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Tatar-Bashkir Report: July 21, 2004

21 July 2004
Mother Of God Of Kazan To Be Returned To Tatarstan's Capital...
Mother of God of Kazan (Our Lady of Kazan) icon will be returned to Kazan in August, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 15 July in Rome, ITAR-TASS and other news agencies reported. Lavrov said the measure "is very important on the threshold of Kazan's 1,000th anniversary." Lavrov said "the further development of relations between Russia and the Vatican, which have been developing for 15 years, will be promoted by eliminating remaining problems between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches." Asked about possibility of a papal visit to Russia, Lavrov said "nobody has raised the issue at the negotiations." Lavrov held talks in Rome with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Anjelo Sodano.

John Paul II had previously announced his intention to return the Mother of God of Kazan icon to the Russian Orthodox Church and hoped to do it on a personal visit to Russia (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 12 July 2004), though the Russian Orthodox Church has not approved such a visit. The Vatican on 10 July announced that it will return the sacred wooden icon -- a copy of an icon that was discovered among the ruins of Kazan in 1579 -- during a 28 August ceremony. The copy was taken from the Soviet Union following the Bolshevik Revolution and resurfaced in the 1970s when it was purchased by a Roman Catholic group

...As Kazan Leadership Plans To Restore Monastery Where It Was Kept
Speaking on 15 July in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhaqov said the icon will likely initially be placed in the Eparchy Board's church or in St. Peter and Paul's Cathedral. He said the Kazan Virgin's nunnery will be restored as the permanent home of the icon. The restoration of the nunnery, which is included in a federal program restoring Kazan's historical center, will cost $5-8 million.

In 2000, Iskhaqov had a meeting with Pope John Paul II in Rome during which the two sides agreed that the icon will be returned to Kazan before 2005 (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 1 November 2000).

Vatican To Return Kazan Icon To Russia
The Vatican announced on 10 July that it will return the Mother of God of Kazan (Madonna of Kazan) icon to Russia during a 28 August ceremony, international news agencies reported. The return of the sacred wooden icon has long been the center of a dispute between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, and Vatican representatives have expressed their hope that the icon's return will help warm relations. Pope John Paul II sought last year to personally return the icon during a trip to Russia, but failed to receive the Russian Orthodox Church's official approval for his visit. Instead, a cardinal will reportedly hand over the icon during a ceremony marking the Assumption of the Virgin holiday, RosBalt reported, citing the BBC. The icon was taken from the Soviet Union some time after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. It was purchased in Western Europe by a Catholic group in the 1970s and later presented to the pope as a gift. It usually hangs in the pope's private chapel. The discovery of the icon among the ruins of Kazan in 1579 was deemed a miracle, and it is believed to have helped Russia win numerous battles against foreign enemies.

Kazan Not Necessarily To Obtain Kazan Mother Of God
Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia Aleksii II has urged all sides to avoid creating an "unhealthy atmosphere" over the 18th-century copy of the Kazan Mother of God, which in the possession of the Vatican but slated to be handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church next month, "Kommersant-Povolzhe" reported on 13 July.

Archbishop Anastasii of Kazan and Tatarstan said on 12 July that the Holy Synod will rule on whether the icon should be returned to the Tatar capital.

Aleksii II noted that a joint commission with the Vatican concluded in May 2003 that the icon in the Vatican's possession is not the true icon discovered in Kazan in 1579 and stolen in 1904. Aleksii II stressed, however, that the icon is an "object of worship to which our ancestors have been praying since late 18th century." He added that it "will be returned to Russia without political conditions initially set by the Vatican."

The Vatican has announced that the icon will be handed over to Patriarch Aleksii II by a delegation of Roman Catholic cardinals in Moscow in August (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 12 July 2004), although Pope John Paul II had initially hoped the handover would afford him an official visit to Russia. "The pontiff hopes the Roman pilgrimage of the Kazan Mother of God promotes desired unity between the [Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox] churches," Vatican representative Joaquin Navarro-Valls said, according to "Kommersant-Povolzhe." Senior Tatar political leaders had expressed a desire to see the icon returned by 2005, when Kazan celebrates 1,000 years of existence.

