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Tatar-Bashkir Report: April 6, 2004

6 April 2004
Tatarstan's Prosecutor: Republican Symbols Have Nothing To Do With Sovereignty
Republics within Russia do not enjoy sovereign status and cannot carve out such privileges -- not even with reservations noted in their constitutions -- Tatar Prosecutor-General Kafil Emirov told the Tatar Supreme Court during a 29 March hearing on an appeal of the Tatar Constitution by Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Zvyagintsev. Emirov said the Russian Constitution "does not permit any other bearer of sovereignty than Russia's multinational people." Republican symbols, including emblems and flags, express historical and other values as well as peoples' traditions but do not embody republican sovereignty. "They have a mission of self-identification of regions within Russia and nothing else," Emirov said. Arguing against the requirement for presidential candidates to speak both of Tatarstan's official state languages, Emirov referred to the Russian Constitution's guarantee of equal rights and freedoms to all citizens. "Restrictions of rights and freedoms may only be introduced by a federal law to the extent necessary for the defense of the principles of the constitutional system, moral, health, rights, and the legal interests of other people, and securing the defense of the country and security of the state and should be proportional to those aims," Emirov asserted. The prosecutor's appeal also contests the procedure for recalling a state council deputy. The hearing was postponed until 31 March.

Court Removes Tatarstan's Sovereignty
The Tatar Supreme Court on 31 March partially satisfied the demand by Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Zvyagintsev to invalidate several articles of the Tatar Constitution, Tatarinform,, RosBalt, and other media reported the same day. The court has annulled the provisions about Tatarstan's sovereignty and the requirement for presidential candidates to speak both of the republic's state languages, Tatar and Russian. The court rejected, however, the prosecutor's objections to provisions regulating the procedure for recalling State Council deputies and issues of the organization and operation of federal courts and status of judges.

Tatar prosecutor Kafil Emirov said that since the complaint has been satisfied partially, the decision on whether to appeal the verdict will be made after consulting the deputy prosecutor-general

Tatar Parliament Uses Chechen Constitution To Defend Its Own
A recent ruling of the Tatar Supreme Court, which annulled the constitutional provisions concerning Tatarstan's sovereignty and the requirement for presidential candidates to speak both of the republic's state languages, Tatar and Russian, will be disputed by Tatar legislators and federal prosecutors, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today citing Tatar State Council representative Vasilii Loginov. On 31 March, the Supreme Court partially upheld the suit of the republic's chief prosecutor Kafil Amirov, who argued that, as a territorial entity of the Russian Federation, it is illegal for Tatarstan to declare its sovereignty and to "violate the rights of Russian citizens" by requiring the knowledge of Tatar and Russian to run for the republic's presidency.

During the trial, representatives of the Tatar parliament presented a resolution of the Strasbourg-based European Commission for Democracy Through Law confirming the legality of the Chechen Constitution, which enshrines the republic's sovereignty. The judge, however, refused to accept the text as an official document, as it was an unofficial translation of an original document published in English on the Internet. Federal prosecutors from the State Council will seek assistance from the Russian Foreign Ministry for obtaining an official version of the resolution. According to Russian law, the 31 March Supreme Court ruling is to be put into force within six months.

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.

Kazan Hosts Islamic Conference
Rafail Khekimov, an adviser to Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev, delivered a report on the modernization of Islam at a conference in Kazan on 1 April titled "Islam: Identity and Politics in Post-Soviet Space: Comparative Analysis of Central Asia and European Russia," reported the same day. Khekimov said the concept of Euro-Islam, the modern version of Jadidism developed by Tatars in the 19th century, reflects a modern version of Islam in which cultural aspects dominate while the importance of rituals is reduced. Khekimov continued that the key principle of Euro-Islam is connected to the concept of ijtihad (the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the sources of Islamic law) as a method of critical comprehension of the Koran. Speaking at the same conference, Deputy Tatar Muslim Religious Board Chairman Weliulla Yaqupov said the concept of ijtihad is outdated. Yaqupov said there is no need to radically change principles of Islam, as this will only stimulate the birth of new faiths. Yaqupov called on Muslims to follow traditional branches of Islam.

Tatar Draftees Not To Be Sent To Chechnya
Tatarstan's Enlistment Office has said that approximately 4,000 Tatars are expected to be drafted into Russia's armed services during the spring recruiting campaign that began on 1 April, and RosBalt reported the same day. Draftees from the republic will not be sent to Chechnya, according to the report. An estimated 1,558 resident's of the republic are dodging their military service. Last year, 2,144 people were punished for avoiding military service, 37 criminal cases were filed, and nine people were convicted.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Bashkortostan's Tatar Community Complains About Oppression Of Its Native Language
An activist of the Tatar civic movement and the head of the Tatar philology chair at Bashkir State University, Radik Sibegetov, told an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent on 29 March that many of those hired as Tatar-language teachers in Bashkortostan schools were either trained as teachers of other subjects or are specialists in other fields who failed to find jobs in those fields. Sibegetov's chair specializes in preparing Tatar journalists or high-profile teachers in Tatar linguistics.

Meanwhile, a number of Tatar school principals in Bashkortostan complained to an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent the same day that their regional administrations have prevented their students from taking part in a republican contest to see who has the best knowledge of Tatar language and literature.

Bashkortostan Gets A New Chief Prosecutor
Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov appointed Mikhail Zelepukin acting chief prosecutor of Bashkortostan Republic on 30 March, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. Zelepukin, 40, former chief prosecutor of Balakovo in Saratov Oblast, had worked as Bashkortostan's deputy prosecutor from 18 February and now is to replace Ramil Iskujin, who will return to the post of deputy prosecutor.

Interior Minister Admits Special Attitude To Ethnic Chechens
Bashkir Interior Minister Rafael Divaev told a news conference on 30 March that Bashkortostan's police pay special attention to Chechens working in the republic, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. As part of the program of antiterrorist measures, Bashkir authorities are reportedly look into possible ties between businessmen from North Caucasus and militant groups.

According to Divaev's information, North Caucasian businessmen own 109 companies in Bashkortostan, while 26 of these companies are owned by ethnic Chechens. He also mentioned that on 18 March his ministry detained a group of smugglers selling guns from Chechnya to Bashkortostan. The group reportedly consisted of three men from Chechnya and one from the Bashkir capital Ufa.

Russian Justice Ministry Still Has 100 Bashkir Laws On Its Blacklist
Rishat Kilmekov, head of the Russian Justice Ministry's Bashkir branch, said on 30 March that 100 of the republic's current laws contradict the federal constitution or other laws, RosBalt reported the same day. Kilmekov told the security conference in federal inspector Qolmokhemmetov's office that most of the controversial documents are 56 Bashkir cabinet decrees, while 19 other republican laws, nine acts passed by the Legislative Assembly, six presidential decrees, and six republican ministerial orders need to be adjusted to federal legislation. Most of the legal disputes between Ufa and Moscow reportedly arose from the attempts of the republican government to go beyond its powers by infringing on the jurisdictions of federal government and local self-governments. As many as 400 Bashkir laws have already been adjusted to comply with federal legislation since 2000.

State Assembly Chairman Slams The Federal Official For Criticism Of Slow Laws Harmonization Processes
In a statement by Bashkortostan's State Assembly on 31 March, assembly speaker Konstantin Tolkachev expressed his "bewilderment" at the position of certain federal officials on harmonizing federal and regional legislation, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. Tolkachev slammed the previous day's report by Rishat Kilmekov, head of the Russian Justice Ministry in Bashkortostan, who told a meeting on security issues at the office of chief federal inspector to Bashkortostan Engels Qolmokhemmetov that 100 of the republic's laws violate federal laws (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 31 March 2004).

Tolkachev said that Kilmekov's statement showed "the incompetence of federal officials, whose duty is to follow the situation in the regions" and "damaged relations between the federal center and Bashkortostan and the efficiency of the single federal legal space, of which the republic's legislation is an important part." Tolkachev said that, according to Russian law, only a court may decide whether federal legislation is violated by regional legislation, while the Bashkir Supreme Court is "currently considering only one case" on contradictions between a republican law and federal legislation.

Tolkachev also claimed that Bashkortostan's State Assembly "fulfilled the task set by President Vladimir Putin in 2000" when Putin hinted at the numerous contradictions between Bashkir laws and those of the Russian Federation. Nevertheless the speaker admitted that legal harmonization "is a constant process, which is explained by the adoption of federal laws concerning the issues of mutual jurisdiction."

The Russian Justice Ministry has checked more than 3,000 Bashkir laws for possible violations of federal legislation and found contradictions in more than 530 of them, RosBalt reported on 31 March, Some 400 laws have already been adjusted to the federal center's requirements. In 2004 the Bashkir State Assembly intends to consider 14 pieces of legislation aimed at bringing local laws into conformity with federal ones.

New Prosecutor Urges Crackdown On Bashkortostan's Police
Bashkortostan's newly appointed acting chief prosecutor, Mikhail Zelepukin, appealed to the Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev to bring order to the republic's law-enforcement bodies by sending a special commission to inspect the Bashkir police, RosBalt reported on 31 March. An unnamed source within the Bashkir Interior Ministry told the agency that in his request, the chief prosecutor referred to the "low discipline and systematic legal violations" by the republican police. Zelepukin reportedly criticized the "lowering of the republican Interior Ministry's requirements for its staff" and gave the examples of the use of torture against suspects, drug trafficking, bribery, and murder by police officers. In 2003 Bashkortostan's prosecutors investigated 124 felony cases against republican police officers and 58 of them have been sent for trial. Twenty-five other cases have been investigated so far in 2004.

High-Ranking Ufa City Police Officers Suspected Of Connection To Attempt On Colleague
Bashkortostan's Interior Ministry is investigating the possible involvement of high-ranking police officers in the attempted poisoning of the chief of Ufa's anti-crime department, deputy police chief Viktor Anisimov, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 31 March. In early March, Anisimov was hospitalized with signs of mercury poisoning and more than 200 grams of it were found in the head rest of his office chair (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report" 12 March 2004).

On 26 March the investigators discoved two unregistered hand guns and different types of ammunition in the garage of the head of the material provision department, Ufa police Colonel Mikhail Savintsev. The Ufa city court is to define the sanctions against Savintsev, who is suspected of illegal ownership of firearms and other crimes including the attempt on Anisimov.

Former Traffic Official Suspected In Sibai Prosecutor's Slaying
Several suspects in the killing of Sibai prosecutor Khenif Qarachurin (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 24 and 29 December 2003) have been detained, including the former head of the Sibai Raion's traffic-inspection department, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 2 April. Bashkortostan's acting prosecutor, Mikhail Zelepukin, said the former traffic official is believed to have contracted Qarachurin's murder. Qarachurin was shot to death in his Sibai apartment in late December.

Prosecutors Report Violations In Bashkortostan's Interior Bodies
Bashkir prosecutors addressed two documents to Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev in March alleging that employees of the republican Interior Ministry and the Beloretsk Raion broke the law, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 2 April. The documents list torture and physical violence against suspects, involvement in narcotics trafficking, and bribe taking among the alleged improprieties.

Some 124 criminal cases were filed against law-enforcement officials in 2003, 58 of which have been turned over to the courts. Twenty-five more investigations have been opened this year, most of which involve suspected abuses of power, cover-ups, or bribes. The Federal Interior Ministry is currently probing Bashkortostan's law-enforcement authorities for wrongdoing.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Kurgan Election Official Denies Launch Of Merger Focus Group...
Kurgan Oblast Election Commission Deputy Chairman Valerii Melnikov told Regnum on 2 April that the report spread by several media organizations about the registration of an initiative group to work on the merger of the Kurgan and Sverdlovsk oblasts is a "bad 1 April joke." Several news agencies reported that the group was registered by the Kurgan Oblast Election Commission at its 31 March session. Melnikov said no commission session was held on 31 March and there were no appeals on the issue. "Novyi region" reported on 1 April that the registered group is charged with collecting about 20,000 signatures in favor of a referendum, possibly to be held in December in parallel with the oblast's gubernatorial elections. The news agency also reported a similar group had been formed in Sverdlovsk Oblast.

...As Governor Bogomolov Strongly Opposes Merger At Meeting With Putin
Following his 31 March meeting with President Vladimir Putin, Kurgan Oblast Governor Oleg Bogomolov said the Russian president "did not consider and is not considering the idea of a merger of [Kurgan, Sverdlovsk, and Chelyabinsk] oblasts and is not going to do anything in this respect." Bogomolov said that Putin had commented that the merger "is not an aim in itself." Bogomolov said Putin complained about Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel who, he said, does not have any moral or legal right to initiate the merger. Putin reportedly promised to talk to Rossel about this issue. Major attention at the meeting was paid to the poor economic situation in the oblast, reported on 1 April citing "Novyi region." An unidentified official in the Kurgan Oblast delegation told "Novyi region" that Putin said the Kurgan Oblast is among the least prosperous regions in Russia and charged Governor Bogomolov with taking measures to improve the situation.

Suspected Arson Of Journalist's Car In Samara
A car belonging to Andrei Fedorov, editor in chief of the "Reporter" weekly and "Kommersant" correspondent, was set on fire in Samara on 29 March, reported. The fire started at 11 a.m. after Fedorov left his car near "Reporter's" office. According to a statement issued by the NGO Region-Samara on 30 March, Fedorov is an open opponent of Samara Mayor Georgii Limanskii. The paper has repeatedly published critical materials about the city authorities. The organization said it considers the incident an attempt on Fedorov's life.

Former Police Investigator Convicted Of Killing Suspect During Interrogation
The Sverdlovsk Oblast Serov Raion court sentenced on 2 April former police investigator Aleksandr Pershin to six years of imprisonment for the death of Eduard Smolyaninov while under interrogation, reported the same day, citing "Novyi region." Pershin is the third police officer to be convicted of beating Smolyaninov to death. Two others, Andrei Sereda and Andrei Lysov, were sentenced on 16 October 2003 to two and three years of imprisonment, respectively. A video of the interrogation was used as proof of Pershin's guilt at the trial. Unidentified experts at the trial said that extreme cruelty was normal in the police force.

400,000 Drug Addicts In Urals
Over 400,000 residents of the Ural Federal District are drug addicts, most of them men between 16 and 30 years old, Regnum reported on 30 March. The news agency cited the presidential envoy to the district as saying that $2 billion worth of heroin is trafficked every year from Kazakhstan through the Urals to central Russia and Europe.

Udmurt Government To Sell State Shares In Udmurtenergo, Izhstal
Udmurtia's State Council has approved the sale of state-owned shares in the Udmurtenergo energy company and the Izhstal steel company, Regnum reported on 30 March. Under the plan, 10 percent of Udmurtenergo and 53 percent of Izhstal will be sold off to cover the 2004 budget deficit of 1.3 billion rubles ($46 million). Meanwhile, the Udmurt government issued a resolution on 5 April saying the government will retain a blocking stake of over 25 percent in Izhstal, RosBalt reported on 5 April. The government has valued the stake at 271 million rubles.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova