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Tatar-Bashkir Report: May 13, 2003

13 May 2003
Could Tatarstan Be A Model For Iraq?
"The New York Times" published on 4 May an article by Bill Keller in which Tatarstan is proposed as a model for a successful Muslim state. Noting that U.S. President George W. Bush will probably not be looking to Russian President Vladimir Putin for advice on how to proceed in Iraq when they meet later this month in St. Petersburg, Keller wrote that "since the end of Soviet rule, Moscow has accomplished in one Islamic province here in central Russia, called Tatarstan, something we seem to want for Iraq: an easygoing, secular, peaceable, multicultural society that is, in a small way, a model for its neighbors" and added that "we might learn something here."

Keller described Tatarstan as "a far cry from Iraq, although Islam was imported here from Baghdad in the 10th century. The most conspicuous difference is that Muslims here constitute only about half of the population. During four centuries of stressful coexistence with Russian Orthodox Christians, the Muslim Tatars have necessarily become the most adaptable of Islamic peoples." The author noted that, like the Iraqis, Tatars have a historical memory of a time when they were part of a cosmopolitan culture and that for many Tatars, as for many Iraqis, Islam is just one component of a rich ethnic identity.

According to Keller, the first thing Moscow, which feared that Tatarstan could become the epicenter of an Islamic uprising, did well "to leave Tatarstan under the control of someone who knew the lay of the land. The Tatars got as their new boss not a retired general or a democrat from exile but their durable old party boss, Mintimer S. Shaimiyev, shrewdly repositioned as a Tatar nationalist. Mr. Shaimiyev is more a feudal populist than a democrat. But he regularly wins elections because he has figured out how to keep peace with Moscow without seeming to be a puppet."

The author commented that "Ahmad Chalabi, the Pentagon's favorite in Iraq, probably knows more about democracy than any mullah angling for influence. But so did the man we brought from exile to run Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and he now seems to be little more than the mayor of Kabul. The Russian experience suggests we take a closer look at the independent local talent." He added that: "For now, by the standards of communist times or, for that matter, most Arab states, Tatarstan is a zone of religious tolerance."

RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service said on 5 May that Keller misunderstood to some extent the situation in Tatarstan, first of all by claiming that religious and interethnic concord in the republic was an achievement of Moscow, rather than the local authorities. Thus, Shaimiev, who, according to RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, maintained power because of the support of the Tatar people, is touted by Keller as a "Moscow man." Keller is mistaken, the service added, when he said that the decisions on the construction of the Qol Sherif mosque in the Kazan Kremlin and on the opening of the Kazan-based Russian Islamic University were passed by Moscow in an attempt to prevent the deterioration of the situation in Tatarstan.

Russian-Spanish Conference To Discuss Federalism
A Russian-Spanish scientific conference titled "Decentralization of State Authority in Spain and the Federalization Of Russia: the Experience of Comparative Study" begins in Kazan on 5 May, reported the previous day. Scholars from Spain and Russia, studying the problems of state systems, federalism, interethnic relations, and socio-linguistics will gather for the forum organized by the Kazan Institute of Federalism and supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The legal principles of regional authorities, including constitutions, charters, statutes of entities, power-sharing, and relations between central and regional authorities will also be on the agenda.

Shaimiev Meets With Putin To Discuss Preparations For Kazan Millennium...
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed preparations for the celebration of Kazan's millennium at a meeting in Moscow on 6 May, reported the same day, citing the ORT television station. Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Tatar Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov, and Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhakov also participated in the discussion about the millennium, which will take place in 2005. The most complex issue is financing the construction of the Kazan underground, Shaimiev said, adding that both the federal and especially Tatar authorities are behind schedule on the project. The possibility of obtaining foreign credit for the construction was also discussed and Kudrin was charged with promoting the issue.

...And Oil Deposits in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan
President Shaimiev told reporters at the Kazan airport on 6 May that he had raised the question with Putin of reducing taxes on oil produced from old deposits in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, which are now almost exhausted. Tatar oil deposits now provide an average of 4 tons a day compared to the 30 tons a day produced in the past. Putin charged the Russian government with developing amendments to the tax code and corresponding law, including the law on natural resources. Shaimiev also reportedly told Putin that members of the Russian association of small oil companies had appealed to him to support them. Shaimiev said small companies -- which produce over 40 million tons of oil a year, including 4 million tons in Tatarstan -- are unable to develop without credits and investments in prospecting, drilling wells, and purchasing equipment.

Tatmedia To Revise Principles Of Financing State-Run Media
Deputy Prime Minister Zile Welieva told a cabinet briefing on 6 May that the Tatar mass communications agency Tatmedia, established the previous week (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 May 2003), will allow all media outlets to compete as equals for obtaining state subsidies. There are over 430 media companies in Tatarstan and the previous practice where state-controlled outlets received direct subsidies from the government while others were rarely given anything, has become outdated, Welieva said. She also said that the number of outlets receiving state subsidies will be revised and it may be reduced to one Tatar-language newspaper, one television channel, and one radio station. Welieva added that Tatmedia will not found a new mass media outlet but will instead promote equality among them all.

TIU Leader To Undergo Psychiatric Examination
The Chally city court has upheld an appeal of the city prosecutors' office to keep Rafis Kashapov, the leader of the moderate nationalist Tatar Public Center (TIU), in custody, reported on 7 May. Kashapov, who is accused of inciting interethnic discord (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 26 March and 14 April 2003), will remain in custody until 9 August. According to the court's decision, Kashapov will undergo a psychiatric examination in Kazan. Meanwhile, a group of prominent members of the Tatar intelligentsia, including Mufti Gosman Iskhaqov, appealed to Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev and the heads of the republic's law enforcement bodies to state their concern about the "persecution" of Kashapov, RFE/RL's Chally correspondent reported on 7 May.

Shaimiev Meets With WWII Veterans
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev met on 8 May with 800 World War II veterans from across the republic to mark Victory Day, celebrated on 9 May, reported the same day. Tatarstan lost 350,000 people during the war -- half of those who fought. Shaimiev said that there are five Soviet Union Heroes, one Russia Hero, 25 Heroes of Socialist Labor, around 11,000 war veterans, and 3,700 war widows currently living in Kazan. On 9 May, war veterans are given free telephone calls to Russian cities, the CIS, and the Baltic states. The Tatar Cabinet of Ministers paid war veterans who receive a minimum pension 250 rubles ($8) as a Victory Day present. During May, war veterans are also given discounts on consumer services.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Government Agency Defends Tajetdin's Declaration Of Jihad Against America
In a 30 April report Bashkortostan's official information agency, Bashinform, speculated that Rawyl Gaynetdin, head of Russia's Council of Muftis, "openly used the 3 April declaration of jihad against the United States by Telget Tajetdin [chairman of Russia's Central Muslim Religious Board, based in Ufa] for undermining the latter's reputation in the Islamic world" (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 4, 7, 8, 10 April 2003). The report -- titled "Telget Tajetdin: Extremist or Reformist Mufti?" -- touts Tajetdin as an active defender of Russia's Muslims from "extremist missionaries from the Middle East" and a supporter of "traditional confessions all over the world." Bashinform wrote that "taking into account Tajetdin's loyalty to the Russian authorities, one may presume that his effervescent activities and his personality are more suitable for the Kremlin than the head of Russia's Council of Muftis, Gaynetdin. We think that after a short while this [jihad] scandal will calm down and the [Russian] authorities will thank Tajetdin for his statement, by which he covered up the Kremlin's official policies."

Court Lifts Most Charges From Marine Recruited In Bashkortostan
The tribunal at the Makhachkala military base in Daghestan on 5 May lifted charges against Sergei Tiunov of plotting an assassination, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported yesterday. Tiunov, a Russian Marine Corps serviceman from Ufa, was detained at the Chechen-Daghestani border in November 2001 while traveling in the same car with British citizen John Benini, an ethnic Turk, and Russian citizen, Mukhtar-Pashi Ismagilov, who is Chechen. Their vehicle reportedly carried firearms, ammunition, drugs, and a military radio. Initial charges against the three were that they were planning to assassinate Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, but these charges were replaced with siding with Chechen militant groups, the illegal carrying of firearms, and drug trafficking. In addition, Tiunov was charged with deserting his military detachment. The 5 May court ruling means that Tiunov is only guilty of deserting the army, and he was sentenced to two years in prison, though he was freed due to his poor health. While incarcerated the last 18 months during the investigation, Tiunov had a foot amputated as a result of a wound received in combat.

