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Tatar-Bashkir Report: May 27, 2003

27 May 2003
New Law To Expand Freedom Of Information
According to a draft law on information technology discussed by the State Council commission on economic development and reforms on 23 May, citizens will have the right to access information currently unavailable to the public, Intertat reported today. The data will include crime statistics, rulings and resolutions of local courts, salary sheets of state employees, activity reports of state and municipal organizations, and incomes and expenses of republican, regional, and municipal budgets. State bodies will reportedly be obliged to publish such information on their official websites.

Parliamentary Commission Discusses Prosecutor's Protest Against Language Law...
The State Council Commission on Science, Education, Culture, and National Issues discussed on 21 May the protest by the republic's prosecutor against several provisions of the republic's language law. The prosecutor had said that some provisions of the law, adopted in July 1992, contradict federal law, in particular those that specify that Tatar and Russian can be used in Tatarstan's industry, transport, communications, and engineering sectors. Under federal law, the use of the Russian language is mandatory in those sectors. The commission agreed with the prosecutor's complaints, with the exception of one referring to "Tatar citizens." The commission said, according to the Tatar Constitution, the republic has its own citizenship.

...Appeals Against Cyrillic-Only Law
The commission has appealed to the Russian Constitutional Court against the amendment to the federal law on languages, which mandates that all state languages use the Cyrillic script, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 21 May. Commission Chairman Razil Weliev told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service the same day that the Cyrillic-only amendment, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December 2002, contradicts some four articles of the Russian Constitution and violates human rights. Weliev added that recent verdicts of the Russian Constitutional Court have been political rather than legal and said that if the ruling on the script issue is legal, Tatarstan would be able to introduce the Latin Tatar script. If that doesn't happen, he said, Tatarstan would appeal to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights. In accordance with the controversial law (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report, 12 December 2002), Tatarstan must abolish within 12 months its September 1999 law calling for the restoration of the Latin Tatar script.

Kazanskaya Street Opened In St. Petersburg After Repairs
Kazanskaya Street in St. Petersburg was reopened at a public ceremony held on 20 May, reported the same day, citing the city administration's website. Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhaqov, Tatarstan's official delegate in St. Petersburg Shamil Akhmetshin, head of the Moscow delegation in St. Petersburg Aleksandr Kalyakin, and a delegation of St. Petersburg's Tatar National Cultural Autonomy attended the event. The Tatar government has undertaken the repair work on Kazanskaya Street under an agreement between the administrations of Kazan and St. Petersburg on holding joint events devoted to the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg and Kazan's millennium. Construction workers from Kazan have completely repaired 26,800 square meters of building fronts on the street, which won a recent competition as one of St. Petersburg's best-designed streets.

Shaimiev Meets With Bangladeshi Ambassador
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev met on 19 May with Bangladeshi Ambassador to Russia Nazimulla Choudhuri, who is at the start of a trip to various Russian regions, reported the same day. Bangladesh, which has 40 million tons of oil reserves and 11 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, is interested in Tatarstan's experience in extracting natural resources, developing gas deposits, and power engineering. The sides discussed deliveries of machine-building products, as well as KamAZ vehicles, helicopters, and ships, from Tatarstan in exchange for tea, seafood, and textiles from Bangladesh. Under a student exchange program that was also on the agenda, students from Bangladesh would be able to enter Kazan universities beginning this year. The sides agreed that a presentation about Tatarstan and an exhibition of Tatar-made products will be held in Bangladesh and that Tatar Trade and Foreign Economic Cooperation Minister Khafiz Salikhov will visit Bangladesh in June to prepare for the event.

The bilateral trade turnover dropped from $109,700 in 2001 to just $300 in 2002, reported.

Tatarstan, Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry Sign Cooperation Protocol
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov signed on 16 May in Moscow a three-year protocol on cooperation between the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry and Tatarstan in the sphere of international and economic relations, Tatar-inform, reported the same day. The protocol -- the first document of its kind signed between the ministry and a federation subject -- comes in the wake of the September 1999 decree by the Russian president "on the celebration of Kazan's millennium." The document is intended to help inform the international community about the jubilee and its historical and cultural significance.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Duma Speaker Promotes Abolishment Of Federal Districts...
Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, meeting with teachers and students of Bashkir State University on 22 May, said that "federal districts established in Russia for overcoming the threat of the breakup of the state due to [former Russian President] Boris Yeltsin's policies have already fulfilled their task and may be abolished," RosBalt reported the same day. Not commenting on whether the abolishment will actually take place, Seleznev said he "would consider it if I was the Russian president." Seleznev also criticized the idea of establishing a unitary state in Russia by getting rid of ethnic republics and merging the regions. Nevertheless, he upheld the idea of "enlarging" the regions, "if it proceeds carefully, consequentially, and is economically grounded." In the Duma speaker's opinion such a move can "only be done on the basis of the people's will."

...Plans Investigation Into Plots Against Bashkir Fuel And Energy Complex
Speaking on Bashkir State Television on 22 May, Duma Speaker Seleznev announced that he plans to undertake an investigation and reveal the names of "those who are trying to make illegal claims" on the Bashkir fuel and energy complex. He appealed to the Bashkir authorities and asked for information on oligarchs who are interested in privatizing the republic's industries. The results, he said, would be handed over to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Seleznev also criticized Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's "philosophy regarding state property, [which is] expressed by the thesis that the less state property there is in Russia, the better." Seleznev referred to the privatization of the Slavneft oil company, commenting that it was "incredible that five families owned 74 percent of Russia's oil."

Major Bashkir Communications Company Considering Merger With Svyazinvest
Bashkortostan's major communications company Bashinformsvyaz is considering the possibility of merging with Volgatelecom, the leading communications company in the Volga federal district, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 21 May. Bashinformsvyaz currently provides services for 850,000 telephone subscribers in Bashkortostan, satellite-based communication services, and maintaining fiber-optic and radio networks in the republic. Russia's Property Affairs Ministry owns 28.2 percent of the company's shares, while the Bashkir government has a 17.8 percent stake in the venture. According to on 21 May, Bashinformsvyaz incomes reached 2.2 billion rubles ($71.5 million) in 2002. Volgatelekom unites wire communications companies from most of the Volga regions. The company earned 1.5 billion rubles ($48.7 million) in 2002.

Bashkirenergo To Complete Restructuring Before 2004
Bashkirenergo electricity and heating company will finish its restructuring by the end of 2003, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 20 May citing the company's press service. The energy company has already been split up into three major subdivisions: Bashkir Networking Company, Bashkortostan's Wholesale Company, and Heating Networks. The maintenance and transportation services have been privatized. By the end of 2003 Bashkirenergo intends to launch eight interregional companies for purchasing and selling energy supplies across the republic. Currently, 32.1 percent of the company's shares are at the disposal of the Bashkir Fuel Company, 21.3 percent belong to Russia's United Energy Systems, 7.3 percent belong to the Bashkeft oil company, 9.9 percent are distributed among minority shareholders, while private individuals retain 15 percent of the shares.

President Emphasizes Role Of Oil Industry For Bashkortostan
In his opening speech at the 4th annual Congress of Russia's Oil Industry in Ufa on 19 May, President Murtaza Rakhimov said that Bashkortostan leads the country's regions in oil processing, refining one-seventh of the total oil processed in Russia, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported today. He said that Bashkir oil refineries produce one-third of the high-octane gas produced in Russia. Rakhimov also acknowledged that the oil industry "always has been and remains the basis of our economic development."

Ufa Mayor Steps Down
The Ufa City Council convened on 19 May to consider approving the retirement of Mayor Reuf Nogumanov, who is to be replaced by former Housing Minister Pavel Kachkaev, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported yesterday. President Rakhimov attended the meeting, expressing praise for Nogumanov, who had served as mayor for three years.

Parliament Supports Return Of 'Sovereignty' To Constitution
The Bashkir State Assembly discussed the possible official reestablishment of Bashkortostan's "sovereign status" on 17 May, RosBalt reported the same day. Vladimir Kashulinskii, leader of the Unified Russia faction in the parliament and faction members Zifket SaetgAliyev and Reshide Soltanova suggested the revision of the republic's new constitution adopted in 2002. The deputies proposed that Bashkortostan should return to the provisions of a previously adopted law, which declared the republic a sovereign state maintaining treaty-based relations with Moscow. Under the June 2001 ruling of the Russian Constitution Court and April 2002 ruling of the Bashkir Supreme Court, the new constitution has replaced the term "sovereignty" with that of "statehood." During the 17 May session, the State Assembly agreed on establishing a commission on the problems of treaty-based relations and the republic's constitutional status.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

South Ural Nuclear Power Station To Be Built
Petr Latyshev, the presidential envoy to the Ural Federal District, said on 21 May that the construction of the South Ural Nuclear Power Station in Chelyabinsk Oblast will be restarted, reported the same day. Speaking during a live broadcast on a local television channel, Latyshev said the investment program of the Russian Nuclear Power Engineering Ministry will be updated and will revive the construction that was halted in the early 1990s following protests by environmentalists and because funding from the state budget dried up. Latyshev also commented on the environmental situation around the Techa River in Chelyabinsk Oblast, which has been polluted by the local Mayak nuclear plant. Several commissions have examined the issue and presented their conclusions to Russian President Vladimir Putin who took the issue under his personal supervision, Latyshev said. The envoy added that the Russian Nuclear Power Engineering Ministry is developing a program to secure the environmental safety of the region.

Yavlinskii Praises Regions Merger
During a visit to Perm on 23 May, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii welcomed the merger of Perm Oblast and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, Novyi Region reported the same day. Yavlinskii also backed the idea to name the new entity "Permskii Krai" and said Russia's "89 regions are an absolutely unmanageable bureaucratic system." Yavlinskii said he believes Russia will be a federation of large Russian lands in the future. He described a map of future Russia, which will include the Far East, West Siberia, East Siberia, the Urals, the Volga Region, Central Russia, North Russia, and South Russia. The existing oblasts were established for easier administrative management during the Soviet period, he said.

AvtoVAZ Profit Falls Drastically
The net profit of the automotive giant AvtoVAZ fell in the first quarter of 2003 to 8 million rubles ($260,000) compared to the same period in 2002 when it totaled 1.9 billion rubles, NTA Privolzhe reported on 21 May. While sales profit reduced by 63 percent, the company's debt increased in the first three months of the year by 1.8 billion rubles to 10.3 billion rubles. AvtoVAZ production dropped by 17.8 percent in the first four months of the year compared to the same period the previous year.

Students Stage Hunger Strike In Samara
Twenty-six students of the Samara Pedagogical University began a hunger strike to protest corruption that they claim flourishes at their hostel, a local television and radio company Skat reported on 23 May. The strikers refused to accept food and to attend lectures until the hostel's warden and the head of the university's social work department are dismissed. Both university officials and students have said they will appeal to law enforcement bodies to investigate the issue.

Explosive Thefts At Ural Mining, Smelting Companies
The prosecutors' office of the Sverdlovsk Oblast has opened a criminal investigation into the recent thefts of explosive materials at the Kachkanar-based ore mining and processing enterprise Vanadii, and the Berezovskoe Rudoupravlenie and Uralasbest companies, Inform-Ekologiya reported on 23 May. Vladimir Mironov, the head of the Russian State Mining Technical Supervision Committee (Gosgortekhnadzor) Ural Directorate, told the news agency the thefts were reported a month ago by the Federal Security Service. The Ural Directorate of Gosgortekhnadzor reprimanded company heads for their lapse security and fined the responsible officials.

Television Journalist Attacked In Yekaterinburg
Aleksandr Stetsun, a journalist working for the Television Agency of the Urals (TAU), was attacked and injured by an unidentified person on 19 May, Novyi Region reported the next day, citing the Sverdlovsk Oblast Interior Directorate's press service. The assailant stabbed Stetsun with an awl as he was walking on a Yekaterinburg street. TAU representatives said that the assault is likely linked to Stetsun's professional activity.

Yekaterinburg Blood-Donors Protest Against Loss Of Privileges
The number of blood-donors in Yekaterinburg dropped by 1,000 in the first three months of the year after a State Duma resolution that takes away their right to free use of the city's public transport, Red Cross representatives told a meeting of the Yekaterinburg City Duma's social policy committee, Inform-Ekologiya reported on 20 May. As a result of the City Duma's decision, blood reserves in the city have dropped by 30 percent. Blood-donors are paid 100 rubles ($3) and are given two days off every time they give blood. Previously they were granted the right to free transport after they gave blood 40 times.

Yekaterinburg Company Insures Against SARS
The Yekaterinburg insurance company Grand Polis announced on 20 May that it is ready to insure against the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, "Kommersant" reported on 21 May. Grand Polis General Director Anton Romanov told the daily that the company will insure only residents of Sverdlovsk Oblast infected in the Ural region as well as local residents travelling abroad. The minimum insurance payment will be 30,000 rubles ($1,000) and the maximum, 250,000 rubles. Clients are to pay 48 percent of the sum to obtain the insurance. Representatives of other local insurance companies said that the move is a PR stunt, taking advantage of impressionable residents. They also said that no insurance company would be able to cover all the payments if a SARS epidemic broke out in Russia. Meanwhile, the Chinese Taikang Life Insurance company began in May to insure against SARS. Clients pay $12.50 for the insurance policy and will be paid $12.50 for every day in hospital in case they are infected. In case of their death, their legatees will be paid $6,300.

Tyumen Muslim Organizations Demand That Former Mosque Building Returned
Four religious and civic organizations have appealed to the Tyumen Oblast prosecutors' office after the city administration refused to return a building where a mosque was located at the beginning of the 20th century, reported on 21 May. Representatives asked prosecutors to investigate whether the refusal to return the building conforms with the law on freedom of religious associations.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova