Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Policies Having Unintended Consequences among Non-Russians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 10 – Three new Moscow policy initiatives are having unintended and, from the center’s point of view, unwanted consequences among the non-Russian population of the country, exacerbating existing divisions within the Russian Federation rather than promoting country-wide unity.

            First, the Kremlin has called for the introduction of school uniforms as of this fall, at least in part to avoid more conflicts between Russians and Muslim groups over the hijab.  But in the Middle Volga and the North Caucasus, religious officials have called for “a special school uniform” that will include the hijab for girls (

Although government officials in Tatarstan have followed Moscow in opposing the hijab in schools, some teachers there are continuing to wear it, and the republic mufti, Kamil Samigullin, has called for the elaboration of a special school uniform that would include the hijab, “Vestnik Kavkaza” reported this week.

On the one hand, such actions represent a kind of civil disobedience that the authorities both local and central are likely to find difficult to counter. And on the other, by opposing the hijab, Moscow has not only politicized the issue but promoted unity among the Muslims of Russia rather than the ethnic divisions it has used to divide and rule the country.

Indeed, the Kremlin’s policy on the hijab means that despite Moscow’s own interests, the Russian Federation is increasingly divided not among these nationalities but rather along religious lines, a trend that will enhance the power and influence of Muslims as a community at least as compared to the many much smaller nationalities within the umma.

Second, in response to Moscow’s response to the US Magnitsky list, the American law that will block those Russian officials involved in the businessman’s death, activists in several non-Russian republics, including Udmurtia and Chuvashia in the Middle Volga are coming up with their own lists – which are also directed at Russian officials.

In Chuvashia, work on such a list has gone the furthest.  Dmmitry Karuyev, a Drugaya Rossiya member, has called for the compilation of a list of MVD, FSB, FSIN, and FSKN officials who have violated “human rights in Chuvashia,” circulated a petition on this and even asked the population for additional names ( and

This idea is unlikely to receive official sanction from republic authorities, and it is unclear just how Chuvashia, a republic in the middle of the Russian Federation, would go about enforcing it. But the proposal by itself clearly highlights the anger of at least some people there about what members of the Russian force structures have been doing.

            And third, in response to Vladimir Putin’s call for a single school history textbook, some non-Russians are using this occasion to demand that any such text exclude negative references to the pasts of their people, however widespread such understandings may be among Russians (

            Speaking to a Duma roundtable on “Ethical Problems of Treating Inter-Ethnic Themes in the Russian Media” last week, Nazif Mirikhanov, the permanent representative of the Republic of Tatarstan to the Russian central government, said that the Tatars want any reference to “the Tatar yoke” of Mongol times dropped from all new textbooks.

            “We are convinced that if we will not have a common past, we will not have a common present in the conditions of a democratic society. Under conditions of the empire, this coud take place, but now it must not.  The representatives of all peoples must feel themselves patriots of their own country,” Mirikhanov stressed.

            Historians have shown that what Russians invariably call “the Tatar yoke” was in fact Mongol rule, but most Russians continue to talk about that period using the incorrect term. Proposals like Mirikhanov’s thus put Moscow in a difficult position: the center will either offend Russians or continue to offend the Tatars.

            Finally, and this is less a response to Russian government policy than to an increasing feature of Russian life in the capital, Muslims in Stavropol kray have created a special website to help young Muslim men and women find another Muslim to date and possibly marry ( and

            Mukhammad Rakhimov, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Stavropol, said that “parishioners often turn to imams for help in finding a good man or woman so that they can establish a family.  The more such requests have come in, the more we thought about how we could find a solution.”  The new personals site is the result

            Such ethnically-based sites have a long history in the Russian Federation.  Indeed, the first one known to this author was a computerized list of Armenians in Moscow set up by the permanent representation of that republic in Gorbachev’s time, a list that was pointedly advertised as one that would allow Armenians to meet and marry other Armenians rather than going beyond the confines of that ethnic community.

            Lists like that one and even more sites like the one the Stavropol MSD has now established may help Vladimir Putin to achieve his goal of boosting birthrates among the indigenous populations of the Russian Federation – but only at the cost of deepening rather than overcoming ethnic divisions.

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