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Tatar-Bashkir Report: November 23, 2004

23 November 2004
Shaimiev Urges Unified Russia To Consider Regional Branches' Views...
Speaking at a special congress of Unified Russia's Tatarstan branch on 13 November, President Mintimer Shamiev, who serves as secretary of the party's General Council, said the party's leadership should pay close attention to information coming from its local offices, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 15 November.

Shaimiev said that "we have to find the strength and the avenues to take a critical look at many things," Shaimiev said. "Otherwise we cannot ensure spiritual unity, which he said the party must obtain to ensure its leading position in Russia.

He said that input from regional branches is currently of particular importance, as proposed legislation that would eliminate elections for regional leaders is being considered.

...As Mukhametshin Emphasizes Tatarstan Branches' Achievements In Tatarstan
Farid Mukhametshin, Tatarstan's State Council chairman and secretary of Unified Russia's Political Council in the republic, said at the 13 November congress that Tatarstan's Unified Russia branch is largest among Russia's regions. He estimated that the party is represented in Tatarstan by 79,800 members in 45 local offices and 843 minor divisions. This, he said, "proves that the regional office has become an inalienable element of Tatarstan's political system."

Mukhametshin said that the party has contributed greatly to social and political stability in Tatarstan, the strengthening of interethnic and interconfessional concord, and large-scale economic and social reforms.

He added that for improving its performance, the party currently has to enrich its human resources with representatives of creative and scientific intelligentsia, ?because otherwise our party will be unable to preserve its leading role in Russia's politics."

Overqualification Creates Labor Shortage In Tatarstan
Tatar Labor Minister Boris Zakharov told a government meeting on 15 November that in 2004 the republic's unemployment rate fell to 1.28 percent, Intertat reported the same day. Zakharov said that the gradual fall in unemployment is mostly due to the growth of small and medium-sized businesses. Meanwhile, the number of people working in larger factories is decreasing. As a result, there are 16,000-18,000 positions currently vacant industrial sector, due to a lack of less-qualified workers with basic professional education and an abundance of people with higher education.

Tatar Parliament Supports Reintroducing Capital Punishment
The 11 November session of Tatarstan's State Council supported the appeal by Vologda Oblast and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug legislators to the Russian president, government, Federation Council, and State Duma asking for "immediate action to fight terrorism and therefore lifting the ban on capital punishment," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 15 November.

Constitution Court Confirms Ban On Latin-Script Reform...
The Russian Constitutional Court on 17 November rejected a claim by Tatarstan's parliament that sought to establish that republic's right to pursue Latin-script reform, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. The court, chaired by Justice Valerii Zorkin, ruled that only federal legislators have the right to decide such linguistic matters. The verdict leaves in force the State Duma's amendment to the law on peoples' languages within the Russian Federation. The Tatar State Council previously sought to abolish that amendment as unconstitutional, claiming that Russia's Constitution gives republics the right to introduce state languages of their own.

According to the Constitutional Court, by introducing its own linguistic reform and rejecting the Cyrillic alphabet without special permission from federal legislative bodies, Tatarstan would violate the linguistic integrity of the Russian Federation.

Tatar parliamentary speaker Farid Mukhametshin told reporters after the court hearing: "We will wait. I'm convinced that with the further development of Russian society we will express stronger interest in studying the Latin script. This process is unstoppable. It is connected with globalization as well as with our desire to reach the European level of life and development." Mukhametshin emphasized that when introducing the Latin script in 1997, the Tatar State Council was basing its move on the opinions of Tatar researchers "who showed that our society is moving toward the Latin script." In Mukhametshin's words, Tatarstan is not planning on removing street signs that have been made in the Latin script "because there is a similar situation in Moscow, [where] I saw several buildings and restaurants with signs in the Latin script." He added that Tatarstan's governmental bodies will not dispute the court's ruling in any other instances, because "time will be our judge, and it will show."

Also on 16 November, the Russian Constitutional Court confirmed the right of ethnic republics to introduce the teaching of non-Russian state languages to the same extent that Russian is taught in kindergartens and schools.

...Which Will Also Affect Karelians
The 16 November ruling by the Russian Constitutional Court also affects the native people of Kareliya, whose language utilizes the Latin script, "Kommersant-Daily" wrote the next day. The leader of the World Karelian Congress, Anatolii Grigoriev, told the daily that the verdict was "unjust, because it violates the rights of the federation's territorial entities." He said language is within the competences of the people and "if the people of Tatarstan decide that they are comfortable with Latin script, so that is the way it has to be." The chairman of Kareliya's state committee on ethnic policies, Yevgeniii Shorokhov, agreed with that statement, noting, "It is not the court's business, even the Constitutional Court's, to decide how a language should be expressed." He also confirmed that Karelians "will not switch to the Cyrillic script for expressing their own language under any circumstances."

Shaimiev Says Work On Tatar Script Reform Will Continue... Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said he believes that the 16 November Russian Constitutional Court ruling did not deprive Tatarstan of its right to resume working on the Latin Tatar script reform, because the court acknowledged that the issue may be resolved via adoption of a federal law, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 17 November (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 17 November 2004). He emphasized that at present there is no single opinion regarding script reform in Tatarstan, while the Tatar State Council as well as the president took into consideration the will of the World Tatar Congress when endorsing the law on script reform in 1997. Shaimiev admitted that he considers the court's ruling to be "correct," because it would be wrong to take premature action toward reform without taking into consideration the needs of the majority of Tatars who live in regions outside Tatarstan.

...And Praises Decision To Maintain Bilingual Teaching
Commenting on the Constitutional Court ruling confirming the right of Tatarstan's government to introduce the teaching of Tatar language in the same volume as Russian language, President Shaimiev said on 17 November that in his opinion, this standard of education will "assist the furthering of peace and consent in the republic," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. However, he noted that when considering the distribution of class hours, education officials have to consider the actual situation in schools and make sure students are not overloaded. Shaimiev added that mixed marriages where children can speak both Tatar and Russia are an extra factor of unification and comfort.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Bashkir Government Loosens Its Grip On Uralsib
Bashkir Finance Minister Ayrat Geskerov confirmed on 12 November that after the recent changes at Bashkortostan's major financial institution, the Uralib bank, only 12 percent of its shares are owned by the republican government, down from 19 percent, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. Geskerov claimed that despite the decrease, Bashkortostan will maintain strong control over the bank, which is currently dominated by Moscow-based shareholders. He did not, however, comment on the mechanism for that republican control.

Police Detain 16 Alleged Members Of Extremist Islamic Party
Bashkir police on 14 November detained 16 people in Ufa, Oktyabrsk, Sibai, and Tuymazi for allegedly distributing leaflets of the extremist Islamic Liberation Party (Khizb-ut-Takhrir al Islami), which is banned in Russian Federation, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The leaflets reportedly included calls for a holy war. No criminal investigation has been launched, and the suspects are reportedly expected to receive only administrative sanctions.

The Islamic Liberation Party was founded in 1953 in Jordan and in began its activities in Central Asia in the 19990. In 2003, Russia's Supreme Court ruled that the party is a terrorist organization and banned its activities in Russia. On the eve of 14 November, Bashkortostan's law enforcement bodies were informed that the party's activists would take advantage of the Uraza Baeyrem holiday marking the end of Ramadan month to spread leaflets to believers in major urban centers of the republic.

Tatar Public Organizations remember Victimized Singer, Declare Plans To Move Forward
The Union of Tatar civic organizations in Bashkortostan held a press conference on 16 November, to remember the tragic death of singer Viner Mostafin (see "RFE/RL's Tatar Bashkir Report," 5, 16 November 2004) and announce its plans to hold a first congress of Tatar National-Cultural autonomy in Bashkortostan in Moscow on 27 November, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. The conference involved the close ones of the diseased singer, who spoke about the pressure imposed on him by Bashkir authorities.

Meanwhile the autonomy congress is considered to be an important step towards obtaining an official status to Tatar language, which is native for the second major ethnic group in the republic.

Ethnology Expert Says Bashkortostan's Tatars Support Script Reform
Following the 16 November ruling of Russia's Supreme Court, which effectively halted the implementation of the Latin Tatar script reform, Ildar Gebdrefikov, an expert from the Ethnological Monitoring Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Bashkortostan, told an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent the next day that in numerous previous statements Bashkortostan's Tatars have insisted that the experiment with Tatar script reform be continued. He confirmed that prior to the announcement of the ruling, Tatar civil groups of Bashkortostan addressed their appeals to the court backing the position of the Tatar government. According to Gebdrefikov, the Constitutional Court will be unable to stop the process of reforming the Tatar language.

Bashkortostan's Prices Grow Faster Than Russian Average
According to Bashkortostan's State Statistics Committee on 17 November, in 2004 the average price of consumer goods and services in the republic increased by 12.1 percent, which included a 10.2 percent hike in food-stuff prices and an 8.4 percent increase in prices of consumer goods, Volgainform reported the same day. Meanwhile, in the same period the average price of consumer goods and services increased by 9.3 percent.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Chelyabinsk Oblast To Process Spent Nuclear Fuel
The Chelyabinsk Oblast has agreed to process spent nuclear fuel in an effort to improve the environmental situation in the region, reported on 19 November.

The oblast government discussed the issue at its meeting the same day. Deputy Governor Gennadii Podtesov also told the meeting that current funds are too small to fully clean up a nuclear accident that took place at the Mayak company in Ozersk, Chelyabinsk Oblast, in which there was an explosion of liquid radioactive waste in 1957. The oblast, however, could pass several special environmental programs which would be funded by money Moscow would earn by processing and burying spent nuclear fuel. Among three projects suggested, one costing 363 million rubles ($12.7 million) is aimed at rehabilitating flood-lands along the Techa River near the village of Muslyumovo that will reduce the risk of radiation by a projected eighteenfold over four years. The second project includes supplying new housing for residents whose homes were contaminated because of the nuclear accident and still reside on the polluted territory.

Currently 1,334 people are waiting for such housing. The project is scheduled to take five years and costs 690 million rubles. The third project involves improving medical care for those who suffer from radiation exposure. The government has approved the three programs but Governor Petr Sumin expressed doubt that the money earned by processing nuclear waste will be given to the oblast since federal authorities will be in charge of distributing the money.

Federal Officials Deny Plans To Create Facility To Destroy Rocket Engines In Chelyabinsk Oblast
Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) representatives officially stated that there are no plans to construct a facility to destroy rocket hard-fuel engines in the Kusinskii Raion of Chelyabinsk Oblast, reported on 17 November. Roskosmos official Vyacheslav Davidenko said research was conducted in 2004 to gauge the possibility of destroying the engines and determining their affect on the environment, though he denied that controlled explosions of the engines were made. Reports had been made this summer that such explosions -- involving detonations of up to four tons of trinitrotoluene -- were set off. Chelyabinsk Oblast residents strongly oppose the establishment of such a facility, and they are supported on this issue by Governor Petr Sumin and State Duma Deputies Mikhail Grishankov and Valerii Panov. On 16 November, Zlatoust Oblast residents demanded that a referendum and public hearings on the issue be held.

HIV, Syphilis Rates Growing In Chelyabinsk
The number of Chelyabinsk Oblast residents infected with HIV by prostitutes has increased fivefold this year as compared to the same period the previous year, Novyi region (Chelyabinsk) reported on 18 November, citing AIDS Center head Lyubov Selyutina. The data was reported at a meeting of Chelyabinsk interdepartment commission on social pathology. Thirty-nine percent of those infected were infected through sexual contact. The infection rate in Chelyabinsk totals 674 per 100,000 people, 3.4 times higher than the country's average and the second-highest rate in the Ural Federal District after Yekaterinburg, which is 704/100,000. It was reported at the meeting that the syphilis infection rate has reached 148 per 100,000 of the population, or the level it was in 1946, when Soviet soldiers returned from Europe, Chelyabinsk Deputy Mayor Aleksandr Kovalenko said.

Bonner Protests Poor State Of 'Memorial' In Yekaterinburg
Human rights activist Yelena Bonner sent a letter to Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii criticizing the situation regarding the local branch of Memorial, Novyi region reported on 18 November. Memorial in Yekaterinburg lost its offices in January as the organization did not have the money to make major repairs to the premises as it was required to do and to pay a rent that had been significantly increased. New offices that the organization is slated to occupy also need major repairs that Memorial cannot afford. Currently the group has no office space, with its headquarters located in the apartment of one of its members. Bonner urged Chernetskii to meet with Memorial members and to aid them in finding affordable offices.

Eight Muslims Charged With Terrorism In Ulyanovsk Oblast
Eight members of the Islamic organization Jamaat arrested in Ulyanovsk Oblast in December 2003, Mozaika reported on 16 November. The eight, among whom are residents of Ulyanovsk Oblast, Tatarstan, Chuvashia, and Daghestan, are charged with planning terrorist acts, robberies, kidnappings, and murders. Law enforcement bodies found fundamentalist Islamic literature and videos described as Waahabist, several pistols with silencers, machine guns, carbines with telescopes, 20 grenades, and bomb-making chemicals in an apartment used by Jamaat members as a mosque. An unidentified source in the Federal Security Service told "Komsomolskaya pravda-Ulyanovsk" that all necessary components for creating explosive were found. Additionally, one of the group members knows how to create an explosive device, reportedly having trained in camp in Chechnya headed by Shamil Basaev. The unidentified source said that the Ulyanovsk unit of Jamaat is responsible for the murders of several people and was part of a large criminal network that financed terrorism in Russia.

Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Leaves Post
Former Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov, who was appointed assistant to Russian Premier Mikhail Fradkov on 13 November, will supervise preparations for 60th anniversary celebrations of World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, reported on 16 November, citing the Ulyanovsk Oblast administration. Shamanov will be in charge of issues of the welfare of soldiers and cooperation with veterans organizations. Asked about possible successors to him as governor, Shamanov said the "wise" Ulyanovsk residents will decide whom the best candidates are. Among those running for oblast governor are Dimitrovgrad Mayor Sergei Morozov, who is supported by Unified Russia; Ulyanovsk Mayor Pavel Romanenko; First Deputy Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Mikhail Shkanov; and former Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Yurii Goryachev, a Communist.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova