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Tatar-Bashkir Report: March 30, 2004

30 March 2004
Tatar President, Swedish Ambassador Meet in Kazan
President Mintimer Shaimiev met with Swedish Ambassador to Russia Henrik Sven Hirdman in Kazan on 22 March, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Earlier in the day the two inaugurated the official opening of Kazan's IKEA outlet and launched the beginning of Swedish culture days in Tatarstan.

Hirdman accepted Shaimiev's request for assistance from Swedish IT and communications companies in linking the computers of local schools to the Internet within the republican program "Electronic Tatarstan."

Supreme Court Resumes Tatar Constitution Case
The Tatar Supreme Court went into session on 23 March to consider the suit of Russian Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Zvyaginstev which claims that 19 articles of the republic's new basic law contradict federal laws, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. In March 2003, the court suspended the same suit and appealed to the Russian Constitutional Court. The Russian Constitutional Court ruled that only constitutional courts had the authority to comment on constitutional norms and, on 28 August 2003, the Tatar Supreme Court closed the Zvyagintsev case. After an objection from Zvyagintsev, however, on 3 December 2003 the case returned the case to the Tatar Supreme Court. Moscow has maintained its claims against the requirements that presidential candidates have knowledge of the Tatar language as well as provisions saying that Tatarstan's state anthem and flag were expressions of its sovereignty. Prosecutor Kafil Emirov also argued that some of the constitutional norms should be abolished as they fail to provide clear rules for replacing a parliamentary deputy in the republic, something that allegedly allows abuse of this legal procedure. The Tatar Supreme Court is in recess until 29 March to consider the response of Tatar lawyers, who insisted that the terms of Tatarstan's sovereignty are lawful.

Tatarstan Mentioned Among Regions With Least Free Speech
According to a report by the European Parliament's International Council for Human Rights Policy, Kalmykia, Chechnya, Tatarstan, and Bashkortostan had the least-developed freedom of speech in Russia, "Rodnaya Gazeta" wrote on 23 March. Samara Oblast, St. Petersburg, and Primorye scored the highest in the poll.

Kazan Mayor Defends His City Against Presidential Attack
Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhaqov told a meeting of the Kazan City Council on 25 March that according to a new survey the Tatar capital has overtaken Moscow in terms of living standards, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. Kazan came in 185th place in the poll. Iskhaqov, who failed to specify the source, emphasized that the standard of living in Kazan was increasing. Recently, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said that the city government should "come back down to Earth" and take a more critical look at its work. Shaimiev had referred to recent opinion polls, which said that 67 percent of Kazan residents were unhappy about the current housing reform in their native town. He also noted that the city administration has so far made no suggestions on how to combat rising rents. Immediately after the 14 March elections for the Russian president and Tatarstan's State Council, state rents were increased by some 30 percent.

Tatar Parliament Speaker Re-Elected...
Farid Mukhametshin on 26 March was elected Tatar State Council chairman by a vote of 81-14, Tatar and Russian media reported. Independent deputy Foat Komarov received seven votes; Aleksandr Salii, proposed by the Communist faction, received four; independent deputy Aleksandr Shtanin received two; and one deputy voted against all candidates. This marks the third time Mukhametshin will serve as the head of the Tatar parliament. President Mintimer Shaimiev said Mukhametshin's victory is a natural outcome stemming from his experience and authority. In outlining his tasks, Mukhametshin rated the reform of the housing and municipal-services sector, development of legislation on local self-government, and land legislation as his top priorities.

...As Unified Russia Fills Key Posts In Legislature
At the first session of the newly elected Tatar State Council on 26 March, Unified Russia deputies occupied all the key positions in the legislature, reported the same day. First Deputy Social Defense Minister Yurii Kamaltynov and Tatar-Inform news agency General Director Rimma Ratnikova were elected deputy State Council chairpersons, while Valentina Lipuzhina was re-elected as the parliament's secretary. Seven State Council committees were formed at the session. Ilsur Safiullin was re-elected as chairman of the committees on budget, taxes, and finances; Marat Galiev as chairman of the committee on economy, investments, and entrepreneurship; and Razil Weliev will again head the committee on culture, science, education, and national issues. Aleksandr Fedorov was chosen to head the committee on state system and local self-government; Aleksandr Gusev the committee on legislation, regulations, and deputies' ethics; Rinat Abdullin the committee on environment, natural resources, and land use; and Chyngyz Mekhmutov to head the committee on social policy. A presidium of 11 members and 20 permanently working deputies were also elected.

Shaimiev Delivers Annual Message To Parliament
In his annual address to the State Council, President Mintimer Shaimiev on 26 March noted that for the first time representatives of the most influential parties were elected to the Tatar legislature alongside single-mandate deputies. He expressed the hope that the opposition Communist faction in parliament will bring a healthy element of competitiveness and criticism. Shaimiev stressed that the power-sharing treaty between Tatarstan and Russia was recognition by Moscow of the republic's sovereignty and that the formula of the republic's sovereignty fully corresponds to Article 73 of the Russian Constitution. Shaimiev added that a revised draft of the treaty made to bring it into line with the amended Tatar Constitution will meet new requirements and maintain Tatarstan's key positions.

The primary issue is maintaining two state languages in Tatarstan -- Tatar and Russian -- so that both are valuable and have no restrictions, Shaimiev said. He noted that Tatarstan's deputies have appealed to the Russian Constitutional Court concerning the legality of amendments to the federal law on languages that made the Cyrillic script mandatory. Shaimiev asserted that the development of language is the exclusive right of the people, as fixed in several international documents signed by Russia. Speaking on the necessity of radical improvement of education of both of Tatarstan's state languages, Shaimiev criticized the Education Ministry and other organizations lack of work toward expanding the use of the Tatar language.

Shaimiev said the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin stated the country's readiness to join the Organization of the Islamic Conference as an observer is a sign of recognition of the role of Muslims in Russia. Shaimiev also called on Muslim leaders to continue the glorious traditions of Jadidism, the modernized version of Islam developed by Tatars in late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Anniversary Of Soviet Bashkir Autonomy Marked
Speaking at a conference devoted to the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Bashkir Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic on 18 March in Ufa, Bashkir Deputy Prime Minister Khelef Ishmoratov promoted special, increased rights for Russia's national republics, including Bashkortostan. "If attempts to turn national republics into governorates are continued, the country will again fall under threat of disintegration," Ishmoratov said. Marat Qolsheripov, a history professor at Bashkir State University, said at the forum that the 1919 document that set up the Bashkir Autonomous Republic still maintains its historical value as it contributes to the preservation of federalism in Russia. A separate Bashkir republic was established in 1919 in opposition to the Tatar-Bashkir Republic, which was being promoted by Tatar leaders.

Bashkir Constitution To Be Amended...
Bashkir State Assembly Chairman Konstantin Tolkachev said on 25 March that the republic's legislature will pass amendments to the Bashkir Constitution this fall, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 March. The amendments are necessary to make the republican basic law compatible with the federal law on local self-government that will come into force as of 1 January 2006. Tolkachev said a new system of local self-government is to be created by 2005 under which a charter is to appear in each municipality. Changes in budget policy will also be included in the amended constitution, Tolkachev added. He said the amendments should not be viewed as an overall effort to harmonize the republic's constitution with the federal constitution, and that such changes will only be made on the basis of agreement.

...As Bill To Simplify Amendment Procedure Progresses
The Bashkir State Assembly on 25 March passed on second reading a bill to simplify the process of amending the Bashkir Constitution, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 March. The bill follows last year's transformation of parliament from a bicameral to unicameral body. The bill allows for the establishment at the republican president's initiative of a constitutional commission to amend basic articles of the constitution determining its state status. Such a commission would be a consultative body tasked with developing proposals on amending the main law. Representatives of state authority bodies, local self-government, political parties, public associations, trade unions, and religious associations may take part in the commission. Previously, 50,000 signatures of republic's residents were required for amending status-defining articles of the constitution.

Tatar Civic Leader Wins Defamation Suit Against Newspaper
Ufa Tatar National Cultural Autonomy head Zahir Khekimov has won a defamation suit against the official Tatar-language "Qyzyl tang" daily, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 22 March. Khekimov sued the newspaper for a 15 August 2003 article which claimed that he gained money by illegal means, under the cover of Tatar national interests. The court obliged "Qyzyl tang" to apologize and pay Khekimov 5,000 rubles ($175) in compensation in damages. Khekimov, who claimed 1 million rubles compensation from the newspaper, said he is not satisfied with the sum and will appeal this part of the verdict.

Standard & Poor's Raises Bashkortostan's Credit Rating
The international credit rating agency Standard & Poor's has raised Bashkortostan's long-term credit rating on foreign currency obligations from B+ to BB-, forecast stable, "Expret-Ural" reported on 22 March. The weekly quoted Feliks Eigel, an analyst with the agency, as saying that the move came in response to the increase in the volume of reserves which exceed significantly the expenses of servicing and repaying the region's external debt. In 2003, the republic's debt was at a five-year low of 2.5 percent of the gross national income.

Ufa Forum Focuses On State Religious Policy
Speaking at a roundtable on current confessional policy in Russia on 23 March in Ufa, Supreme Mufti and Central Muslim Religious Board Chairman Telget Tajetdin criticized the state's taxation policy, which obliges religious organizations to pay the same land tax and registration fees as commercial organizations. Tajetdin said that it is too expensive for those organizations that do not make a profit. In response, Vyacheslav Pyatkov, the head of the Bashkir government religious affairs council, said the issue of taxation of religious institutions will be revised. Pyatkov also said that studying religion will not be obligatory in Bashkortostan's secondary schools. An adviser to the presidential Volga District envoy Sergei Gradirovskii told the forum that religious journalism, a religious legal service, and expert and interfaith counseling all help to prevent interfaith conflicts. At the roundtable, Bashkortostan was named as an example of interfaith concord in Russia. Of 671 religious groups currently existing in the republic, there are 402 Islamic, 157 Russian Orthodox, four Lutheran, two Catholic, and other communities.

Skyguide Proposes Bigger Compensation For Air Crash Victims
The Swiss air traffic control service Skyguide has suggested that it pays $100,000 for each victim of the 1 July 2002 midair collision involving a Bashkir Airlines jet (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 July 2002), an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 24 March. Skyguide's previous proposal made last fall was $30,000 for each victim. The lawyers representing relatives of the victims have demanded $1.5 million for each victim.

Muslim Board Concerned With Events In Kosovo
The Central Muslim Religious Board (TsDUM) expressed its concern about current events in Kosovo, reported on 23 March. "Murders of peoples, barbaric destruction of churches and mosques cannot be justified by any ideas or dogma," the statement issued by the board said. TsDUM stated its "support for actions by all healthy forces, countries, and communities contributing to the resolvement of the conflict and providing real help to suffering people." It also called on "all conflicting sides to resolve all controversial issues on the ground of the norms of international law, common sense, and laws of the Most High."

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

1957 Nuclear Disaster Costs Chelyabinsk Oblast 3 Million Rubles In 2004
Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin allocated 2.78 million rubles ($97,600) for a cleanup program to deal with the 1957 radiation accident at the Mayak plant, reported on 22 March. Some 730,000 rubles of it are to be spent on the rehabilitation of people and areas that suffered from radiation; 771,000 rubles on health care for people affected by the radiation and their descendants; 861,000 rubles on reviving agriculture in the raions polluted by radiation; and 253,000 rubles on psychological rehabilitation of people who exposed to radiation.

After the 1957 Mayak disaster, 20,000 square meters of land were polluted by radiation, 18,000 residents were evacuated and 22 villages were destroyed.

Meanwhile, Zohre Kerimova, a resident of the polluted Tatarskaya Karabolka village who took part in cleaning up the Russkaya Karabolka village following the disaster, died on 23 March in the Chelyabinsk Oblast Ozersk City Hospital of radiation sickness, Regnum reported on 25 March. For seven years, Kerimova and 44 other Tatarskaya Karabolka residents also involved in the cleanup had been seeking official status to receive social guarantees and privileges for social and medical help. Kerimova obtained this status on the day of her death.

Marii El Man Gains Right To Insert Passport Page In Marii Language
The Yoshkar-Ola city court has ruled that the Marii El Interior Ministry Passport-Visa Service must issue Valerii Odintsov a passport with an insert identifying Odintsov in the Marii language, Regnum reported on 26 March, citing "Molodezhnyi kurer." The document is to be issued after the form of the insert is developed and confirmed by republican and federal bodies. Such an insert has never existed in the republic, unlike in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

Mordovian Journalist Convicted Of Illegal Arms Possession
The Saransk Lenin Raion court has sentenced former "Moskovskii komsomolets v Saranske" Editor in Chief Andrei Yeremkin to two years in prison for involvement in illegal trading in arms, RosBalt reported on 27 March. According to the verdict, in 2002 Yeremkin bought 96 grams of trinitrotoluene, a grenade, and electric detonator in Moscow. Then he asked an acquaintance, Yevgenii Platonov, to make an explosive out of them. After police found the explosives in Yeremkin's house, he admitted ownership and explained that he was going to use the explosive at his summer place to prepare a foundation pit to construct a house.

The court convicted both Yeremkin and Platonov of illegal possession of arms and sentenced both to two years in prison. Yeremkin, 35, previously worked as deputy editor in chief of the state-run "Izvestiya Mordovii" newspaper.

Qatari Shaykh Sponsors Construction Of Mosque In Mordovian Capital
Mordovian Muslim Spiritual Directorate Chairman Zeki Aizetullin said the construction of a mosque sponsored by Qatari Shaykh Halid bin Halif will begin in the Mordovian capital Saransk this year, reported on 23 March, citing Portal Credo. The shaykh reportedly made the only condition the provision of documents confirming permission by local authorities for the construction of the mosque. The Architecture and Town-Planning Directorate last year allotted a plot of land in Saransk's Proletarian Raion neighboring several Tatar villages.

Orenburg Oblast Farmers Stage Hunger Strike To Leave Collective Farm
Twenty-seven people in the village of Dneprovka in Belyaevskii Raion, Orenburg Oblast, have been holding a hunger strike for 10 days demanding that their shares in the Bolshevik collective farm be returned to them, reported on 23 March. Three new people joined the protesters, while on 21 March two of the strikers were hospitalized and two taken home because of poor health. Farm Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Bezkorovainyi is also among the strikers.

Perm Oblast NGOs Hold Action Against Racist, Fascist, and Hooligan Signs
The Perm Oblast branch of Memorial, the Center for Support of Democratic Youth Initiatives, and the Agency of Social Information in Perm planned to begin on 24 March a project on fighting xenophobia titled "From Language of Hostility Towards Language of Peace," Novyi region (Perm) reported on 23 March. The organizers called on people to remove racist, fascist, and hooligan signs from walls and fences. The action was planned in parallel in Irkutsk, Krasnodar, Perm, Ryazan, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. The project is intended to help raise moral barriers against the spread of intolerance and animosity in Russian society.

More Products Named After President In Urals
"Putinmania" is growing in the Urals, Novyi region reported on 23 March. The latest example of the trend is the appearance of dried crusts titled "Putinki" and "Putevye" (worthwhile) in Yekaterinburg shops. Produced in February, they were put on sale only following the 14 March elections, the report said, at a minimal price. They follow other products connected to the name of President Vladimir Putin in the Urals. In Nizhnii Tagil, there was a President ice cream. In Chelyabinsk, a Putin bar was opened and Putin cake was also sold. In Tyumen before the elections, sunflower seeds titled "Putnye" (worthwhile) were sold. In Yekaterinburg, rabbits singing a song about "one like Putin" were sold. Most of the projects turned out to be unsuccessful, the report said.

Tank Production Resumes In Sverdlovsk Oblast
Uralvagonzavod will resume tank production this year after the plant received an order from the Russian Defense Ministry to produce 14 tanks in 2004, Uralbizneskonsalting reported on 22 March. This is the first state order in the past decade, the company press service said.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova