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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 24, 2004

24 February 2004
President Shaimiev Comments On Political, Nationalities Issues...
In a 15 February interview with RFE/RL, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev asserted that the main principles of the power-sharing treaty between Tatarstan and Russia -- such as Tatarstan's sovereignty and statehood -- remain in force under the Russian Constitution, since Russia's republics are states. Shaimiev added that bilateral treaties remain the way to settle disputes between Russia and entities within the federation, adding that a similar treaty is being developed to address relations between Russia and Chechnya.

Federal bodies have done nothing to resolve issues of national and cultural development for Tatars, Shaimiev claimed, adding that the establishment of the Tatar National and Cultural Autonomy has remained an achievement in formal terms only. National republics and peoples have no real chance of resolving their national problems with the help of federal legislative bodies, Shaimiev said. He claimed that when he was a Federation Council member, it was never possible to promote issues concerning national territories, republics, or minority peoples at the legislative level, as "we always remained a minority." Even in the totalitarian Soviet Union, there was a nationalities chamber, he added. The Federation Council plays no role in political life and does not represent Russia in either international or domestic life, Shaimiev said.

Shaimiev said his federal counterpart Vladimir Putin will never depart from a democratic method of governing, as Russia has no other choice than to develop as a democratic state. Shaimiev added that Unified Russia will occupy the center-right and rightist territory on the political landscape. He expressed his belief that Unified Russia will win a majority in Tatarstan's parliamentary elections on 14 March.

...And On Interfaith Relations...
Addressing a question on negative perceptions of Muslims within society during his RFE/RL interview on 15 February, Shaimiev said the problem has always existed in Russia. Under the currently unstable political situation in the country, he said, there are many politicians apparently willing to exploit that factor. Russia should be better equipped to help ease relations between Christianity and Islam, as it has the experience of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and other regions in which Muslims and Christians have peacefully coexisted for a long time. He said Jadidism, a more "secular" version of Islam developed in Tatarstan, takes into account the fact that Muslims live here alongside Christians. Shaimiev also said no religious motives lie behind Chechnya's move toward independence, adding that Chechen leaders have never declared that they are fighting against Christianity.

Elections Tsar Visits Tatarstan
Meeting with Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev on 13 February, Russian Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov warned against "extremes in...state-run mass media and using administrative levers of power" during election campaigns, RIA-Novosti reported. At a meeting with reporters the same day, Veshnyakov expressed regret that, "during the State Duma elections such extremes took place." However, Veshnyakov said during the meeting with Shaimiev that he is satisfied with the work of Tatarstan's Central Election Commission (USK) as, according to him, not a single lawsuit on the results of the elections or on the registration process has been filed. In previous elections, such lawsuits continued for several months, Veshnyakov said. At a meeting with Tatarstan's USK members, Veshnyakov said that representatives of the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will come to Tatarstan to arrange the organization's monitoring mission for the Russian presidential elections in March.

10th Anniversary Of Tatarstan's Treaty With Moscow Marked
Tatar State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin, former Tatar Deputy President Vasilii Likhachev, former Tatar Prime Minister Mukhammat Sabirov, and state adviser to Tatar President Rafail Khekimov joined a 14 February meeting in Kazan commemorating the 10th anniversary of the bilateral power-sharing treaty between Russia and Tatarstan,, RosBalt, and other news agencies reported. Speaking at the gathering, Mukhametshin said Tatarstan is not going to give up on treaty-based relations with Russia. He said the treaty signed in 1994 became a "starting point in the creation of a future federative state." Mukhametshin asserted that a new version of the treaty will "establish strict juridical relations between federal authorities and Tatarstan" and will give the republic extra powers. He also said the document is to become federal law. A special commission in Tatarstan is currently proposing amendments to the treaty.

In his speech, Likhachev expressed concern about proposals by the Russian leadership to eliminate power-sharing agreements between Russia and its regions, which he said are in keeping with the Russian Constitution. Likhachev argued that the model of the treaty between Russia and Tatarstan was used during negotiations to settle the conflict in Kosovo.

Speaking at the meeting, state adviser Khekimov said the power-vertical being established in Russia is an "inefficient system of governing" and that federal authorities will soon "come to recognize the fact that the federation is founded on the principle of divided sovereignty." He expressed confidence that the "time of the power-vertical will soon end and the formula 'strong regions - strong Russia,' on which we have always insisted, will triumph."

Deputy Prime Minister Says Tatarstan Should Deepen Ties With Muslim Countries
Speaking at a gathering of Tatar representatives abroad and in Russia on 17 February, Tatar Deputy Prime Minister and Economy and Industry Minister Aleksei Pakhomov called for the deepening of relations with Muslim countries, RosBalt reported. Pakhomov said Tatar representatives could popularize "Jadidism as a tolerant and creative [branch of] Islam and strengthen relations with the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC]." Pakhomov suggested that an OIC information center be opened in Kazan. Pakhomov also called for more efficient cooperation with UN organizations, the World Trade Organization, as well as with the Council of Europe, the World Bank, and the League of Arab States. Currently Tatarstan has plenipotentiary, permanent, and trade representations in 21 countries and seven of Russia's regions.

Committee Passes Amendments To Tatar Presidential-Election Law
Tatarstan's State Council Committee on State Administration, Local Self-Government, and Foreign Relations on 18 February passed amendments to the law on republican presidential elections due to be read by the parliament in its third reading, Tatarinform and reported. The amendment of principle concerns the paragraph saying that a citizen over 30 who is able to vote and to speak the republic's state languages can be elected the republic's president. This is replaced by a provision saying that a citizen meeting the requirements established by the Tatar Constitution and federal law can be elected president. Committee Chairman Vasilii Loginov said that referring to the republic's constitution will avoid lawsuits against the draft law. The similar requirement in the Tatar Constitution about knowledge of state languages for presidential candidates is being contested by the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office in court and the same might happen to this law if the provision remained in it, Loginov said.

Shaimiev Pushes Tax Breaks For Alabuga Companies
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said on 18 February that favorable conditions and tax breaks for companies in the Alabuga offshore zone will be maintained, although in Russia there is no legislation about offshore zones and they are prohibited, reported. Federal bodies have been insisting for a year that Tatarstan annul its corresponding law, Shaimiev continued. He also said the Russian Economy Ministry is developing a draft law on free economic zones but in different conditions. "Whatever legislation is accepted, we will insist on keeping favorable regime for enterprises [in Alabuga] even at the expense of reducing revenues to the republican budget," Shaimiev said. The establishment of the Alabuga offshore zone has provided jobs for 5,000 people. According to predictions, 1.5 billion rubles ($52.6 million) in foreign investment will be attracted to Alabuga in 2004-05.

The Russian Supreme Court on 21 March annulled Tatarstan's law on the Alabuga offshore zone but the Tatar Cabinet of Ministers in October issued a resolution under the republican law on investment activities that introduced tax breaks to companies registered in the zone.

Kurgan Military Unit To Pay Compensation To Mother Of Dead Soldier
A Shadrinsk military unit in the Kurgan Oblast will pay Tatarstan resident Tamara Weliullina 70,000 rubles ($2,456) in compensation for the death of her son Rinat Weliullin, Regnum reported on 18 February. On 2 April 2002, 18-year-old Weliullin, who was called up on 3 December 2001 and was serving at the Shadrinsk military unit, was found dead. The unit's command informed Weliullina that her son had committed suicide. Evidence gathered by Weliullina, however, suggested that her son had been beaten and she appealed to the Shadrinsk Raion court. The court ordered the military unit to pay compensation to Weliullina.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Tatar Groups Consider The Idea Of Annexing Part Of Bashkortostan's Territory
A 14 February congress of Tatar civic groups in Bashkortostan discussed possible ways to obtain an official status for the Tatar language, which is spoken by one-third of the republic's population, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported yesterday. The planned activities reportedly include demonstrations in front of the Bashkir parliament building and appeals to the Tatar and Bashkir presidents urging more attention to Tatar rights in Bashkortostan. During the congress, Vener Fettakhov, head of the Durtoile Raion branch of the Tatar Public Center, suggested that Tatar groups should initiate a referendum on annexing the Tatar-dominated areas in northwest Bashkortostan to Tatarstan. He explained that the move would wake up the Bashkir regime and force it to make concessions. The congress reportedly agreed to establish a special executive body for promoting the referendum.

Bashkir Officials Uncertain About Law On Peoples' Languages
Firdewes Khisametdinova, the deputy head of Ufa's History, Linguistics, and Literature Institute, said that the number of students learning the Bashkir language in urban schools in the republic is decreasing, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 17 February. Meanwhile, the head of the Ufa Education Department, Khantimer Bayazitov, is reported to have a different opinion and said that in the five years since the adoption of the law declaring Bashkir a state language along with Russia the number of Ufa students regularly taking courses in Bashkir increased by 20 percent. Official figures show that 30 percent of Bashkortostan's schoolchildren are taking most of their school subjects in Bashkir but that figure is expected to decline since the introduction of state Russian-language graduation exams in 2003. Previously, some of Bashkortostan's schools and universities were allowed to give graduation exams in Bashkir.

Unified Russia In Bashkortostan Pledges Support For Candidate Putin...
The chief federal inspector in Bashkortostan, Engels Qolmokhemetov, told a meeting of the local branch of the Unified Russia party on 18 February that the party should "ensure the maximum turnout figures and maximum percentage of votes in favor" of incumbent President Vladimir Putin in the 14 March elections, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. In Qolmokhemetov's opinion, party activists are capable of boosting the turnout figures and the number of votes for Putin up to 90 percent. The head of Putin's election campaign headquarters in Bashkortostan, state-service academy rector Ildar Gimaev, said that although "it's the party's duty" to ensure Putin's victory in the elections, it "should not engage in a full-fledged promotional campaign" in order not to compromise his high ratings.

nified Russia claims to have 15,000 active members and more than 100,000 supporters in Bashkortostan. It also has more than 100 deputies in 120-seat Bashkir parliament, as well as 918 deputies in city and regional assemblies across the republic.

...As Election Commission Head Predicts High Turnout Figures
Bashkir Central Election Commission (USK) Chairman Baryi Kinjegulov told a news conference on 18 February that at least 80 percent of Bashkortostan's voters are expected to show up for the 14 March Russian presidential elections, or 7 percent-8 percent higher than for the December 2003 vote for the Russian State Duma and Bashkir president, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported.

he 14 March vote will combine voting for the Russian president and municipal and regional assemblies in the republic. For the presidential vote, the USK will print the ballots in Russian, Tatar, and Bashkir languages.

World Bashkir Congress Executive Says Repatriation Of Ethnic Bashkirs Should Be Encouraged
Ekhmet Soleimanov, chief executive of the World Bashkir Congress, on 19 February said he believes Bashkortostan should encourage the repatriation of ethnic Bashkirs living elsewhere in the Russian Federation, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported. He explained that "many Bashkirs are spread across vast territories, where they went to become oil and petrochemical industry workers." According to Soleimenov, their repatriation to the republic is key to preserving its "ethnic balance and preventing the dissolution of Bashkirs" by other ethnic groups. "If we are so hospitable to people from the Caucasus and the CIS republics, why shouldn't we open our doors to our brothers?"

Parliament Votes To Retain Procedure Of Appointing Regional-Administration Heads...
Bashkortostan's State Assembly on 19 February voted to suspend the newly adopted law on local state government, which allows for the election of regional- and municipal-administration heads instead of by presidential decree. Bashkir parliamentary speaker Konstantin Tolkachev explained before the vote that federal law taking effect as of 2006 allows the regions to suspend the reform until that year.

...And Replaces Bashkir Government's Representative To Federation Council
Also on 19 February, the State Assembly approved President Murtaza Rakhimov's resolution appointing Rudik Isqujin as his representative in the Russian Federation Council, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. Iskujin, 53, replaces Aleksandr Yaqubov, who held the position since 2001. Isqujin is an ethnic Bashkir and decorated KGB officer who has worked for Gazprom, Transneft, and Mashinoimport, and has served since 2003 as an adviser to the secretary of Unified Russia's General Council.

Shake-Up In Bashkortostan's Fuel-And-Energy Sector
The Bashkir fuel-and-energy companies united in Bashkirskii kapital holding A underwent management reform in early February, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 February. Specifically, the management of oil refineries was transferred to the Institute of Regional Economy and Law, which previously provided legal services to the companies, and the post of executive director was created at Bashneft. The daily cited an unidentified source in the Bashkir government as saying the changes are linked to the companies' forthcoming sale.

s a result of the reform, Bashneft, previously subordinate to Bashneftekhim and then to Bashkirskii kapital, has become more independent. Most of the managing power was transferred to the executive director post now filled by Bashneft chief accountant Vadim Rybinskii. Viktor Gantsev, a former Bashneftekhim general director and until now general director of Bashkirskii kapital, was appointed executive director of the Institute of Regional Economy and Law.

he paper cited unnamed sources in the companies as saying that the shake-up was initiated to introduce distance between Bashneft and the Bashkir oil refineries, on one side, and Bashkirskii kapital on the other, as the latter's privatization is being investigated by the prosecutor's office. Rumors have been circulating in Bashkortostan since the Bashkir presidential elections that Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov has promised federal bodies control over several Bashkir fuel-and-energy companies in exchange for his victory in the elections. The daily cited analysts with investment companies as naming Rosneft and Surgutneftegaz as the most likely buyers of the Bashkir companies.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Muslim Graves Defiled In Marii El
Unknown people vandalized 27 Muslim graves in the Yoshkar-Ola Turunovskoe cemetery on 17 February, Regnum-MariNews reported. Some 40 teenagers, boys and girls, were reportedly seen passing through the cemetery shortly before the graves were found vandalized. On 20 February, the Marii El Interior Ministry's Yoshkar-Ola Directorate announced that not only Muslim but also Christian graves were vandalized and crosses were found near the cemetery. The directorate suggested that the intent was not anti-Muslim but simple hooliganism.

Russian President Introduces Draft Law On Founding New Federation Subject
President Vladimir Putin on 20 February introduced to the State Duma a draft federal law on the establishment in Russia of a new federation subject as a result of the merger of Perm Oblast and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 February. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said the law can be passed as a whole in a month. According to the draft, the entity called Permskii Krai will become a full-fledged federation subject by 2007, following the elections of the krai governor and parliament. Under the law, legislative bodies of the oblast and okrug will be unable to pass laws "aimed at stopping the process of the creation of Perm Krai." Perm Krai will have two senators in the Federation Council in place of current four representing the oblast and okrug. However, the okrug will maintain the right to elect its own deputy to the State Duma.

In the referendum on the issue held on 7 December, 84 percent of Perm Oblast residents and 90 percent of Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug residents backed the merger.

Samara Oblast Governor Ready For Early Elections
Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov said he is "ready to be re-elected governor any time," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 February. Titov was reacting to the proposal by Tolyatti Mayor Nikolai Utkin about holding early gubernatorial elections in October 2004 together with the Tolyatti City Duma elections.

Titov was appointed Samara Oblast administration head in September 1991 by Boris Yeltsin. In 1996, he was elected oblast governor. In 2000, Titov ran for Russian president and after losing, resigned as governor in April 2000 but won re-election in early elections in the first round in July 2000. The next election is scheduled for 2005. The daily commented that early elections would be in Titov's favor, as his competitors would not have enough time to prepare for the race.

Orthodoxy To Be Taught In Samara Secondary Schools
Students at Samara secondary schools will study the principles of Orthodoxy, representatives of the Russia Orthodox Church and the Samara City Education Department agreed at a meeting on 17 February, "Samara Segodnya" reported on 19 February. The course in Orthodoxy will be offered as an elective, according to the report. The newspaper quoted Russian Education Minister Vladimir Filippov as saying that the subject will be titled "Principles of the Orthodox Culture" and will not be theological. It will be offered with the consent of children and their parents. Filippov said students who are not interested in Orthodox culture will be suggested the subject titled "History and Culture of the World's Major Religions," which includes parts devoted to Orthodoxy, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. The Russian Education Ministry has announced a tender for creating a textbook on the subject.

TsIK Registers Three Sverdlovsk Oblast Blocs In Local Parliamentary Elections
The Russian Central Election Commission (TsIK) has ruled in favor of appeals by three Sverdlovsk Oblast election blocs -- the Party of Russian Rebirth, the Russian Party of Pensioners, and the Union of Ural State Budget Employees -- against the Sverdlovsk Oblast Election Commission, which refused to register them in the oblast parliamentary elections, Novyi region reported on 20 February, citing the TsIK press service. The TsIK has registered the three groups and ordered that the oblast election commission distribute candidate certificates to their members within three days.

Representatives of the Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko bloc in Sverdlovsk Oblast appealed on 17 February in a Sverdlovsk Oblast Court against the refusal by the oblast election commission to register it in the oblast duma elections, Novyi region reported. A similar appeal was rejected the week before by the TsIK.

Sverdlovsk Oblast Government Head Promotes Regional Quotas To Raise Birthrate
Sverdlovsk Oblast government Chairman Aleksei Vorobyev suggested that all oblast regions be given "quotas" to improve demographic parameters they are to fulfill and officials responsible for their implementation be appointed, Novyi region reported on 16 February. Delivering a report on the demographic situation in the oblast at a government meeting, Vorobyev said the oblast's population is still declining despite the birthrate increasing by 4 percent in 2003.

Abuse Of Soldiers In Army On The Rise
The Tyumen Committee of Soldiers' Mothers said 58 soldiers deserted in the Volga-Ural Military District in 2003, while 16 have left their units so far this year, Novyi region reported on 16 February. Committee Deputy Chairwoman Taisya Galkina told the news agency about an appeal to the committee by parents of a soldier who served in the Emergency Situations Ministry's military unit in Pervouralsk, Sverdlovsk Oblast, and has deserted twice. He left his unit for the second time after he was beaten and given a concussion. He deserted the first time also after being beaten. He is currently being questioned by the Military Prosecutor's Office. However, under the current law, the serviceman will have to return to his unit, Galkina said, adding that the committee's appeal to the Volga-Ural Military District not to send the soldier to his unit is unlikely to have any effect. According to Military Prosecutor's Office data, 2,500 cases of abuse of soldiers in the army were registered in 2003, 500 more than the year before, while 16 soldiers died.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova