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Tatar-Bashkir Report: August 31, 2004

31 August 2004
Tatar Public Center Criticizes Pope Over Icon's Return
The moderate nationalist Tatar Public Center in a letter to Pope John Paul II published by the weekly "Zvezda povolzhya" on 26 August, accused the pontiff of involvement in "indecent political games" through his role in the Roman Catholic Church's return this week of an 18th-century copy of the Mother of God of Kazan icon to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The center claimed that the icon is a symbol of the colonization of the Tatars, because following Russia's conquest of the Kazan khanate, Russian authorities spread word that the original icon was miraculously discovered among the ruins of the Kazan fortress in 1579, and held as proof that the Russian state was the rightful ruler of the Tatar lands. The letter also stated that the forcible Christianization of the Tatars in the 16th and 17th centuries resulted in a significant Tatar population loss. 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 and subsequently gifted to Pope John Paul II, who kept the icon in his personal chapel in the Vatican.

The return of the icon has since been at 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.

The campaign for the return of the icon in time for Kazan's millennium celebrations was strongly promoted by Mayor Kamil Iskhakov.

The icon was placed in the alter of the St. Paul Cathedral on 26 August for public viewing. It is to be delivered to Moscow by air on 27 August, and will be handed over to Patriarch Aleksii II the next day, ITAR-TASS reported.

Tatarstan's Teachers Likely To Abstain From Protests On 1 September
Tatarstan's Trade Unions Federation is unlikely to join a teachers protest on 1 September organized by SOTsPROF -- a Russia-wide association of trade unions that is an alternative to the more widely known Independent Trade Unions Federation of Russia (FNPR), "Vechernyaya Kazan" wrote on 27 August.

The daily quoted Yurii Prokhorov, the chairman of the republican education and science employees trade union committee, as saying that teachers in the republic have little reason to protest, because despite being far from prosperous, they work under better conditions than their counterparts in "neighboring Ulyanovsk Oblast, for example." At a recent annual meeting of employees in the education sector, President Mintimer Shaimiev pledged to give teachers a 20 percent pay hike as of 1 January 2005, to maintain the current compensations from the republican budget, and to find a way to retain bonus payments given teachers in rural areas that were earlier cancelled by the federal budget.

Shaimiev Advocates Federal Agricultural Subsidies...
President Mintimer Shaimiev told reporters on 25 August that he shares Russian Agriculture Minister Sergei Gordeev's opposition to cuts of federal agriculture-investment programs in the federal 2005 draft budget approved this week, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 26 August. Shaimiev emphasized that given the current condition of the Russian economy, such cuts "would not be justified."

Shaimiev also said that the good performance of Tatarstan's agricultural sector is due in large part to "funding from the federal center." Adding that "if the federal center refuses to finance the agricultural sector, tomorrow it will be forced to finance the same complex but in a deteriorated condition and with greater losses."

...As Well As Tax Breaks For Chechen Oil Industries
President Shaimiev said during his 25 August press conference that he supports the idea of using revenues from Chechnya's oil industry to rebuild the republic, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. He said the plan -- proposed by the chairman of Chechnya's Public Council, Alou Alkhanov, and Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov -- indicates that the sector is capable of generating a substantial amount of revenues.

Shaimiev said that given the urgent need to rebuild Chechnya, the federal government should grant tax breaks to entities working in the Chechen oil sector, "as the practice of using federal budget funds on rebuilding Chechnya proved ineffective in part because some funds were misallocated, and others were simply stolen."

Tatar Poet, WWII Hero Honored In Kazan
About 1,500 people gathered near Kazan's monument to Tatar poet Musa Celil on 25 August in honor of the 60th anniversary since a group of ethnic Tatar officers in the Soviet army were taken captive by the Germans and executed during World War II. President Mintimer Shaimiev said at the event that Celil is a symbol who exhibits spiritual strength, and incarnates people's ideas and aspirations.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Bashkir Schools Changing Tatar-Language Policy?
Ilfir Qotdisov, principal of the Baytali village school in the Qushnaren region, told an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent on 23 August that Tatar language lessons offered to ethnic Tatar students in Bashkortostan's schools will be replaced with Bashkir language lessons at the beginning of the upcoming school year. According to the republic's state languages law, Bashkir and Russian have official status and Tatar, which is the native tongue of around one-third of the population, can only be taught outside the main curriculum.

Russian Pension Fund Head Visits Ufa
Head of the Russian Pension Fund Gennadii Batanov, visiting Ufa on 24 August, said that he "disagreed with opinions saying that federal pension reform has failed," Bashinform reported. Batanov said that during the current reform, which brought into existence numerous private pension funds, "people started believing in the ability of such companies to earn money for potential pensioners." According to Batanov, out of 42 million citizens with pensions, 700,000 have private plans. He also noted that Bashkortostan was "practically the only region of the Russian Federation that reforms its pension system ahead of the nationwide schedule."

Ufa Company Among World's Major Defense Industries
The "Defense News" weekly included the Ufa motor-building plant (UMZ) among the top 100 defense industries of the world, in 84th place, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 26 August. UMZ, with estimated annual production of some $390 million in engines and spare parts, was mentioned along with six similar industries across Russia. Ninety-six percent of UMZ's production is military-related.

New Installation To Process Chemical Weapons In Bashkortostan
A new factory will be built in Qambarqa near Neftekamsk in Bashkortostan for recycling Lyuizit, a gas, which has been stockpiled in Russia since World War II, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 25 August. The installation's capacity has not been revealed in official statements, but it is known that it will employ some 1,200 people.

Bashkir Communists Suffer Financial Difficulties
The membership payments of Bashkortostan's 6,500 Communist Party members, some $10,000, cover only 10 percent of the party's annual expenses in the republic, while the main source of income, donations from private companies, has disappeared, Vsya Ufa TV reported on 26 August. The staff of "Nash vybor" weekly, published by Bashkortostan's Communists, reportedly quit, while other party activist are working free of charge for several months now.

The party's financial difficulties reportedly emerged soon after the split in the party's leadership between Gennadii Zyuganov and Ivanovo Oblast Governor Vladimir Tikhonov (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 July 2004).

Wages Arrears On The Rise
Some 87,000 people in Bashkortostan have not received their salaries on time, Deputy Prime Minister Fidus Yamaltdinov told a government meeting on 26 August. Total back wages owed to the workers of the republic's industries have increased by 6 percent in the first seven months of 2004, reaching a total of 365 million rubles ($12.5 million).

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Chelyabinsk Schools Unprepared For School Year...
Ninety secondary schools in Chelyabinsk Oblast were prohibited from opening for the scheduled start of the new school year on 1 September because of problems discovered in their fire-alarm systems, Uralinformbyuro reported on 27 August. State fire authorities are in the middle of a comprehension inspection of oblast schools in which they have unearthed more than 13,000 violations and brought administrative sanctions against 260 officials. Chelyabinsk Governor Petr Sumin has signed a resolution allocating 100 million rubles ($3.4 million) to prepare schools to open on 1 September.

...As Education Sector's Money Embezzled
The Audit Chamber in Chelyabinsk Oblast has uncovered some 6 million rubles in misspent funds it says were siphoned off from the education budget in the Troitskii Raion, Uralinformbyuro reported on 23 August. The alleged financial malfeasance reportedly includes the raion administration's purchase of a foreign-made vehicle and an apartment used by an official chauffeur. A group of Troitsk Raion deputies initiated impeachment proceedings against raion administration head Vladimir Vovchko in 2002, accusing him of embezzling budgetary funds.

Kurgan Workers Picket Against Wage Arrears
Some 150 members of trade unions and labor collectives staged a picket in the downtown square in Kurgan on 27 August to protest unpaid wages and other financial benefits, reported the same day. Workers from Kurgan winemaker Kurganselmash, Rusich-KZKT, Kurganmashzavod, Kurganpribor, members of the machine-building unions, and state budget-sector employees took part in the action. Kurgan Oblast Federation of Trade Unions Chairman Petr Nazarov said state-run and municipal companies' employees are owed a combined 32 million rubles. He said bankruptcy of the state-run Kurganpribor plant earlier this year resulted in hundreds of layoffs without the payment of back wages and allowances that represented a gross violation of former employees' rights. Nazarov accused oblast executive officials of failing to use its legal rights to mitigate the effects of the bankruptcy and ignoring federal appeals on the issue. Picketers warned oblast authorities of a threatened strike, demanding the payment of all debts and the dismissal of officials who violate employees' rights. The head of the oblast administration's labor department, Anatolii Shelepov, met with demonstrators and then told that "the administration reacts extremely negatively to incidents [involving the] violation of employee rights and does everything it can; but are federal private property and there are no direct mechanisms of influencing the situation."

Nizhnii Novgorod Legislative Official Accused Of Involvement In Murder Attempt
The Federal Security Service's directorate in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast rejected reports that it had detained Legislative Assembly Deputy Speaker Mikhail Dikin, Regnum reported on 23 August. Media reported Dikin's detention after a criminal case was filed against him. On 19 August, a Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast court accepted the oblast Prosecutor-General's Office to file a criminal case against Dikin within the framework of the investigation of an apparent attempt on the life of Stolitsa Nizhnii group General Director Oleg Sorokin. The court concluded that Dikin should stand trial for possible involvement in the crime, which took place on 1 December. Sorokin claimed that senior politicians and law-enforcement agents were involved in the attack. Dikin's brother Aleksandr, who is chief of staff of the security board of Nizhnii Novgorod's Priokskii Raion, was arrested in June on suspicion of involvement in the attack. Mikhail Dikin told Nizhnii Novgorod Telegraph Agency on 23 August that "all rumors about my escape from Nizhnii Novgorod are fabricated. I am not going to escape anywhere, as I am guilty of nothing."

Plaque Commemorating NKVD To Be Dismantled In Perm
The administration in Perm has informed the local branch of Memorial that a memorial plaque commemorating the NKVD, the Stalin-time interior affairs ministry that oppressed millions, will be removed, reported on 27 August. The plaque, which informs passersby that the oblast's NKVD was established in 1938, was installed on the building that houses the Perm Oblast's interior directorate in June. Its unveiling prompted protests from local NGOs and media criticism that convinced the city administration to remove the memorial.

Saratov Oblast's Governor Dismisses Government
Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov dismissed the oblast government on 23 August, reported on 24 August, citing An unnamed source in the governor's administration reportedly said the dismissals included deputy chairmen, ministers, and committee chairmen, among others. Furthermore, the new government's staff will reportedly be reduced by some 250 posts. The number of deputy chairmen in the next government will be halved to four, while the number of government members will be decreased from 25 to 19.

Drug Addiction Spreads In Sverdlovsk Oblast
Seventeen Sverdlovsk Oblast residents died of drug overdoses in May and June compared with no such cases in the same period last year, according to an interdepartmental counternarcotics commission meeting, reported on 23 August. According to the Sverdlovsk Oblast governor's office, a trend of growing narcotics addiction that had been continuing since 1993 was halted in 2002, when the number of drug overdoses fell by almost two-thirds to 40. In the first seven months of the current year, however, growth has returned, with 48 drug overdoses versus 26 last year. The Russian Health and Social Development Ministry reported that 487,000 drug addicts have been registered in the country. According to experts, one in eight drug addicts applies to a medical institution for treatment.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova