Russian human rights representative Vladimir Lukin during his meeting with President Rakhimov in December expressed his dissatisfaction with Gazizov's work. The nomination of a new ombudsman has been agreed with Lukin, according to the daily.

Parliament Appeals To Federal Authorities Criticizing Social-Benefits Reform
Bashkir State Assembly deputies passed an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, and parliamentary speakers Sergei Mironov and Boris Gryzlov in which they expressed their concern with the implementation of the law on social-benefits reform. The deputies disagreed with the principle of the reform under which World War II labor veterans and victims of political repression receive monetary benefits from the regional government, not the federal one. They noted that in Bashkortostan, it was possible to pay those groups only 200 rubles ($7) a month, while in some Russian entities receiving subsidies from the federal government, those payments are even higher than in donor regions. The Bashkir parliamentarians suggested that those groups of people be paid subsidies from the federal center and compensations paid from federal and regional governments be equalized.

The State Assembly also passed in the first reading amendments annulling the right to free public transportation in Bashkortostan for State Assembly deputies. The measure is intended to save money allocated for financing the legislature.

Rakhimov Says Oil Refineries Will Pay Debts
President Murtaza Rakhimov told a press conference on 27 January in Ufa that Bashkortostan's oil refineries must abide by a recent ruling by the Supreme Arbitration Court Presidium that they must pay back taxes related to their operations in Baikonur (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 27 January 2004), "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 29 January.

Rakhimov expressed his hope that "if everything is done in accordance with law," then roughly half of 12 billion rubles in debts will be transferred to Bashkortostan's budget. Rakhimov added that "for the republic's authorities, the court verdict was not unexpected," adding that they will weather the storm and the "plants will repay their debts."

The daily reported that an additional criminal case has been opened to determine if the Russian Tax Ministry's Bashkortostan Board illegally allowed refineries to restructure 1.5 billion rubles in debt when the board was headed by Reshit Sattarov.

Russian Ombudsman Calls For Criminal Persecution Against People Responsible For Blagoveshchensk Raid...
Russian Human Rights representative Vladimir Lukin has received a response from the Blagoveshchensk administration and the Bashkir Interior Ministry regarding his request for an investigation into possible human rights violations that took place during raids conducted by ministry personnel in Blagoveshchensk in December, Regnum reported on 28 January (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 and 30 December 2004, 3, 6, 7, 10-14, 17-21, and 24 January 2005).

Bashkir officials said the decision by the Bashkir Interior Ministry to hold special preventive measures in Blagoveshchensk was made in contradiction to legislation. Other violations included mass detentions of residents, and the taking of photos and fingerprints. Those violations are to be qualified as exceeding power, according to the authors of the report.

...As Prosecutors Identify 50 Victims Of Raid
Over 50 people have been officially classified by the prosecutor's office as victims stemming from the December interior raid in Blagoveshchensk, Igor Kalyapin, chairman of Nizhnii Novgorod's Committee Against Torture, told Regnum on 28 January. Kalyapin said his organization provided lawyers to five victims who appealed against violations allegedly perpetrated by interior employees. Since all victims are similar claims, those five could decide the entire case, Kalyapin said.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Street Actions Against Social-Benefits Reform Continue...
A protest meeting in Kirov against social-benefit reforms on 25 January attracted some 3,500 participants, Regnum reported the same day. On 27 January in Kirov, over 1,000 people again staged a protest meeting organized by the Labor Kirov movement, Interfax-Povolzhe reported the same day. Participants demanded that the law on social-benefit reforms be annulled and housing and municipal-services tariffs be frozen.

Roughly 300 residents picketed on 25 January the Kurgan Oblast Duma building and collected signatures for annulment of the law on social-benefit reforms, Interfax-Urals reported the same day. The action was initiated by the local branch of the Communist Party (KPRF) and the Kurgan veterans organization.

The dismissal of the Russian government and president, dissolution of the State Duma, as well as the annulment or freezing of the law on benefit reforms until a mechanism of worthy compensation is developed were among the main demands by 4,000 protesters at a demonstration in Nizhnii Novgorod on 25 January, Regnum reported the same day. The protest was organized by the KPRF's Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast branch and joined by local Motherland branches. At the meeting, KPRF members began collecting signatures for the recall of the State Duma Deputies Anatolii Kozeradskii, Lyubomir Tyan, Aleksei Likhachev, and Aleksandr Khinshtein representing Unified Russia from the oblast.

In Perm, about 100 pensioners picketed the oblast parliament on 27 January with signs reading "Restore All Benefits," Interfax-Povolzhe and Novyi region (Perm) reported the same day.

Over 600 people picketed the Sverdlovsk Oblast government building in Yekaterinburg on 26 January demanding changes in social policy and increased salaries and pensions, Interfax-Urals reported the same day. Pensioners also called for restoring in-kind social benefits. The Sverdlovsk Oblast branches of the Party of Pensioners, People's Party, Yabloko, the Social-Democratic Party, and the Agrarian Party took part in the protest.

...As Well As Hunger Strikes...
Five Motherland members in Orenburg Oblast joined a hunger strike by five State Duma deputies from that party in Moscow, Regnum reported on 27 January. On 26 January, Motherland and the KPRF initiated a demonstration in Orenburg to demand that the social-benefit reforms not result in worsening people's living conditions.

Members of Motherland in Chelyabinsk ended a hunger strike on 26 January they have been holding since 22 January against the law on benefit reforms, Interfax-Urals reported on 27 January, citing the party press service. As of 27 January, the branch began the action titled "100 Days of the Protest," which started with a meeting at the Chelyabinsk Theater Square on 27 January.

...While Shape Of Protests Vary
A Yekaterinburg military officer placed a sign saying "A Stowaway" on the back of his uniform as a protest against the abolishment of free public transportation for servicemen, reported on 26 January, citing "Komsomolskaya pravda-Urals."

In Yekaterinburg, a dispute concerning the pros and cons of the benefit reform between two passengers on a bus ended in a shooting after one of them pulled out a pistol, Regnum reported on 26 January. However, the bullet missed the target and brushed the cheek of a woman who was standing near.

Meanwhile, in Perm, signs appeared in some buses saying "Do Not Enter Without Money."

In-Kind Social Benefits Preserved In Sverdlovsk Oblast
Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel told a press conference on 26 January that the oblast will not introduce cash payments in place of in-kind social benefits in 2005, though the reform decision is correct and market-oriented, Interfax-Urals reported the same day. Rossel said some 500,000 residents will be provided benefits by the oblast, while 350,000 people will receive monetary compensations in place of in-kind benefits.

Mosque Vandalized In Nizhnii
A swastika was painted on the wall of the Tauba mosque in Nizhnii Novgorod's Avtozavodskii Raion, Regnum reported on 27 January, citing Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Muslim Spiritual Directorate spokeswoman Liliya Arifulina. Arifulina said there had been prior instances of defacing the mosque when unknown people painted swastikas on walls and broke windows. Complaints to law-enforcement agencies have not helped the situation, Arifulina said. Oblast Interior Ministry information department head Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Gorbatov told the news agency that the prosecutor's office found no grounds for filing a criminal case. Volga Federal District presidential envoy adviser Olga Savinova commented that similar acts of vandalism are a "display of low culture rather than growth of national or religious extremism."

Smuggled Uranium Found In Orenburg Oblast
Orenburg Oblast customs officials seized 37.5 kilograms of uranium-238 from an automobile traveling to Kazakhstan, Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 28 January, citing the Volga Federal District customs press service. The uranium was discovered by Iletsk customs officers. In the customs declaration, the uranium container was described as sporting goods. Criminal charges of attempted smuggling of a radioactive substance has been filed.

Prosecutors Accuse Saratov Oblast Governor's Adviser Of Libel
The Saratov Oblast Prosecutor's Office held a press conference on 25 January to specify accusations against journalist and adviser to the Saratov Oblast governor Eduard Abrosimov, who was detained on 21 January (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 25 January 2005), Regnum reported the same day. Oblast First Deputy Prosecutor Anatolii Gorshkov said Abrosimov is suspected of preparing and distributing an article defaming State Duma Deputy Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin in "Sobesednik" on 2 November and of publishing in the Saratov media in November an article about an unidentified bribe-taking prosecutor. Gorshkov said Abrosimov also might be involved in issuing a fax on 17 November that falsely reported the dismissal of Saratov Oblast Prosecutor Anatolii Bondar, as a text about it has been found on Abrosimov's computer.

Hunger Strike In Yekaterinburg Puppet Theater
Nine employees of the Yekaterinburg Puppet Theater, including the chief producer and chief artist, held a hunger strike on 25-27 January to protest the dismissal of theater director Rimma Arkhangelskaya, Interfax-Urals reported on 28 January. The strikers stopped their strike after Yekaterinburg Deputy Mayor Mikhail Matveev met with them and promised to arrange a meeting with Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova