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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 1, 2002

1 February 2002
President Blames Harmonization Pace On Legal Limbo
Speaking at the first session of Tatarstan's Constitutional Commission on 29 January, republican President Mintimer Shaimiev said recent reluctance to address constitutional reform stemmed from the legal limbo of the republic's legislature, finally resolved by the Russian Constitutional Court on 22 January. "As long as there was ambiguity over the legitimacy of our parliament, there was no sense in discussing the constitutional amendments," he said, referring to the legal harmonization process aimed at conforming republican law with that of the Russian Federation. Some local and Russian media had speculated about the possible dissolution of the Tatarstan State Council by the court (see "Tatar-Bashkir Report," 23 January 2002).

Presidential Adviser Says Amended Constitution To Include Tatarstan Sovereignty...
Following the same meeting of the Constitutional Commission, presidential adviser Rafael Khakimov told reporters the republic's new constitution will contain provisions on the republic's sovereignty, treaty-based relations with Russia, ownership of natural resources, and obligatory knowledge of both Tatar and Russian for presidential candidates.

...While President Says Moscow So Far Supports Draft
President Shaimiev mentioned during his speech before the commission that the Russian side firmly insisted that the new document conform to federal legislation, adding, "So far we have managed to find common solutions." However, only one clause of the Tatarstan Constitution -- mentioned by Khakimov -- formally fits in the framework of the Russian Constitution: a passage on treaty-based relations between Kazan and Moscow.

Paper Says Constitution To Undergo Substantial Changes
The weekly "Zvezda Povolzhya" on 31 January asserted that the draft constitution will include a treaty on dividing powers between the republican and Russian governments but will drop terms like "sovereignty" and "subject under international law" regarding Tatarstan.

Council Speaker Says Tatarstan Could Be A Model For Russia's Parliamentary System
Commenting on the 22 January ruling by the Russian Constitutional Court regarding election laws in Tatarstan, the republic's State Council speaker, Farit Mukhametshin, said on 29 January that the court ordered the abolition of an electoral system with an unequal division of polling districts and obligatory residence for candidates to parliament. Mukhametshin also said that, according to the court, it is possible to transform the republican State Council into a bicameral body so that its chamber might include deputies elected according to party lists and others elected among Tatarstan's regions. A similar system would help federal legislatures become more accessible to Russian regions, he said, because the voice of regions is hardly audible in the reformed Federation Council. Meanwhile, only a few federal parties in the State Duma effectively represent the interests of their voters, he added.

Media Report Blasts Conditions At Kazan Gunpowder Plant
The same day that the chief military commander for the Volga-Ural military district awarded President Shaimiev a pistol on behalf of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov for preservation of military industry and patriotic youth (see Tatar-Bashkir Report," 30 January 2002), "Rossiyskaya gazeta" published an article describing the critical condition at Kazan's gunpowder plant. The plant was reportedly subjected to heating and power cuts for persistent nonpayment to energy distributors. The paper said that, despite an absence of orders from the military, the plant managed to maintain its facilities so that large-scale production could be launched anytime and managed to begin the commercial production of gun-cotton for export. An official appeal by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in late 2001 obliging all government bodies responsible to "consider the situation" at the plant reportedly has not brought results.

Altinbaev To Head Federation Council Committee
Tatarstan's representative to the Russian Federation Council, Rafgat Altinbaev, on 30 January was appointed head of the council's committee on local self-government. The move will likely end speculation that President Shaimiev wants to propose him for the deputy speaker's seat.

Paper Says One In 100 Residents Is HIV-Positive
"Vechernaya Kazan" newspaper on 1 February quoted experts from the World Health Organization saying that in order to get approximate but realistic statistics on the spread of HIV in Tatarstan, the official figure of over 4,000 carriers should be multiplied by 10. That represents a 1 percent infection rate within the population. Three-quarters of those registered as HIV-positive in the republic were infected through intravenous drug use.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Letter Circulated In Aznaqay Stirs Ethnic Pot
News of a letter distributed among schoolchildren in Tatarstan, published by Tatarstan "Yashlere" newspaper on 25 January, has attracted wide interest and sparked anger within the Tatar community in Bashkortostan, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 28 January. The letter said people living in the Aznaqay area "wrongly consider themselves Tatars, while being Bashkir according to their historical roots." Its author urges pupils to pass the letter on to classmates so they can learn that "Tatars originated from the Bashkir people."

In an article titled "They Want To Make Us Bashkirs," the paper wrote that Bashkir scientists claim to have found the remains of a 40,000-year-old Bashkir near Shulgantash Mountain in Bashkortostan and date the first Bashkirs according to the discovery. Ethnic Tatars in Bashkortostan are reportedly distributing copies of the article among themselves.

Russian Audit Chamber Head Praises Bashkortostan
During his visit to Ufa on 28-29 January, Sergei Stepashin, head of the increasingly powerful federal Audit Chamber, emphasized that Ufa was deliberately chosen to host a conference of state accounting bodies of Volga federal district rather than Nizhnii Novgorod, which is formally the district's capital. In his statements during sightseeing trips in Bashkortostan's capital, Stepashin called President Murtaza Rakhimov a "good old friend," praising the republic and saying "there are many things to learn from it." He cited the great role of so-called "donor regions" like Bashkortostan, which contribute more than they are granted from the federal budget. During the conference, the chief of Bashkortostan's State Control Committee, Petr Bobilev, was appointed to chair the Volga district branch of the national audit bodies association.

Central Banker Says Only Five Banks Will Remain...
The acting chairman of Bashkortostan's state bank, Rostem Mardanov, said on 30 January that he is planning to revoke the licenses of 12 of the 17 banks currently operating in the republic for failing to earn any profits, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported. A lack of profitable enterprises has discouraged local banks from lending to businesses. Meanwhile, the republican government is reportedly seeking to launch a loan program aimed at small businesses.

Mardanov also confirmed an inflation forecast of 12-14 percent for 2002.

...And Adds That Hard-Currency Deposits Are On The Rise
State bank Chairman Mardanov also said residents of Bashkortostan increased their hard-currency bank deposits in 2001 by some 60 percent, signaling growing wealth.

Law-Enforcement Officers Return From Chechen Tour Of Duty
Some 346 law-enforcement officers from Bashkortostan recently replaced by their countrymen returned from service in the Urus-Martan region of Chechnya on 29 January, RFE/RL reported. Since the beginning of such service in Chechnya in the mid-1990s, eight officers from Bashkortostan have been killed and 56 wounded, while 91 individuals have earned high awards and three others have been decorated by Orders of Courage.

Agenda Being Set For June's World Bashkir Congress
The organization committee of the second World Bashkir Congress gathered on 30 January to discuss the June 2002 event's agenda. Items will include the current situation of Bashkir communities outside Bashkortostan, Bashkir demographics, and ethnic aspects of federalism in Russia. Before holding the elections for delegates to join the congress, the committee appealed to Bashkir Finance Ministry to request funding. The committee is headed by Prime Minister Rafael Baydavletov.

Customs Reports Over 100 Kilos Of Drugs Seized In 2001
Bashkortostan's Customs Board, which was recently readmitted to the Volga federal districts customs branch, announced registered foreign trade turnover of about $2 billion in 2001. Together with a growing volume of international trade, the body reported increased attempts at drugs smuggling into the republic. Some 149 kilograms of heroin, 1 kilogram of marijuana, and several grams of opium were seized at the border last year, officials said.

Ski Bashkortostan!
A number of representatives from the Russian Olympic Committee and the Skiing Federation visited Bashkortostan's Yamantau Mountain, in the Beloretsk region, to inspect the site of a planned ski center, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 31 January. According to Bashkortostan officials in charge of the visit, downhill skiing fan Vladimir Putin is "well-aware and supportive" of the project, which local residents expect to bring extra jobs during and after construction.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Chavashia Communists Contest Presidential Elections Results
Valentin Shurchanov, Duma deputy and the leader of Communist Party (KPRF) in Chavashia, told a press conference on 31 January that the republic's Communists have challenged the results of the 15 December presidential elections to demand a recount of all electoral ballots. Shurchanov said his organization has documents proving differences between data possessed by KPRF observers and official results of the elections. He claimed that in the Krasnochetaiskii raion, 180 ballots in three electoral districts were illegally counted in favor of Nikolai Fedorov. Shurchanov came second in the elections by 3 percentage points to the winner Fedorov.

Drug Addiction, Alcoholism Among Draftees Increase
Chelyabinsk enlistment official Aleksandr Anufriev told Ural-Press-Inform on 24 January that drug addiction, alcoholism, and psychiatric disorder total 40 percent of all diseases discovered among draftees. Anufriev said the number of HIV-positive cases among draftees increased from 90 to 1,000 over past years.

Marii-El President Denies Accusations Of Ethnic-Based Persecutions In Republic
Marii-El President Leonid Markelov demanded the Finnish newspaper "Helsingin Sanomat" to rescind its reports on poor conditions of the Mari people in the republic, Rosbalt reported on 24 January. The paper earlier published several articles criticizing the nationality policy of the republic's leadership. Markelov said reports on persecution of residents connected to their nationality were unfounded, and said that the paper had violated international law. Markelov stressed that the republic's nationality policy follows the constitutional principles of equality of all nationalities.

Meanwhile, the Marii Congress' Council protested the government's 17 December resolution on closing two Marii theaters, the Shketan Marii National Theater and the Marii Theater of Young Spectators, Rosbalt reported on 30 January. The republic's leadership decided to establish a new Marii Drama Theater in place of the two closed theaters despite widespread protests by the theaters' troupes, public organizations, and residents, the agency said.

Samara Oblast Authorities Promote Sale Of Land
Some 53 percent of land in Samara Oblast is privately owned, the Samara information portal reported on 24 January. The head of the oblast State Property Management Department, Aleksandr Ivanov, told a department meeting that the sale and rent of land will become one of the main sources of budget revenues in the oblast and Russia. Currently 24 percent of oblast companies own the land where they are located, but there is not a single large company on this list.

Muslim Leader Promotes Polygamy, Proposes To Hold Conference On 'Islam Against Terror'
The imam of the Muslim Religious Board of the Volga region, Mukaddas Bibarsov, called for the legal introduction of polygamy in Russia, reported on 31 January. Bibarsov said real polygamy existed in the society for a long time but that fact is "diffidently suppressed" while adoption of a law to legalize polygamy could improve the current "immoral situation."

Several days earlier, Bibarsov issued a statement calling for holding an "Islam against Terror" world conference. He condemned terrorists who violate principles of Islam. Bibarsov also criticized Western countries for using "double standards" in the fight against terrorism.

Sverdlovsk Oblast Prosecutors' Bodies Receive Unsatisfactory Evaluation
Kamensk-Uralskii prosecutors told "Novyi region" on 25 January that the deputy head of the local interior board's investigation department was detained for allegedly selling drugs.

Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Zolotov told the oblast prosecutors board that the activity of the Sverdlovsk Oblast prosecutors' bodies in 2001 was considered unsatisfactory, "Novyi region" reported on 25 January. Zolotov said prosecutors failed to ensure the rule of law in many raions in the oblast. Some 70 prosecutors were charged with violations and many were dismissed, among them senior prosecutors of several cities and raions.

Putin Concerned About Problems Of Muslims
President Vladimir Putin met with the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Ravil Gainutdin, to discuss the problems of Russian Muslims, reported on 25 January. Gainutdin told the agency that Putin expressed deep concern about the situation in Afghanistan, the conflict between Pakistan and India, and the events in Palestine. Putin evaluated as unsatisfactory the state of religious education in Russia and promised his support in establishing an Islamic Religious University in Moscow. Putin also confirmed that tax breaks for religious organizations will be reinstated. Gainutdin said Putin asked him to personally call the president and inform him of the situation in the Russian Muslim community.

Udmurt Defense Plant Plans Staff Reduction, UAZ Seeks To Employ More Personnel
The Izhevsk Mechanical Plant plans to discharge soon 3,000 of its total of 12,000 employees, reported on 31 January. The general manager of the Russian Agency for Conventional Arms, Aleksandr Nozdrachev, said the plant finished 2001 "with very good results and has the potential to increase production." However, he said the company currently has many more employees than it needs.

Meanwhile, the Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant (UAZ) plans to increase its personnel from 25,000 to 30,000 in 2002, the company's general manager Eduard Shpakovsky told on 29 January.

Picket To Defend Pasko Held In Yekaterinburg
Eight people staged a picket in front of the building of the Federal Security Service (FSB) board in the Sverdlovsk Oblast to defend Grigorii Pasko and freedom of speech, "Novyi region" reported on 24 January. Participants representing the Movement against Violence carried placards saying "Freedom for Grigorii Pasko" and "Putin is the Gravedigger of Freedom of Speech." FSB board press secretary Sergei Kuznetsov addressed the picketers, saying, "Pasko is not only a journalist but also an officer, so the verdict was well-grounded."

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova