Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Can Moscow Oblast Save Moscow City from Muslims Praying in the Streets This Year?



Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 29 – When Muslims in the Russian capital offer Uraza Bayram prayers at the end of Ramadan on July 5, they may not spill into the streets as they have in the past because of the severe shortage of mosques in the city of Moscow if an agreement between Muslim leaders and officials in Moscow oblast works as planned.

            Because there are only five officially registered mosques in Moscow for the city’s estimated 2.5 million Muslims, many of the faithful especially on holidays pray in the streets outside these mosques, blocking traffic and infuriating other Muscovites who object to this public demonstration of growing numbers of Muslims among them.

            Muslim leaders in the past have argued that this problem could be solved if the authorities would agree to open more mosques, but Russian officials have refused to do so. Now, some Muslim leaders have come up with a plan that may mean there will be fewer Muslims praying in the streets of the capital this year.

            Rushan Abbyasov, the first deputy chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR) and of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Muslims (MSD) of the Russian Federation, has announced that his institutions have reached an agreement with Moscow oblast officials to handle the expected crowds (tass.ru/moskovskaya-oblast/3408326).

            Under the terms of the agreement, oblast officials have authorized Muslim prayers in 37 places in the region, including in the 18 mosques and prayer houses that operate there.  According to the TASS report, this “will help reduce the pressure on the capital’s mosques,” perhaps especially because most of the capital’s Muslims live in the oblast rather than the city.

            As the Russian news agency reminds, “Uraza Bayram is one of the main days of the Islamic calendar,” one that has been celebrated since the time of the Prophet Mohammed. Typically it involves not only prayers at the mosque but also visits to cemeteries to remember ancestors and giving assistance to the needy.

Something Much Worse than Yarovaya Package is Happening in Russia, Shipilov Warns



Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 29 – Whenever the Putin regime does something terrible that attracts a great deal of criticism, it is always worthwhile to look around and see if that action is in fact intended to distract attention from something even worse.  That appears to be happening at the time of the discussion of the draconian “Yarovaya law package,” Andrey Shipilov suggests.

            In a Kasparov.ru portal post today, the Moscow journalist warns that while most people are talking about the Yarovaya laws, the Putin regime is “quietly legalizing extra-judicial limitations on the rights of [Russian] citizens” in ways that may have even more negative and far-reaching consequences (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=577357FD7846D).

            In fact, if one examines a law Putin has signed about the creation of “a prophylactic system against legal violations” (consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_199976/), one is forced to conclude that its provisions made the Yarovaya package look like “innocent” child’s play in comparison.

            This Putin-approved measure, he says, allows the authorities to “limit the rights and freedoms of citizens” not by the decisions of the courts but only because of official suspicions that “their actions and expressions do not correspond to ‘generally accepted norms of behavior in society.”

            To that end, Shepilov continues, this law “introduces a new legal category” of crimes subject to punishment, “’anti-social behavior.’”  And this is really new because it is not like the provisions in earlier laws that make “anti-social behavior” an “aggravating circumstance” but namely a new legal category altogether.

            This new category doesn’t require that an individual violate a law for him or her to be subject to punishment. It specifies that such individuals can be punished if they “simply conduct themselves not as ‘it is accepted’ in Russian society today.  Thus, they can be subject to punishment even though they are not in violation of any law and not judged by a court.

            Still worse, the new law like so much Putin-era legislation does not define what “’generally accepted norms of behavior’” in fact are, thus giving the authorities the power to arrest anyone they like for reasons they do not have to specify. At the very least, that will spread uncertainty and even terror throughout the population.

            What this is likely to mean in practice, Shepilov says, is that “a local administration may by its own decision create, let us say out of Cossacks and patriotically inclined Orthodox citizens a certain ‘social organ’ which will be allowed to define which ‘norms of behavior’ are generally accepted in that subject of the Federation.”

            If the new law doesn’t define what those norms are, it is very clear on what the punishments will be for those who violate them.  First, they will be put on a watch list and warned about that what they are doing violates these norms. And then, they will be told what they must not do in the future – attend protests, for example – lest they be punished more severely.

            As Shepilov points out, this legislation was signed into law by Vladimir Putin on June 23 and will enter into force on September 22.

In Balkans, Putin Now Using United Russia as Soviets Used the Communist Party



Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 29 – At the sidelines of its 15th congress in Moscow, Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party signed a declaration with the representatives of political parties of five Balkan states – Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Bulgaria – reiterating many Soviet-era themes but more importantly restoring a Soviet-era practice.

            In reporting on this event to the congress, Sergey Zhelyeznyak, the deputy secretary of United Russia’s General Council, stressed that “for Russia, the Balkans historically has enormous importance” and that the signatories of this agreement want to defend “humanitarian values and Christian holy sights” (er.ru/news/143678/).

            The declaration, which was signed by Balkan parties that Zhelyeznyak didn’t name, specifically called for a common European and Eurasian response to challenges so as to “strengthen stability in Europe and in the entire world and to oppose international terrorism and other present-day challenges and threats.”

            It further called for “the formation in the region of a space of sovereign neutral states,” including Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina” and their “further incorporation into the pan-European agenda for the formation of a new continental security architecture.”

            It called as well for “the development of cooperation of the Balkan countries with [Moscow’s] Eurasian Economic Union and also for the broadening of multi-lateral cooperation in trade, financial, energy and other sectors,” Zhelyeznyak reported.

            It said that in the opinion of the signatories, according to the United Russia website, “this declaration is the beginning of an important process of offering greater prospects for the deepening of all-sided cooperation between Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia.”

            And the Declaration concluded by stressing “the importance of inter-national inter-party cooperation in the framework of civil society” and reaffirmed “the intention” of the signatories to “further strengthen in an all-sided way their existing political ties.”

            This Moscow initiative and the vocabulary of this “declaration” are almost an exact copy of Soviet foreign policy declarations of more than a generation ago. It bears watching as an expression of Putin’s intentions even if, in the very much changed circumstances of today, it may not lead to the same consequences.