Russian Military Praises Bashkortostan's Recruitment Efforts
The General Staff of the Russian Defense Ministry has said that Bashkortostan is the best region for army recruitment in 2002, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 6 May. A special commission of high-ranking ministry officials revealed that 72.2 percent of Bashkortostan's recruit-age residents were called up last year, while the country's average is 69.2 percent. Bashkortostan won the same title for best recruitment figures in 2001.

Bashkir Liberals Join Move To Expel Pokhmelkin, Nisnevich
An emergency conference of the branch of the Liberal Russia party in Bashkortostan voted to exclude the party's co-Chairman Viktor Pokhmelkin and its political council secretary Yulii Nisnevich on 7 May, RosBalt reported the same day. Viktor Shmakov, the head of the Bashkir branch, explained the decision by saying that Pokhmelkin and Nisnevich had "attempted to split up" the political party. According to Shmakov, "this situation is especially dangerous for the party since it has already overcome the 5 percent margin and is maintaining its opposition stance to the existing government." Shmakov confirmed that his organization and 55 more regional Liberal Russia branches supported the self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, who initially sponsored the party but was later expelled in a move spearheaded by State Duma Deputy and Liberal Russia's co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov in October 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2002). According to Shmakov, Berezovskii, who's goal is reportedly to unite his own supporters in Liberal Russia with former supporters of Yushenkov, "authorized" the ousting of Pokhmelkin and Nisnevich. Yushenkov was murdered in Moscow on 17 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003).

Bashkortostan's Communists Celebrate Victory Day In Modestly...
On the eve of the Victory Day celebrations marking the anniversary of the end of World War II on 9 May, activists of the Communist Party branch in Bashkortostan distributed 3,500 greeting cards personally signed by party leader Gennadii Zyuganov among war veterans in the republic, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported yesterday. The deputy chairman of the local party branch, Valerii Shiryaev, told reporters on 8 May, "we would be glad to make more solid presents to the veterans, for example TVs or VCRs, but the party doesn't have the money for this." On 9 May, Bashkir Communists laid flowers at the graves of World War II heroes Aleksandr Matrosov and Minnigali Gobeidullin in Ufa separate from the official ceremony attended by President Murtaza Rakhimov.

...As Unified Russia Offers Food Baskets To Some Veterans
Meanwhile, the Bashkir branch of Unified Russia chose 170 World War II veterans residing in Ufa to hand out Victory Day gift baskets near the monument to the victims of political repression in Ufa on 8 May, RosBalt reported yesterday. The baskets included cans of stewed meat, condensed milk, tinned fish, and tea. Roestem Ekhmedinurov, deputy head of the Unified Russia branch in Bashkortostan, told RosBalt that by the 60th anniversary of Victory Day in 2005 his party would build a special park in Ufa for veterans.

Only Some 28,000 WWII Vets Left In Republic
In his traditional Victory Day greeting issued on 8 May, President Rakhimov said that about 28,000 World War II veterans live in Bashkortostan and that some 6,000 died in 2002. A total of 700,000 of the republic's residents fought in the 1941-1945 war; some 320,000 were killed in action and more than 200,000 were decorated. Some 300 of them received the highest Soviet combat awards -- the Star of the Soviet Union Hero and the full Order of Glory.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Russia-NATO Center Opens Office In Perm
An office of the Russia-NATO Center is to open in Perm on 13 May, Novyi region (Perm) reported on 8 May. The center was founded a year ago by the Russian Defense Ministry and NATO to promote social adaptation of Russian soldiers transferred to the reserves. The same day, the office is scheduled to begin two-week trade-improvement courses for Volga-Ural military district specialists on adaptation of soldiers to the reserves and their families.

Saratov Oblast Deputy Governor Leaves Custody
Saratov Oblast Deputy Governor Yurii Moiseev, who is under criminal investigation, was freed from custody under personal guarantee by the oblast's representative to the Federation Council, Ramazan Abdulatipov, Saratovbizneskonsalting reported on 8 May. The investigation of Moiseev's case is over, according to the Chief Investigation Directorate of the Russian Interior Ministry's Saratov Oblast Directorate. The oblast prosecutors' office said that it has evidence of Moiseev's guilt of "intentionally causing serious harm to a person's health and life," a crime for which a convict can be sentenced to between two and eight years in prison, Saratovbizneskonsalting reported on 5 May.

Saratov Oblast's Ayatskov Presents Muslims With Chandelier
Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov on 7 May presented to the oblast's Muslims a unique crystal chandelier, reported the same day. At his meeting with the head of the Muslim Spiritual Board of the Volga Region, Moqetdes Bibarsov, Ayatskov presented to the Saratov Islamic complex a five-meter-high and 3.5-meter-wide chandelier, which is unique in Russia. The two men also discussed preparations for a conference on interethnic and interfaith relations slated for mid-June.

Saratov Oblast Environmentalists Refused Access To Information About Gornyi Chemical Plant
The Saratov Oblast Volga Raion court has rejected an appeal by human rights activists against the court's earlier verdict confirming the legality of a refusal by the Russian Natural Resources Ministry's Saratov Oblast Directorate to present information about the state environmental examination of the plant destroying chemical weapons in Gornyi, Saratovbizneskonsalting reported on 6 May. The activists said they will appeal to a higher court.

Book Devoted To Fundamentalist Islam Withdrawn From Sale
A controversial book titled "Allah Does Not Like America" published by the Uralskii rabochii publishing house was prohibited from sale in Russia, Novyi region reported on 5 May. Policemen seized copies of the book from bookstores in Yekaterinburg, Moscow, and St. Petersburg after NTV claimed in its news program that the book promotes terrorism. The head of the publishing house, Ilya Kormiltsev, told the news agency that he was indignant with "the paranoia that arose around the book." He said the book was intended to fill a gap in the public's thinking about fundamentalist Islam. On 6 May, however, the book again was on sale in the Uralskii rabochii bookstore in Yekaterinburg, Novyi region reported the same day. The bookstore management said that they have no instructions issued by either a court or prosecutors' office prohibiting it. The head of the Yekaterinburg Interior Directorate's Public Safety Department, Sergei Mochalin, told the news agency that the directorate passed a decision to seize the book from all bookstores.

Sverdlovsk Oblast Parliament Promotes Donors' Rights
The Sverdlovsk Oblast Legislative Assembly approved the initiative of Yekaterinburg doctors on restoration of the right of free use of city transport for honorary donors, reported on 7 May, citing the Yekaterinburg Health Directorate press service. Sverdlovsk Oblast deputies together with the Moscow Oblast Duma passed to the Russian State Duma a draft law intended to abolish the State Duma's previous decision on the issue, which deprived donors of the privilege.

Chinese Citizens Studying In Sverdlovsk Oblast Prohibited From Visiting China
Chinese students studying at Sverdlovsk Oblast universities are prohibited from visiting China or to invite their relatives or friends from China to visit them in Russia until the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic is over, Novyi region reported on 6 May. Those who violate those rules will be refused visas. Chinese students will also have to pass regular medical examinations, deputy rector of Ural State Technical University Sergei Shamchurov told the news agency. Russian higher educational institutions will also refuse admittance to citizens of countries where SARS cases were registered, Shamchurov said.

Udmurt Natural Resources Official Resigns
The head of the Natural Resources Ministry's Udmurt Directorate, Igor Toropov, has offered his resignation, NTA Privolzhe reported on 6 May. Toropov's move was expected after he was accused of abuse of power by issuing licenses for the Belkamneft oil company as a result of an inspection by the ministry (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 29 November 2002 and 9 April 2003).

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova