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From Lenin To The Mosque: Russia's Bashkortostan Unveils 'Red-Green' Tourism Plan

Ufa: "You come for the mosques, you stay for the KGB Museum...."

UFA, Russia -- By the Bashkortostan regional government's own admission, this Russian region is a "blank spot" on the country's tourism map. But not for long.

The region of some 4 million people with a Muslim plurality of about 38 percent hopes to change the situation by pushing an aggressive tourism-development program called the "red-green" plan.

The red part of the plan aims to draw mostly visitors from China who, officials hope, will be interested in seeing local sites associated with Russia's communist past, while the green prong will target the Islamic world, particularly the Middle East.

"People don't know about us -- potential tourists, tour operators, tour-industry players," Vyacheslav Gilyazetdinov, head of the republic's Business and Tourism Committee, told a government meeting on September 13 where he unveiled the plan.

The republican government is budgeting 70 million rubles ($1.2 million) per year for the tourism plan, including 30 million rubles per year for promoting the tourism brand of Bashkortostan in Russia and abroad.

"For decades we didn't participate in domestic tourism exhibitions," he noted, adding that an estimated 200,000 Chinese citizens traveled through the international airport in Bashkortostan's capital, Ufa, last year.

The government hopes these tourists will want to see such sites as the small museum in the house where Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin briefly visited his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, who had been exiled there, twice in 1900.

In her memoirs, Krupskaya wrote of the first visit: "Vladimir Ilyich spent two days in Ufa, and after having talked with the locals, he entrusted me and mother to the care of our comrades and moved on nearer to St. Petersburg."

Vladimir Ilyich was here.
Vladimir Ilyich was here.

Communism aficionados also might be interested in the Ufa KGB Museum, or the Museum of the Ufa Engine-Building Factory, which built the engines for many Soviet-era military aircraft that were exported to Soviet allies.

Or they can visit the campus of the Ufa Aviation Academy, where the executive committee of the Comintern, a Soviet-dominated communist organization that advocated world communism, was based during World War II.

Bringing In The Green

To make the tourism prospects less daunting for would-be visitors, officials have sketched out a 12-day itinerary that takes in Ufa and the Chishminsky, Davlekanovsky, Burzyansky, and Uchalinsky districts.

These areas include such attractions as the mausoleum of Husseinbek, the first imam of Bashkortostan; the mausoleum of Turakhan, who is believed to have descended from Mongol conqueror Chingiz Khan (also known as Genghis Khan); and the graves of other noted Muslim teachers and clerics.

"We have joined the federal Halal Friendly program and are in the process of certifying our hotels in terms of their conformity with halal standards," Gilyazetdinov told the government session.

The government hopes the plan will help the sector grow to 26 billion rubles ($452 million) in annual revenues by 2023.

Written by Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service correspondent Artur Asafyev