Ethnic Tatars From Outside Tatarstan Applying In Greater Numbers To Republican Universities
World Tatar Congress (BTK) Executive Committee Deputy Chairman Ilsur Khadiullin told RFE/RL's Kazan bureau on 15 July that over 230 Tatars from outside Tatarstan have applied this year to enter the republic's institutions of higher education. Some 160 of them are from other Russian regions and 70 are from abroad. A large number of the applications were from students in Bashkortostan. The previous year, 66 of 166 Tatar applicants were accepted in the republic's universities. This year's quota for "foreign" Tatars accepted into republican universities is 86. Getting ethnic Tatars from outside Tatarstan to study in the republic's universities is promoted by the Tatar government and the BTK. BTK keeps Tatar civic groups in Russia's regions and abroad informed about opportunities for students to study in Tatarstan.

Audit Chamber Singles Out Federal Ministry For Criticism Over Kazan Project
Russian Audit Chamber representatives summarized conclusions in Kazan on 13 July from an inspection of how federal funds earmarked for socioeconomic development through 2006 are being spent in Tatarstsan, and "Kommersant-Povolzhe" reported on 13 and 14 July. The funding program, approved by the Russian government in 2001, includes allocations for preserving and developing Kazan's historical center ahead of that city's millennial celebrations. Tatarstan's budget received 12.4 billion rubles ($426 million) for the program in 2002 and another 11.2 billion rubles in 2003.

Sergei Klimantov, who heads the audit group that has been working in the republic since late May, said the program was 97 percent implemented in 2003, while the parameters of the plan have been exceeded in 2004. The inspection revealed that 10 million rubles in funding was used inefficiently or misused, a figure that Klimantov called "insignificant for such a big volume of financing." He added, however, that the violations must be eliminated.

The federal Economic Development and Trade Ministry came under heavy criticism from auditors, who say the ministry has been underfunding the program for financing millennial preparations since 2001. Klimantov said that, as a result, planned restoration work was not completed at 131 historical objects in 2003, while work at 48 objects has not even begun. He said 25 objects of cultural heritage are less than 20 percent prepared, which he said seriously threatens the entire millennial celebration. The program to restore Kazan's historical center will be ruined if decisive steps are not undertaken soon, Klimantov added.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Bashkir Interior Minister Called To Moscow After Demonstration
Human rights activists demonstrated on 15 July near the Interior Ministry in Moscow to protest " arbitrary police rule" in Bashkortostan and the activities of Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev, Russian news agencies reported the same day. For Human Rights movement head Lev Ponomarev, Committee For Civil Rights Chairman Andrei Babushkin, Bashkir human rights activist Ildar Isengulov, former Bashkir anti-organized-crime head Reis Dewletqujin, as well as members of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Civic Resistance movement, and Yabloko were among some 30 protesters. The picket was intended to last four days and be followed by a hunger strike of mothers whose children were allegedly killed by Bashkir Interior Ministry officers. The Russian Interior Ministry main inspectorate's deputy head, General Nikolai Mamontov, told a briefing the same day that Minister Rashid Nurgaliev has ordered Divaev to Moscow to report on his ministry's activities. Mamontov held a two-hour meeting with protesters following the picket, during which he was informed about alleged killings of Bashkortostan residents by Bashkir Interior Ministry personnel. Mamontov said the federal Interior Ministry "will hold investigations on each incident and will pass judicial decisions." Mamontov recalled that after an inspection last year, the Bashkir interior minister's performance was criticized. At the same time, answering demands for Divaev's dismissal, he said the situation shouldn't be dramatized.

Member of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights Valerii Borshchev said at the briefing that human rights activists will continue to watch the situation in Bashkortostan, as the republic is "a territory where the situation of human rights is unsatisfactory and disturbing."

Speaking at the demonstration, Ponomarev said, "If in other regions people are tortured and beaten, in Bashkortostan they are killed." "Divaev covers up killers among police officers by awarding them degrees and encouragement during investigation and trial against them," Isengulov said.

Court Rules Action Against Arbitration Court Head Was Legal
The Bashkir Supreme Court on 13 July annulled a resolution by the Ufa Kirov Raion court that employees of the Russian Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service sealing up the office of Bashkir Arbitration Court Chairman Fenil Safin violated the law on the immunity of judges (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 27 May and 1 June 2004), "Kommersant-Povolzhe" reported on 15 July. The incident took place on 14 May as federal law enforcement agencies were investigating allegations against Safin for bribe taking.

Volga District Forum On Youth Housing In Ufa
Heads and officials from youth bodies in the Volga Federal District gathered in Ufa on 15 July for a three-day seminar to study Bashkortostan's experience in solving housing problems for young people and families, NTA Privolzhe reported on 14 July. Participants will discuss Bashkortostan's housing program for young families and will visit apartments constructed under that program. The program provides an opportunity for young families in Bashkortostan to form housing cooperatives and to participate in the construction of their housing.

Bashkir Airlines Administration Sues Union Over Strike
Bashkir Airlines has appealed to the Bashkir Supreme Court to declare a strike by the company's pilots' trade union on 8 July illegal, "Kommersant-Povolzhe" reported on 13 July. Before the strike, the union refused to sign a collective labor agreement proposed by the airline and demanded that all normative documents issued by management be agreed with the union. As a result of the action, flights from Ufa to Istanbul and Rostov-na-Donu and from Moscow and Norilsk to Ufa were delayed. On the evening of 8 July, the sides agreed on a compromise and the strike was stopped. On 12 July, a harmonization commission began consultations to remove controversies.

Radik Gainullin, an assistant to the airlines' general director on legal issues, told the daily that if the court agrees with the appeal, the airline will sue the union to cover the company's losses, which have yet to be determined.

Bashkortostan To Celebrate 450th Anniversary Of Joining Russia
Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov signed a decree on 12 July on preparations for celebrating the 450th anniversary of Bashkortostan's voluntary joining Russia in 2007, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. The celebration's organizing committee is headed by Bashkir presidential-administration head Radii Khebirov. The decree noted that joining Russia played a fateful role for Bashkortostan's multiethnic people and is of great historical importance. During Rakhimov's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in May, they agreed that the jubilee will be celebrated on a federal scale.

Expert Says 2002 Census Results Show Sharp Fall In Bashkortostan's Tatar Population
In an article published in "Zvezda Povolzhya" on 8 July, ethnology professor Damir Iskhakov wrote that under the results of the 2002 census, which have not yet been officially published, the number of ethnic Bashkirs in Bashkortostan increased to 1.2 million, or 29.5 percent of the republic's population, while that of Tatars fell to 940,000, or some 23 percent.

Bilateral Commission Between Kazan, Ufa Develops Action Plan
In an interview with RFE/RL's Kazan bureau on 9 July, Tatar State Council Deputy Indus Tahirov, who is a member of the Tatar-Bashkir bilateral commission on improving relations between Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, said the body includes five officials from each side. Tahirov said the commission has developed a one-year plan to improve bilateral relations. The next meeting of the commission will be devoted to signing this document. He said the commission will also be responsible for supervising the fulfillment of those measures.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Samara Oblast Governor To Seek Reelection...
Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov appealed to the regional election commission to register as a candidate in September's gubernatorial vote, reported the same day. Titov still must begin collecting signatures to back his candidacy. Titov said he carefully considered his decision on whether to seek reelection. Samara gubernatorial elections were scheduled by a court for 19 September, with a registration deadline of 4 August.

Meanwhile, an estimated 200 supporters turned out in the village of Zuyevka, in Neftegorskii Raion, on 13 July to back Samara Oblast Duma Deputy Chairwoman Natalya Bobrova in her bid to become governor, Regnum reported.

Governor's Opponents Rally In Saratov...
Roughly 200 people gathered in Saratov on 15 July under the banner of the Fund to Fight Ayatskov to show their opposition to oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, RosBalt reported the same day. Participants included activists from the Russian Communist Labor Party, the Labor Russia movement, the People's Will party, the National Bolshevik Party, and reportedly skinheads. Oblast Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Maltsev, who was expelled from Unified Russia deputies group, is among the fund's leaders.

...As Prosecutors Target Saratov Mayor
Saratov Oblast prosecutor Anatolii Bondar told a news conference on 13 July that he has questions for Saratov Mayor Yurii Aksenenko. Bondar suggested that the Prosecutor-General's Office suspects the mayor of impropriety concerning real estate and municipal property, but stressed that a "principle of collective responsibility" has been the practice within the city administration for some time. "We are studying the possibility of appealing to the city duma over the mayor's dismissal," Bondar said. Bondar said the oblast prosecutor's office has nothing to do with the criminal case against Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov as it is investigated by the Prosecutor-General's Office's Volga Federal District branch.

Human Rights Concerns Arise In Sverdlovsk Oblast Over Assaults On Journalists
Sverdlovsk Oblast Human Rights Representative Tatyana Merzlyakova has appealed to oblast Interior Directorate head Vladimir Vorotnikov in a criticism of perceived inactivity by security officials investigating assaults against journalists, reported on 13 July. Mezlyakova stressed that not a single case in which a journalist was assaulted has been successfully prosecuted. She added that such attacks should be considered linked to the victims' professional activities until law enforcement demonstrates the contrary. She singled out for attention the slaying of "Novyi reft" Editor Eduard Markevich in 2001.

Merzlyakova asked for information on the progress of investigations into a number of attacks on journalists, including: "Vecherniye vedomosti iz Yekaterinburga" correspondent Yelena Yeliseyeva on 3 April 2002; Studiya-41 television reporters Yevgenii Lapidus and Inna Osipova on 3 August 2002; Novyi region's Pavel Feoktistov on 27 November 2002; a Sverdlovsk State Television and Radio Company film crew on 10 December 2002; Urals Television Agency reporters Vladislav Nekrasov and Aleksandr Stetsun on 12 March 2003 and 19 May 2003, respectively; ATN General Director Oleg Rakovich on 30 July 2003; ATN news anchor Kseniya Kartseva on 18 September 2003; Politsovet news agency General Director Fedor Krasheninnikov on 14 November 2003 and 24 May 2004; and "Uralskii rabochii" Editor in Chief Vladislav Ivanov on 23 December 2003. According to information provided by the All-Russian Fund for the Defense of Glasnost, nine assaults on journalists were registered in the Central Urals in 2002 and 15 in 2003, second-highest after Moscow, where 16 such cases were registered.

Suicide In Yekaterinburg Military Unit
A soldier in the Yekaterinburg 32nd military unit committed suicide while at his post on 4 July, Volga Federal District Deputy Prosecutor Igor Serov told Novyi Region on 13 July. The garrison's prosecutors are reportedly investigating whether the serviceman was driven to suicide by his fellow servicemen.

In April, Colonel Viktor Shtakal committed suicide following criticism from the division commander, and four people in all have died in the 32nd military unit since April. Reservist Valerii Shmyrov, 36, died on 6 July during a training exercise with ersatz alcohol. On 26 June, 49-year-old reservist Anatolii Shpankov died as a result of coronary problems.

Tyumen Residents Protect Lenin Monument
Local residents have been guarding a Lenin monument in downtown Tyumen around the clock for the past week in an effort to prevent its destruction, reported on 14 July. The protest was initiated by Oblast Duma Deputy Aleksandr Cherepanov (Communists) after workers began pulling down the monument's podium during reconstruction of the square near the oblast-administration offices. Picketers are demanding that the monument be repaired and guarded, citing a March 1987 resolution by the oblast executive body that purportedly placed it under the state protection. The activists have collected 3,000 signatures in support of preserving the monument.

Oblast chief architect Sergei Leskov met with the picketers to persuade them that there are no plans to remove the Lenin monument, but Cherepanov argued that the podium is part of the work. He said the city has already lost one Lenin monument, which was removed from a city garden this year, adding that that monument was not just removed but also vandalized.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova