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Tatar-Bashkir Report: December 9, 2003

9 December 2003
Shaimiev Admits Violations During 2002 National Census...
At a meeting dedicated to the work of the World Tatar Congress (BKT) in 2003, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said "in the last several years the Tatar nation has grown even though in some of the territories there were attempts at misreporting the real size of the Tatar population," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 2 December. According to an unnamed official within the BKT interviewed by RFE/RL, this statement referred to the reported violations in neighboring Bashkortostan during the October 2002 national census, during which local authorities allegedly beefed up the numbers of the ethnic Bashkir population. According to the results of the census published by "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 29 October, since 1989 the number of Tatars grew by 14,700 to 5.6 million people. Previous reports speculated that the Tatar population had grown by 150,000-160,000. The only region where the number of Tatars was reported to fall was Bashkortostan. According to the census data, the overall number of Bashkirs in the Russian Federation increased by 330,000 to 1.678 million people.

Opinions Of Tatar Leaders A Factor In Bashkir Presidential Vote
The view of the Tatar government regarding the coming presidential elections in neighboring Bashkortostan is a key factor in the vote's outcome, since the local Tatar community, representing up to 30 percent of the electorate, traditionally pays attention to their native republic's policies, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 2 December. Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev has not mentioned so far whether he favors any of the Bashkir presidential candidates, nor has Tatar State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin, who was visiting Ufa on 26 November.

Speaking at the World Tatar Congress, President Shaimiev said, "We do not intend to intervene in the affairs of our neighboring brotherly republic. Respecting the choice of Bashkortostan's people, we will cooperate with the elected president. But we cannot neglect the interests of a million of Tatars residing in that republic and the status of the Tatar language there. This is the major problem.... Any politician claiming the post of Bashkir president must not leave this question [of the Tatar language] unanswered. Will the Tatar language obtain an official status or any special status? We are not talking about 10,000 or 15,000 [people], but about more than a million Tatars in Bashkortostan, and they have the right to raise this issue at the federal level."

Even if the Tatar government opposed incumbent President Murtaza Rakhimov, it would probably still avoid a direct confrontation, since the Bashkir president, like his Tatar counterpart, is a co-chairman of Unified Russia's Supreme Council.

It is also unclear who among Rakhimov's rivals would win Kazan's sympathy. Many political analysts expect that Tatarstan's elite would back Relif Safin, an ethnic Tatar, former vice president of LUKoil, and a Russian Federation Council senator representing Altai Republic. In addition, Safin's daughter, pop star Alsu, is one of the most popular performers in Tatarstan.

However, recent developments have shown a shift in Tatars' attitude toward Safin, in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan. Safin's electoral campaign lacked dynamism and a concrete political program, especially regarding ethnic policies in Bashkortostan. Safin noted that the "Tatar issue" was exaggerated and over-politicized in Bashkortostan (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 December 2003).

Meanwhile, a 27 November resolution of the Congress of Tatar Public Organizations in Bashkortostan named former Mezhprombank head Sergei Veremeenko as its candidate (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 27 November 2003). Prior to that decision, Veremeenko met with Tatar leaders and pledged to give the Tatar language official status in the republic if he is elected. During the annual meeting of the Executive Committee of the World Tatar Congress (BTK) in Kazan on 1 December, Tufan Minnulin, a Tatar playwright and member of the Tatar parliament, raised the issue of Tatar rights in Bashkortostan and the presidential elections.

Irek Sheripov, a member of the BTK Executive Committee, proposed adopting an appeal to Tatar movements in Bashkortostan, urging them to support the candidate "who will ensure the equality of all peoples and the official status of the Tatar language in their republic." The appeal, which is yet to be widely publicized in Bashkortostan, was endorsed by representatives from Tatar communities in 51 regions of the Russian Federation.

Kazan Gets Monument Back
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev and members of the republican and Kazan city governments presided over the opening ceremony of a monument to prominent Russian poet and public figure Gavriil Derzhavin in Kazan's Lyadskoi Garden on 3 December, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. The monument is a replica of one erected in Kazan in 1847 and destroyed by the Soviet authorities in 1933. Earlier this year, Derzhavin's 260th birthday was widely celebrated in his home region of Layesh in Tatarstan.

Tatar President Says Return of Kazan Relic Could Help Resolve Differences Between Orthodox, Catholic Churches
President Mintimer Shaimiev told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" of 4 December that it would be remarkable if the Roman Catholic pope could officially visit Russia with the permission of Russian Orthodox patriarch and to help sort out differences between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Prior to his trip to Mongolia this summer, Pope John Paul II expressed his desire to return to Russia the disputed Kazan Holy Mother of God icon that is currently possessed by the Vatican. Researchers from Russia's Culture Ministry and the Orthodox Church maintain that this icon is merely a copy of the original icon that was stolen from Kazan in 1904. However, Shaimiev said the return of the icon, regardless of whether it is a copy, would be of great value to believers because it provides an opportunity to improve relations among Christians and of Christians with Muslims and Jews. Regarding statements made by Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II saying that the icon affair is to be dealt with exclusively by the Orthodox Church, Shaimiev expressed respect for that church's activities. He said Kazan has a very rich history and that the Kazan Holy Mother of God icon occupies a special place in that history. He said that believers in Tatarstan have priority on such issues and said that, as a Muslim, he understands the importance of seeing the relic returned, adding that all have the same faiths, only the religions are different.

Unified Russia Polls Over 60 Percent In Tatarstan
The Tatar Central Election Commission reported on 8 December that 73.3 percent of the republic's voters took part in the 7 December State Duma elections. According to the results this morning -- when 80 percent of the ballots had been counted -- 63.45 percent voted for the Kremlin-backed Unified Russia party, 8.43 percent for the Communist Party, and 5.45 percent for the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. Some 3.37 percent voted "against all" parties. The other parties polled under 5 percent: Motherland (3.26 percent), Party of National Rebirth-Party of Life (2.83 percent), Yabloko (2.1 percent), Party of Pensioners (1.61 percent), and Union of Rightist Forces (1.3 percent). In the Elmet single-mandate district, Marat Mehdiev (Unified Russia) is leading with 71 percent of the vote, 6.15 percent voted against all candidates, while Fendes Safiullin (Motherland), who was a deputy in the previous State Duma, gathered 4.72.percent of the vote. In the Tuben Kama district, 69.78 percent of the vote went to Albert Salikhov (Unified Russia), Robert Sadyiqov (Communist Party) came in second with 8.59 percent. In the Volga district, Airat Kheirullin (Unified Russia) gathered 32.4 percent, followed by Ivan Grachev, who was deputy in the past State Duma, with 21.4 percent. The average turnout in cities and towns totaled 70 percent, including 61 percent in Kazan; in rural areas it was between 85 percent and 90 percent. In the republic's Elki and Etne raions, the turnout was around 99 percent.

Kreshens Given New Ethnic Status In Tatarstan
The deputy head of the Russian State Statistics Committee, Sergei Kolesnikov, said on 2 December that Christian Tatars (Kreshens) have obtained a new status as an ethnic sub-group of Tatars following the 2002 Russia-wide census, reported on 4 December, citing Interfax. Kolesnikov said, "scholars of the Ethnology and Anthropology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, including its director Valerii Tishkov, consider Kreshens to be an ethnic sub-group of Tatars." Meanwhile, an unidentified expert from the same institute told Interfax that institute scholars have three times appealed to the State Statistics Committee to recognize Kreshens as a separate people, not an ethnic sub-group of the Tatar people. The source said, "institute scholars are strongly puzzled by the...behavior of their director and the State Statistics Committee's final decision." Kolesnikov said that according to the 2002 census results, 24,700 Kreshens live in Russia.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Presidential Elections To Go To Second Round
Russian Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, speaking at a press conference at 10 a.m. Moscow time on 8 December, said the turnout in Bashkortostan's presidential elections was 86 percent, with incumbent Murtaza Rakhimov receiving 43 percent of the vote, Sergei Veremeenko 24 percent, and Relif Safin 22 percent. In the initial stages of vote counting in rural areas, Rakhimov had 70 percent of the vote, but his lead gradually declined with the results from urban areas.

According to Veshnyakov, since none of the candidates managed to win more than 50 percent of the vote, the elections will go to a second round. He also noted that only a small number of voters, 2.31 percent voted against all candidates. According to the Bashkir Election Code, the second round is to take place within 14 days after the first round.

Bashkir Election Commission Head Praises Legal Conduct Of Elections...
Bashkir Central Election Commission (USK) Chairman Baryi Kinjegulov told a press conference on 7 December that during that day's elections for Bashkir president and Russian State Duma, the USK received "some 80 complaints on election violations, all of them non-flagrant," Bashkir Satellite Television reported the same day. Kinjegulov praised the monitoring of Bashkostostan's elections by the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), which "contributed to the general conduct of the elections."

...While TsIK Head Admits Violations During Both Votes
TsIK) Chairman Veshnyakov told a press conference at 12 a.m. Moscow time on 8 December that the TsIK "is thoroughly looking into" alleged violations in Bashkortostan's elections, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. "We have established some irrationality in the actions of republican election commissions and now, in close cooperation between Russia's TsIK and its representatives in Bashkortostan Republic, there is a proper inspection under way." Veshnyakov said.

He added: "We have Bashkortostan under special control. We will take a maximum scrupulous approach to all violations in the process of elections for Russian State Duma, as well as Bashkortostan's president."

FSB Rates Presidential Candidates
According to a widely representative, yet confidential opinion survey conducted by the Bashkir branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) before the scandal with forged election ballots on 4 December (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 4 and 5 December 2003), 36 percent of those polled supported Rakhimov, 21 percent Relif Safin, and 17 percent Veremeenko, an unnamed official on the Bashkir presidential staff told an RFE/RL Kazan correspondent on 8 December. The official said the FSB has a reputation for its precise and unbiased opinion surveys, which are used for strategic and operative planning. However, these figures differ from the results of the vote, which could be explained not only by changes in public opinion, but also by some of those polled not voting.

Opposition Accuses Presidential Administration Head Of Ordering Illegal Printing Of Ballots�
The Bashkir Prosecutor's Office launched on 4 December a criminal investigation into the fake presidential election ballots found in an Ufa printing house controlled by the Bashkir presidential administration (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 4 December 2003), Russian and Bashkir news agencies reported. Opposition presidential candidate Sergei Veremeenko told RFE/RL on 4 December that the ballots were printed by order of the head of the presidential administration, Radii Khebirov. At a joint press conference on 4 December in Ufa, presidential candidates Relif Safin and Veremeenko said that following the incident, the Bashkir president must resign. They said, "having committed such a serious falsification, he has discredited the Russian president and Unified Russia." They also said additional measures to safeguard the real ballots will be introduced and warned that additional fake ballots could be in circulation.

Bashkir First Deputy Prosecutor Vladimir Korostylev concurred with Veremeenko and told Interfax on 4 December that the illegal print-run was ordered by Khebirov. However, Bashkir Prosecutor Florid Baikov denied Korostylev's statement, saying it was "premature." Baikov said Korostylev "had no right to make such statements...when the investigation is at the very beginning." "Vedomosti" quoted on 5 December an unidentified source close to the Federal Security Service (FSB) as saying that the FSB had prior information to suggest that some 600,000 fake ballots had been printed.

...As Rakhimov's Supporters Claim Opposition Behind Fake Ballots
"Vremya novostei" on 5 December quoted an unidentified source in the Bashkir presidential administration as saying that the ballots affair was a provocation initiated by the opposition in order to destabilize the situation and annul the future election results. "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 December quoted Bashkortostan's state media as speculating that the fake ballots might have been planted by the opposition because Safin and Veremeenko had repeatedly said that 800,000 illegal ballots would be used in the elections. The daily quoted an unidentified source in Rakhimov's electoral staff as saying that "the president, who has so much political experience, is not foolish enough to print fake ballots in his own printing house."

TsIK Head Reacts To Ballots Scandal
Russian Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told Interfax on 4 December that the TsIK hopes the Bashkir Prosecutor's Office will "actively and thoroughly" investigate the circumstances surrounded the fake electoral ballots. Veshnyakov said, "this is a scandalous attempt to manipulate electoral votes." Veshnyakov also said that, "in case preliminary information about the shady enterprise that may be linked to state officials is confirmed, all persons guilty are to be punished in a most rigid manner." He added that, "after a new system of monitoring appeared, it is quite easy to reveal facts of that sort." He said that the TsIK proposes that the Bashkir Central Election Commission (USK) takes extra measures to ensure the security of the real electoral ballots.

Authorities Call On Voters To Be Vigilant Against Acts Of Terrorism
In their joint appeal to the republic's voters on 4 December, Federal Security Service (FSB) Bashkir Directorate head Igor Chernokov and Bashkir Interior Minister Rafael Divaev called for special vigilance during the election campaign, RosBalt reported the same day. The officials said, "Attempts by destructive forces to ruin the democratic process of elections should not be underestimated." They said it was possible that the escalating struggle for power in Bashkortostan could increase the threat of terrorist acts. Recently, the Russian FSB and Interior Ministry sent forces to Bashkortostan in reaction to appeals by the republic's opposition warning of possible terrorist acts in the republic during the campaign (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 3 December 2003).

Fire At Bashkir Printing House
A fire at a Bashkir printing house destroyed election ballots on 4 December, which opposition figures have alleged were false, RosBalt reported. The printing house belongs to the Bashkir presidential administration. According to and RosBalt, presidential candidates Sergei Veremeenko and Relif Safin and State Duma candidate Airat Dilmokhemmetov, who came to the printing house on the night of 3 December-4 December said they saw "electoral ballots through a window." They called police and representatives of the Federal Security Service and the Bashkir Prosecutor's Office. Some 500 people, including State Assembly deputies and public figures, gathered outside the building and shortly afterwards the fire started. Investigators have not yet established the cause of the fire. RosBalt cited an unidentified Bashkir Central Election Commission (USK) member as saying that the papers were the same as the official ballots printed at an Ufa printing house.

Police Shut Down Safin's Screen Ads
Campaigners for presidential candidate Relif Safin have said that the republic's police prevented them from showing a campaign ad on a screen at a gas station. Safin's staff said that they were taken to the police station and were detained. Speaking to Interfax, Bashkir Interior Ministry press service head Ruslan Sherefetdinov confirmed that the incident between police and Safin's representatives had taken place. He said, "police acted this way since organizers of the action do not have permission from the city administration for the use of the screen for campaigning." He said two police officers had been charged with guarding the screen, but they were attacked by 15 people.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Nizhnii's Khodyrev Surprised By LDPR Success, SPS Failure
Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev told a press conference on 8 December that he was surprised by "the break ahead of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia [LDPR] and failure to be elected to the [State] Duma of the Union of Rightist Forces," RosBalt reported the same day. Khodyrev commented that the success of the LDPR is linked to the person of its leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, who "impresses many people." In addition, Khodyrev said, "there are enough poor people in the country, so LDPR's leap forward is explainable." Khodyrev also said that poor strategy, and not only during the Duma campaign but also during the last four years the Duma, are behind the failure of the rightist parties.

Perm Voters Back Merger With Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug
The majority in Perm Oblast on 7 December voted in favor of a referendum on the oblast's merger with Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, Novyi region (Perm) reported on 8 December. Some 1.6 million people voted, for a turnout of 62 percent, with about 84 percent in favor of the merger and 16 percent against.

Perm Oblast Governor Yurii Trutnev said he is excited with the referendum results, adding that the merger will result in an improvement in people's lives, but it will take time. Trutnev noted that the number of bureaucrats will be reduced as the krai administration will require fewer officials than the administration of oblast and okrug currently do.

Oil Refinery Manager Accused Of Tax Evasion In Samara Oblast
A criminal investigation has been opened against the general director of Samara Oblast's Syzran Oil Refinery, who allegedly evaded paying 26 million rubles in federal taxes in 1999, reported on 3 December.

Attack On Duma Candidate In Tolyatti
Unified Russia State Duma candidate Aleksandr Taratynov was attacked on 30 November outside his home in Tolyatti and was hospitalized with severe head injuries, "Samara Segodnya" reported on 2 December. A criminal investigation was launched.

Saratov Oblast's Ayatskov Regrets Duma's Lack Of Rightist Parties
Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov said on 8 December that he regrets that Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces will not be represented in the State Duma, RosBalt reported the same day. He said, however, that "there is nothing unexpected in that fact," adding that "rightist parties will show their worth no earlier than in 2017." Ayatskov also said constructive opposition should necessarily be represented in the Duma as an "absolute pro-presidential majority is dangerous for the country."

Yekaterinburg Residents Use Rats To Resolve Municipal-Services Problems
On 3 December, a group of people in Yekaterinburg demonstrated against the poor state of the housing and municipal-services sector in the city administration, Novyi region reported the same day. The protesters released a dozen rats in the administration building that they caught in their houses. According to the news agency, indignant protesters were supported by Russia's chief sanitary doctor, who said Yekaterinburg is the dirtiest city in Russia and a leader in the number of rats per capita.

City administration guards detained reporters of the Television Agency of the Urals (TAU) as they were recording the demonstration and accused them of hooliganism and taking part in it. TAU Deputy General Director Yelena Nosareva told the news agency that the guards were very forceful with the TV crew and tried to seize the videotape of the protest.

Yekaterinburg Administration Takes Opposition TV Off The Air...
Yekaterinburg city officials blocked transmission of several television stations in opposition to incumbent Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii a week before the mayoral elections, Novyi region reported on 4 December. Receiving the local Channel 10, the Oblast Television, ACB, and ATN became impossible in several Yekaterinburg raions. One of the stations, Oblast Television, for example, broadcast programs exposing the city administration every day.

...Campaigns In School
The Yekaterinburg administration campaigned for Mayor Chernetskii in secondary schools in violation of election law, Novyi region reported on 2 December. Specifically, notices saying that one school's teachers support Chernetskii were posted on the school building, while inside, while his campaign materials were distributed inside. In addition, during breaks teachers gave five-minute political lectures on how students' family should vote. The news agency quoted one of pupil's parent as saying that campaigning for Chernetskii was also done during parents' meetings.

Commenting on 8 December on the results of the 7 December Yekaterinburg mayoral elections, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel said they confirmed that "the current leadership is in crisis" and that voters felt that the current city government needs to be changed, Novyi region reported. Mayoral candidate Yurii Osintsev, who was supported by Rossel, received 26 percent of the vote and go to the second round with Chernetskii.

Opposition Newspaper Obstructed In Udmurtia
The 140,000-issue print run of the "Agentstvo informatsii Udmurtii" newspaper was blocked on 4 December by Udmurtia's Interior Ministry, the Den information agency reported the same day. Three trucks belonging to the newspaper were stopped as they were transporting the issues from Kirov where it was printed. "Agentstvo informatsii Udmurtii" Editor in Chief Sergei Svetlov told the news agency that the issue contains articles critical of Udmurt President Aleksandr Volkov, who headed the regional list of Unified Russia in the State Duma elections. Svetlov said this could be the only reason for the incident.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova