Sunday, June 16, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Nationalists Obsessed with Islamic Extremism are the Real ‘Fifth Column,’ Tishkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 16 – Russian nationalists obsessed with the supposed spread of Islamist extremism across the Russian Federation represent a real “fifth column,” whose works can best be described as “provocations” that threaten to provoke what their authors say they most fear, the disintegration of the country, according to Academician Valery Tishkov.

                To prevent that from happening,  the director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology says, genuine scholars need to speak out about the distortions and other shortcomings of these works lest many come to accept them as true and act accordingly, driving ever more Muslims into the arms of the radicals (

                Tishkov’s remarks, to a June 5 roundtable organized jointly by the Central Museum of Contemporary History and the Historical-Philological Section of the Russian Academy of Sciences, were published only on June 14. They were in response to the appearance in mid-May of a 54-page report by the Moscow Institute of National Strategy.

                That study, entitled “A Map of Ethno-Religious Threats: The North Caucasus and the Middle Volga,” purported to show that radical Islamist ideas had spread from the North Caucasus to the Muslims of the Middle Volga in the first instance and were now found in almost all parts of the Russian Federation. (See

                Not surprisingly, this report sparked concern among many Russians in various parts of the country and equally sharp rejoinders from the leaders of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and other Muslim republics who said that the report’s claims were not true and that, unchallenged, they risked exacerbating inter-religious and inter-ethnic hostility.

            In his remarks, which appear to be a response to such concerns, the Russian scholar said that the report of the Institute of National Strategy was “a provocation” and that he would like to know “the strategy of which nation is that institute devising” because in his view, it is clearly not that of the Russian nation, however defined.

            “There exists ‘a fifth column,’ which presents itself as consisting of patriot and which does everything it can to denigrate the representatives of the national borderlands,” Tishkov continued. “This is a serious problem for the country because such people and such reports can promote the process of disintegration.”

            Other participants at the roundtable and an increasing number of Russian scholars have picked up that theme. Speaking at the roundtable, one scholar pointed out that “there is an enormous quantity of pseudo-scientific works on the history of the Caucasus” and urged the establishment of “a commission on the history” of that region to assess them.

            And last week, Elena Suponina, the head of the Center for Asia and the Middle East at the Russian Institute for Strategic Research, said on Moscow TV Center that the report Tishkov had criticized “has more in common with propaganda and provocations than with expertise” on its supposed subject (

                “The threat of terrorism and separatism exists not only in the Russian Federation but is intensifying throughout the world,” Suponina said.  “But these problems are so sensitive, above all when they involve religion that the slightest step to the side and you land in a minefield where an explosion is possible.  And this is very dangerous.”

            Those who prepared the May report, she suggested, “dealt with these problems like an elephant in a china shop” significantly oversimplifying the situation and thus making false conclusions.  “To say,” as the authors do, “that Wahhabism appeared only in order to dismember the Ottoman Empire is from the historical point of view completely incorrect.”

            And to treat “horses and people and Wahhabis and Salafites and Muslim Brothers and Jihadists” as if they are all the same is yet another mistake,” on that might be “forgivable” in the case of an ordinary observer, but “for an expert, such a simplification has more in common with propaganda and provocations” and is thus “impermissible.”

            Moreover, Suponina said, “the authors call some of their ideological opponents recruits of some foreign special services and agents of influence. Good gentlemen, we do not want to be returned to 1937. And do not forget that this can boomerang against you.  Today, they are agents of influence and tomorrow you are a Trotskyite or Bukharinist, and perhaps then you too will have to be sent to Kolyma?”

            The May report even contains passages, she noted, “where the Wahhabis are called the comrades in arms and virtually the same as those who took part in the Bolotnaya Square” protests. “I do not belong to one or the other, but from such comparisons, nothing good will come.”

            “When suggesting that the Russian Federation is an empire and then offering the example of all previous empires which without exception in the report have collapsed,” she concludes, “the impression is created that the authors have no doubts that we are entering the final stage of this collapse and that Russia is falling apart before our eyes.  They themselves have no doubt about this! But those who come out to protest corruption, they also are Wahhabis.”

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