Voters in the Republic of Bashkortostan rejected wholesale land privatization December 17. In a referendum held at the same time as the parliamentary elections, 84 percent of voters in the central Russian republic said they opposed the introduction of a free market for land. (13) The vote means that state-owned agricultural cooperatives and state-run enterprises in Bashkortostan will maintain their control over land. The referendum results are important because the republic is a major oil producer and local leaders want to maintain control over its oilfields and oil-refineries, which remain state-owned. (14)
The vote may have important repercussions outside of Bashkortostan, as the issue of land privatization remains contentious in Russia as a whole. Article 9 of the 1993 Russian constitution states that "The land and other natural resources may be in private, state, municipal or other [i.e., private] forms of ownership," but says nothing about the sale and purchase of land. This loophole has been used by supporters of state ownership to argue that private ownership does not imply the right to buy and sell land freely.
The leaders of Bashkortostan, which has enjoyed substantial economic autonomy since it signed a treaty with the federal center last year, have long argued that the concept of private property runs counter to Bashkir traditions of collective land ownership. With the question of land ownership sure to be an item on the agenda of the new Duma, the Bashkortostan referendum may be cited by opponents of privatization to argue that the free sale of land should be restricted throughout Russia as a whole.
Prime Minister’s Chernomyrdin’s proposal for a referendum on the sale of land has the support of reformers such as Yegor Gaidar and Grigori Yavlinsky, but is strongly opposed by the Agrarian and Communist parties. The Agrarians, who represent the collective farm sector, support the right of farmers to own and bequeath private plots to heirs, but believe farmers should be allowed to sell land only to the state at state-controlled prices. The Agrarians did not distinguish themselves in the recent parliamentary elections, but communist deputies, who have argued in favor of the wholescale re-nationalization of land, have already offered to form a parliamentary alliance with them.
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