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Tatar-Bashkir Report: August 3, 2004

3 August 2004
European Human Rights Commissioner Attempts To Interview Tatar Press...
Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles took advantage of a 26 July press conference in Kazan to question Tatar journalists, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Members of Tatarstan's television, radio, print, and Internet media seemed stunned when Gil-Robles turned the tables during his press conference by asking them to share their views regarding freedom of information and freedom of press in the republic. One of the journalists representing Tatarstan's official press told an RFE/RL Kazan correspondent after the event that "it was absolutely unthinkable for any of the reporters to be asked to share their problems with official bodies, while sitting in the conference hall" of the state news agency Tatmedia, "which was crowded by local officials, several video cameras, photo cameras, and dozens of tape-recording machines." The commissioner's pledge to "ensure absolute secrecy of sources of information about the alleged violations of press freedoms" was thus met with ironic laughter by reporters at the conference.

Later, a handful of journalists told Gil-Robles that local media represented a diversity of owners, including state and private individuals and groups, that are free to share their opinions via their own outlets.

Concluding the press conference, Gil-Robles commented that "it seems harder to extract any information about media freedoms from the local journalists than from the local officials."

...And Meets With Tatar President
President Mintimer Shaimiev told Gil-Robles on 26 July that the Tatar Republic will resume cooperation with European human rights institutions, noting that "the issue of human rights is new to us, because it emerged [in Tatarstan] along with the beginning of democratic development. It is very important for us to know that there are special institutions specializing in the protection of human rights." He also emphasized that both Tatarstan's government and the public have "realized that human rights have to be secured."

The commissioner said that during his trip across Russia he was "especially interested" in visiting Tatarstan, which "sets a priceless example of people of different nationalities and religions living in peace with each other in an atmosphere of dialogue."

Gil-Robles declined to comment on the general situation regarding human rights in Tatarstan and explained that all the important information will be presented in a public report devoted to Russia and presented to the Council of Europe in 2005.

Tatar Premier Heads To Iran For Industrial-Cooperation Talks
Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov left for Iran on 26 July at the head of a delegation of Tatar government officials that will meet with East Azerbaijan Province Governor Mohammad Ali Sobkhanellahi, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. The delegation will also visit the Tebriz oil, gas, and chemical company, and other local industries. Minnikhanov also plans to meet with Iran's ministers of oil and trade.

Large Pieces Of Tatarstan's State Property Waiting For Private Owners
Property Relations Minister Valerii Vasilev told the reporters on 27 July that of more than 500 state-owned industries currently registered in Tatarstan, just 40 will remain republican property while most will be privatized or put into bankruptcy, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. By the end of 2004, the major republican distiller Tatspirtprom will reportedly be transformed into a joint-stock company and later be offered for sale. Kazan will also sell all its shares in Tatarstan Airlines and in Kazan's international airport at an auction on 20 August.

Tatarstan currently fully owns 588 enterprises worth some 50 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) by some estimates. Some $6 million worth of shares in 106 state-owned companies have already been privatized in 2004. Also in the first six months of 2004, government earned more than $33 million from the management of state property.

Kazan Markets Shut Down Over Terrorism Concerns
Kazan's Wakhitov district administration withdrew the licenses of five markets in the central part of the city for continuing violations of counterterrorism safety standards, Interfax reported on 27 July. The privately owned markets were shut down after receiving officials warnings. Similar safety inspections target markets in the remaining six administrative districts of Kazan.

President Joins Unified Russia's Discussion On Social Reform
President Mintimer Shaimiev on 29 July joined a meeting of the Unified Russia party's central political council, of which he is a member, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. The council discussed a draft law on financial payments to the poor and amendments to regional legislation that is necessary for locally introducing the reform of the system of in-kind benefits. After debate, the pro-Kremlin party is expected to submit the draft federal law for its second reading in the Russian State Duma.

Water And Heating Networks To Be Offered To New Owners
Tatarstan Minister of Construction, Architecture, and Housing Marat Khosnullin told a ministerial conference on 29 July that water suppliers and heating networks will be transformed into joint-stock ventures in the second half of 2004. Blocking minority stakes of 25 percent-plus-one share will be left in the hands of the municipality, while the rest should be sold to investors, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day.

About 50 percent of companies currently working in Tatarstan's housing sector are privately owned, but the state-owned ventures control a 75 percent share of the housing-services market. The total cost of necessary repair works at republican heating, water-supply, and sewage networks is estimated at some $476 million. Khosnullin emphasized that the mentioned sum can only be raised with the help of outside investors.

Tatarstan To Get Republic-Wide Governmental Computer Network
Tatarstan's cabinet is preparing a decree on creating a republican system of computer communications that would allow access the republic's computer network, Intertat reported on 29 July. The connection, which will reportedly be available free of charge, should be used to circulate government documents among different levels of power.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Turkish Trade Union Leader Promotes Eurasian Economic Direction In Ufa
Mustafa Ozbek, president of the International and Eurasian Federation of Metalworkers and chairman of the Turkish metallurgy trade union Turk Metal, told a news conference in Ufa on 23 July that both organizations represented "strong public institutions, vital for opposing the imperialism represented by the world's Americanization," Bashinform reported today. He claimed that for opposing the "evil will of employers and imperialists" the Turkish trade unions will promote a Eurasian direction of economic cooperation, which will help developing countries survive in the face of strong economic competition from the United States or the European Union.

Bashkir Industries Seek To Expand Cooperation With Vietnam
A delegation of Bashkortostan's business leaders, led by Trade and Industrial Chamber head Boris Bondarenko, left for a six-day trip to Vietnam on 26 July, Bashinform reported the same day. Top managers from the Ufa motor plant, Beloretsk metallurgical factory, the Ufa elastic-materials plant, and other industries will reportedly meet potential partners and inspect industrial plants in the cities of Khanoi and Khochimin.

Political Concerns Halt Tatar Days Celebrations In Kazan
Organizers of Bashkortostan's Tatar Days said they are disappointed by an absence of support for their project from authorities in Tatarstan, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 27 July. An unnamed source within Tatarstan's government suggested the event could lead to increased tensions between the republican governments in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

Bashkortostan Praised For Active Development Of Mortgage Market
The chairman of an industry association allying mortgage-lending institutions, Vladimir Ponomarev, said during a 27 July news conference that Bashkortostan is among Russia's regions with the highest level of activity aimed at attracting investments to the construction sector. Ponomarev promoted the idea of introducing insurance companies for sharing the risks related to those individuals who have no credit history.

Bashkir Communists Refuse To Support Zyuganov
A 27 July meeting of Russia's Communist Party branch in Bashkortostan discussed the current split within the party's leadership, and decreed that the party's leader, Gennadii Zyuganov, is to blame for the current division between his supporters and those of Ivanovo Oblast Governor Vladimir Tikhonov, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported yesterday. Bashkortostan's Communists accused Zyuganov of narrowing his ideological activities by promoting Russian nationalism and patriotism. On 14 August, a forum of Communist Party activists in Bashkortostan will resume the discussion of its future within the Russia-wide party.

One-Third Of Population Economically Active
According to Bashkortostan's State Statistics Committee, cited by Bashinform on 28 July, 1.8 million Bashkir residents are economically active, representing some 36 percent of the total population. Eight percent of the working population are reportedly hired privately, some 7 percent are employed on their own farms, while the majority of those employed are working in republican companies and industries. Only 1.2 percent of the economically active population (22,700 people) are officially registered as unemployed, while the demand for extra workers by local industries is around 19,000 people.

Ufa To Mark Decade Under Power-Sharing Treaty With Moscow
Ufa will host a conference devoted to the 10th anniversary of the signing of the power-sharing agreement between the Russian federal and Bashkortostan's republican government on 3 August, Bashinform reported on 29 July. The conference will consider legal aspects of power sharing within federative states and current issues of budget relations between the center and the periphery.

Bashkortostan's Budget Revenues Grow
The State Statistics Committee announced on 29 July that Bashkortostan s budget revenues reached 20.8 billion rubles ($717 million) in the first half of 2004, suggesting a budget deficit of less than 1 percent. Profits from state-owned industries and other enterprises accounted for 67 percent of budget revenues, which showed 9.9 percent growth on the figure in 2003.

Meanwhile, 31.5 percent of state-owned ventures remain unprofitable, costing the budget some 1.6 billion rubles ($55 million).

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Kurgan Oblast Council Protests Amending Law On Chemical-Weapon Destruction
The Public Consultative Council on Issues of Safekeeping and Annihilation of Chemical Weapons under the head of the Shchuchanskii Raion administration in Kurgan Oblast appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov to object to amendments to the federal law on destruction of chemical weapons approved by the State Duma in the first reading, Uralinformbyuro reported on 27 July. The council believes the amendments may result in a loss of control over funds allocated for the corresponding program and deprive federation subjects of the possibility of influencing the process of storing and destroying chemical weapons. If the amendments are adopted, the state will decline all responsibility for providing free medical help to residents of the zones of protective measures. The council thinks the passage of the amendments could lead to a social explosion in Shchuchanskii Raion and result in frustration of terms of implementing the program on destroying chemical weapons.

Marii El's Jews Concerned About Ethnic Tension In Republic
The Russian Constitution is being violated in Marii El Republic and interethnic and interfaith conflict is possible, leaders of the Yoshkar-Ola Jewish community told a press conference, Regnum reported on 26 July. In particular, the Jewish community accused Marii El's "Vsenarodnaya gazeta" of rousing interethnic hatred and xenophobia. The Jewish leaders noted that the newspaper ridicules the idea of developing the national language and culture of the Marii people and tries to discredit religious leaders. The newspaper recently accused Yoshkar-Ola Jewish community Chairman Mark Aron of vandalism, saying he is responsible for anti-Semitic graffiti on the Jewish community building. The Jewish leaders also said law-enforcement agencies do nothing to stop and prevent vandalism.

Unified Russia Backs Samara Oblast Leader
Unified Russia's Supreme Council recommended on 29 July that the party's General Council back incumbent Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov in the next gubernatorial elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 July. The date of the election is to be set by the Russian Supreme Court on 3 August. Titov appealed to the Unified Russia leadership to support him in early June but then talks failed, the daily reported, citing an anonymous source. The party leadership suggested that it would support Titov if he joined Unified Russia and left the Social-Democratic Party of Russia that he heads, a proposal that was unacceptable for him. A source close to the governor told the daily that Titov does not have any choice now and needs Unified Russia's support.

Saratov Activists Hold Anti-Ayatskov Meeting In Moscow
Some 250 Saratov residents held a meeting on 26 July on Slavyanskaya Square in Moscow to attract Russian and international media attention to issues in Saratov Oblast, Saratovbizneskonsalting reported on 27 July. The protesters held sign reading "Ayatskov Is a Fascist As Is Putin" and "Down With Ayatskov."

More Candidates To Join Saratov Oblast Gubernatorial Race
The Party for Fairness and Development of Russia (PSRR) uniting Muslims announced that it will nominate a candidate in the Saratov gubernatorial elections slated for March, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 August. PSRR Saratov branch representative Akhmed Makhmetov said he was charged with issuing this statement by PSRR Deputy Chairman Musa-haji Yusupov, who recently visited Saratov. The daily commented that the PSRR candidate may be supported by the Saratov Oblast Muslim community, predominantly Tatars who have significant influence on the oblast's business and political life. The daily reported that State Duma Deputy Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin is believed to be one of the strongest possible candidates in the gubernatorial race increases his activity related to the oblast. The newspaper also cited a statement by Sergei Glazev, formerly a Russian presidential candidate and leader of the Motherland bloc, who told Interfax that he may participate in the Saratov Oblast gubernatorial race.

Saratov Orthodox, Muslim Leaders Oppose Construction Of Mormon Church
Head of the Volga region Muslim Spiritual Directorate Mukaddas Bibarsov backed Bishop Longin of Saratov and Volsk in protesting the construction of a Mormon church in Saratov, RosBalt reported on 30 July. Bibarsov appealed to Saratov Mayor Yurii Aksenenko and Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov not to allow the construction in central Saratov of a Mormon complex of buildings. The conflict arose two weeks ago when it became known that a lot of some 1,400 square meters was purchased in Saratov to erect a Mormon church near an Orthodox church and the city mosque. A week ago, Bishop Longin sent a letter to Governor Ayatskov saying the proximity of the Mormon church with the Orthodox church and the mosque is impermissible. A group of Orthodox residents of Saratov also composed a collective letter opposing the construction.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova