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Tatar-Bashkir Report: March 9, 2004

9 March 2004
Tatar Prosecutor Files Complaint Against Law On Latin-Based Tatar Script...
The Tatar Supreme Court on 2 March will hear a complaint by Tatarstan's Prosecutor Kafil Emirov against the republic's law on restoring the Latin Tatar script as contradicting the federal law on languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 2 March. The November 2002 amendment to the federal law makes the use of Cyrillic-based alphabets mandatory for all state languages in Russia, while the introduction of any other script must be confirmed by federal law.

When Tatarstan's laws were being harmonized with federal legislation, similar protests by the republic's prosecutor were always upheld. However, the Tatar State Council at its last session on 26 February passed an appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court to rule whether the Cyrillic-only provision of the federal law conforms to the Russian Constitution. The appeal refers to the verdict by the Tatar Constitutional Court, which ruled in December that the Tatar language's script is within Tatarstan's jurisdiction. If the Russian Constitutional Court disagrees with the Tatar court, deputies will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

According to the 1999 law on restoration of the Latin script of the Tatar language, the Latin script was to be introduced in all secondary schools as of September 2001 but it is still taught only as an experiment in several schools.

...As Shaimiev Says Cyrillic-Only Legislation Legal Dead End
At a meeting with foreign reporters on 27 February, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said that the ban on the use of any other script but Cyrillic in Russia is a political decision and "in legal respects, this is a dead end." "Nobody can deprive a people of the right to speak its native language," he added. He said that when the decision was passed, those promoting the Latin script were dominant. But their numbers decreased as the more than 3 million Tatars in Russia outside Tatarstan prefer the Cyrillic script. However, the Tatar diaspora abroad uses the Latin script, Shaimiev said, adding that the issue requires a careful approach and considered solution.

Russian Guantanamo Prisoners Extradited
The United States extradited to Russia seven of the eight Russian citizens who had been kept at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba, Interfax, RIA-Novosti, and other Russian news agencies reported on 1 March. They were detained in Afghanistan where they allegedly collaborated with the Taliban against the U.S. troops during the U.S.-led antiterrorist operation in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 5 June and 3 December 2002). One of the Russian detainees is still at the base but his name is not available, according to RIA-Novosti.

Among the prisoners are Rawil Minkhajev and Airat Wakhitov from Tatarstan and Shamil Khajiev and Rawil Gomerov from Bashkortostan. According to the Russian Federal Security Service's (FSB) Tatar office, Wakhitov and Gomerov were students at the Chally Yoldyz maddrassah that has been closed for spreading Wahhabism, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 March. Wakhitov, after he became imam of Tauba mosque, Chally's biggest, was soon arrested by local securities on suspicion of participation in Chechen military units but was then released. He went to Chechnya and then to Afghanistan where the Taliban took him for an FSB agent and imprisoned him.

Speaking to RFE/RL, the mothers of Wakhitov and Rasul Kudaev of Kabardino-Balkar Republic were strongly against the return of their sons to Russia. Emine Khesenova, Wakhitov's mother, said that her son wrote that the conditions at Guantanamo Bay are better than in Russia's health resorts (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 19 December 2002 and 1 August 2003).

Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii told the daily that a criminal case has been filed accusing the Russian Guantanamo prisoners of illegal crossing the state border and serving as mercenaries. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 2 March quoted "Soldat udachi" magazine Editor in Chief Mikhail Boltunov as saying there are a lot of mercenaries with Russian citizenship both in and outside Russia, but not one of them has been prosecuted since they did not fight against their own country. According to investigators, before crossing the Russian border, most of the "Russian Taliban" were members of Islamist organizations established in Russia, "Kommersant-Daily" reported.

Shaimiev Stresses Importance Of Opposition
Meeting with foreign reporters visiting Tatarstan on 27 February, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said the existence of an opposition is necessary and it is impossible to manage without it, RosBalt reported. Answering the question of Swedish television Moscow bureau head Bert Sundstrem, Shaimiev said, "what we should in no way and in no conditions waive is freedom of speech." He said that in Tatarstan, more newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio programs representing different political positions, including opposition, exist than in any other region of Russia. And not a single one of them is subject to pressure by the authorities, he added. "I would like a level of freedom of speech like in Tatarstan to exist in all Russian Federation subjects."

Tatar Minister Says Privatization Of Turkey's Tupras To Go Through
Tatar Trade and Foreign Economic Cooperation Minister Khefiz Salikhov told a briefing in the Cabinet of Ministers on 27 February that the deal on privatization of the Turkish oil-refining company Tupras by the joint venture between Tatneft and the Turkish Zorlu Holding is to be completed by the end of April. The two companies will split a 65.67 percent stake in Tupras.

Salikhov was part of a delegation headed by Tatar Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov that visited Ankara on 26 February and held closed-door negotiations with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayiip Erdogan and Finance Minister Kemal Unakitan. Salikhov denied previous reports that one of Tatneft's minority shareholders, the U.S.-based Imanagement Services, is demanding that the deal be abolished, saying the deal followed Russian and Turkish law. Salikhov also denied the possibility of Tatneft's participation in privatization of the Turkish state-run petrochemical company Petkim Petrokimya Holding. Meanwhile, "Kommersant" on 27 February quoted Tatarstan's representative to Turkey Rawil Mewletov as saying that Tatneft is seeking to purchase Petkim Petrokimya Holding, to which Tupras delivers some 1 million tons of gasoline a year. In 2003, Tatneft sold Tupras 2.8 million tons of oil, while this year it plans to sell it 4 million tons.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Rakhimov Gives New Russian Prime Minister Vote Of Confidence
Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov said on 1 March that Russian President Vladimir Putin's nominee for prime minister, Mikhail Fradkov, will help the president "conduct a strict and professional struggle against corruption," an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported today. Rakhimov said that Putin's decision to appoint Fradkov "was unexpected for many, because not all [of us] are fully aware of Mikhail Fradkov's work." Rakhimov added that he thinks the "candidacy seems very decent" and that he is personally acquainted with the nominee, who has "vast professional experience and knowledge of the country's potential." He emphasized that Fradkov not being connected with any political groups was "most important" for the future struggle against corruption. "Fradkov knows how our oligarchs get their billions and I'm convinced that the president's rearrangements will be for Russia's benefit," the Bashkir president said.

Bashkir Airlines Under Investigation
The Bashkir Interior Ministry has charged the Bashkir Airlines Company (BAL) with tax evasion and concealing currency assets after the company's inspection by the Tax Service, Rosbalt reported on 2 February. The alleged violations are said to date back to 2001-2002 when BAL was owned by Bashkortostan's government. In 2002, the company was reclaimed by the federal government and was included on a list of state properties to be privatized in 2004. The Ufa Transport Prosecutor's Office is already investigating the case of BAL's General Director Nikolai Odegov, who was charged with state property embezzlement and abuse of power. BAL has a fleet of nine aircraft.

Head Of Presidential Staff Calls Tatar-Language Issue 'Provocative'...
A special governmental commission headed by the chief of the presidential staff, Radii Khebirov, began considering requests from residents of Bashkortostan sent during the December 2003 election campaign, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 3 March. According to Khebirov, cited by RFE/RL, most of the some 20,000 appeals are related to problems in the housing sector, the environment, or social and economic policies. Khebirov said there were also appeals aimed at political "speculations" such as requests that the Tatar language be given an official status. Tatar is spoken by some 1 million Tatars in Bashkortostan who make up the second-largest ethnic group in the republic. During his December 2003 campaign, President Murtaza Rakhimov pledged to consider the possibility of altering the status of the Tatar language.

...As Ethnologists Say Public Is Ready For Tatar As An Official Language
Fail Safin, an expert of the Ufa Anthropology and Ethnography Center under the Russian Academy of Sciences, told an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent on 3 March that although the republican authorities seem not to be ready to discuss this issue, "our recent ethnicity-based public opinion research showed that residents of Bashkortostan, including some 40 percent of ethnic Bashkirs, are ready for having Russian, Bashkir, and Tatar as their state languages."

Safin noted that "sooner or later" the Bashkir presidential administration "will have to grant official status to the Tatar language, which is a part of the inevitable democratization processes."

Safin's colleague, Ildar Gabdrafiqov, told RFE/RL that recent presidential elections demonstrated the strong discontent of a sufficient part of Bashkortostan's population and with the republican government's policies. In Gabdrafiqov's opinion, the authorities have "chosen to pursue a hard-line policy on the Tatar issue," thus making the existing disagreement even stronger.

Bashkir Women Campaign For Greater Rights
Speaking at the Bashkir Trade Unions meeting on 4 March, Bashkir State Assembly speaker Konstantin Tolkachev said that "today a woman's role goes far beyond the limits of the household, as women are advancing as professionals in various spheres of Bashkir life including politics and government," an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 4 March. However, Tolkachev acknowledged that only a few women so far have managed to become public figures or government officials in the republic. Firdewes Khisametdinova, an activist for women's rights and deputy director of the Ufa History, Linguistics, and Literature Institute, told an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent that "given that women represent half of our society, the distribution of government seats should be based on the parity principle." She promoted the idea of appointing a female head of a regional administration in order to set a precedent.

Bashkir Scholar Says Tens Of Thousands Of Tatars Registered As Bashkirs
Speaking at a seminar titled "Russian Tatars: the 2002 Census Results," Ildus Ileshev, the director of Bashkortostan's Language and Literature Institute, said that tens of thousands of Bashkortostan's Tatars might have been registered as Bashkirs during the 2002 census, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 6 March. The seminar was organized by the Moscow-based Watan Tatar society. At the forum, Tatar ethnologist Damir Iskhaqov said that, according to his estimations, the number of Bashkirs grew in Bashkortostan in the census by some 150,000-200,000 at the expense of Tatars. In response, Ileshev said that Tatar-Bashkir ethnic identity was increasingly interchangeable and that the high rate of Tatar-Bashkir marriages can explain the shift.

Swiss Diplomat Says Relatives Of Collision Victims Agree On Compensation Sum
Swiss Ambassador to Russia Erwin H. Hofer told Ekho Moskvy radio that some of the relatives of victims of the 2002 midair collision over southern Germany had agreed on compensation, RIA-Novosti reported on 4 March. Hofer said the interests of the relatives are represented by a specially formed group of lawyers who decide what sum of compensation is to be determined in each case. The ambassador said the payment fund was set up at the initiative of the Swiss government. He added that "all companies involved in the case received an invitation to join the fund" and that the Swiss government has already made its contribution. This is the reason why its size cannot be estimated, Hofer said. He asserted that those responsible for the collision can only be named following the publication of a report investigating the accident. He said Germany has been entrusted with investigating the collision and is to issue a report on its results.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Yoshkar-Ola's Mariis Voice Their Concerns
The Yoshkar-Ola branch of the Marii people's interregional national organization Marii Ushem discussed at its conference issues of ethnic development and the elections for the all-Marii congress slated for 27 March, Regnum reported on 5 March, citing the "Molodeznyi kuryer" weekly. Participants criticized the low representation of Mariis in the republic's governing bodies and called for state support for the training of senior officials of Marii ethnicity. The conference appealed to the Yoshkar-Ola administration to open a Marii national lyceum in the city. Participants in the forum also demanded that signs and advertisements in the republic must be distributed in Russian and Marii.

Samara Oblast Leads Russian Regions In Terms Of Freedom Of Speech
A report by the Geneva-based International Council on Human Rights Policy named Samara Oblast alongside St. Petersburg and Primorskii Krai as among the most developed regions in Russia in terms of freedom of speech, reported on 2 March. Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Kalmykia, and Chechnya received the lowest marks.

Opposition TV Station In Nizhnii Tagil Appeals To Putin
Reporters from the Telekon television company have sent an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin accompanied by signatures of some 6,000 Nizhnii Tagil residents calling on the president to restore the validity of the Russian Constitution in the region, Novyi region reported on 4 March. Telekon employees told the president that their company has been taken off the air as its transmission cables have been cut and local police officers have stopped company workers from repairing them. Telekon stopped broadcasting on 2 February (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 10 February 2004).

Agrarian Party In Sverdlovsk Oblast Protests Against Importing Nuclear Waste
Members of the Agrarian Party of Russia on 3 March staged a picket in Yekaterinburg in front of the residence of the presidential Ural Federal District envoy, reported the same day. Picketers protested imports of foreign spent nuclear fuel to the Urals and the establishment in Sverdlovsk Oblast of new facilities for processing radioactive materials. They also demanded that the construction of the BN-800 reactor at the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station be stopped.

UAZ Begins Sale Of Cars To Iraq
The Ulyanovsk automobile plant (UAZ) delivered 421 off-road vehicles worth $2.5 million to Iraq, NTA Privolzhe reported on 3 March. In January, UAZ delivered over 1,000 cars to Afghanistan.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova