Sunday, December 22, 2013

Window on Eurasia: North Caucasus-Style Repression Spreads to Middle Volga

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 2 – Articles suggesting that Islamist radicalism is spreading into Tatarstan and other republics of the Middle Volga have become more frequent in the Moscow media, but they have seldom highlighted a disturbing but related development: the introduction into that region of the kind of repressive measures long a feature of the North Caucasus.

                Kidnappings and tortures by Russian force structures, two researchers say, which “earlier had been considered a sad ‘distinctive feature’ of the North Caucasus ... to all appearances is spreading to other parts of the Russian Federation,” in the first instance Tatarstan and the Middle Volga (

            And the way that “spreading” has occurred, first with largely unsubstantiated charges that there are Wahhabis about and then with an apparent grant of carte blanche to the police and security forces to do whatever they need to to destroy them means that any claims elsewhere that there are Wahhabis about could presage a violent crackdown against them.

            On the one hand, that gives officials both locally and in Moscow interested in expanding repression an incentive to claim there are Islamists about just as talking about “enemies of the people” did in Stalin’s times.  And on the other, if the North Caucasus is any guide, such repression will not solve the problem but quite possibly radicalize a broader part of society.

            Officials have either denied that any torture has occurred or played down its significance, but the testimony of prisoners and their lawyers Rustam Dzhalilov and Dinana Dzhalilova have compiled is so massive that Ildus Nafikov, Tatarstan procurator, says he will investigate the situation (

                For an expert commentary on this trend, Dzhalilov and Dzhalilova turned to Aydar Khabutdinov, a professor at the Kazan Branch of the Russian Academy of Jurisprudence. He characterized the situation in Tatarstan as “a combination of great fear and distrust,” by a lack of public understanding of what is happening and by concerns for what will happen next.

            This situation is made worse, Khabutdinov continues, by “the lack of experience with public policy,” given the level of authoritarianism of the system, and “the extremely contradictory image of Tatarstan” on offer in the media. On the one hand, officials say that it is a region of “inter-religious and inter-ethnic tolerance.” But on the other, some have called the republic “a second Daghestan.”

            There have been some Wahhabis in Tatarstan since the early 2000s, he says, but their number has been “strongly exaggerated” over the last year following the assassination of a senior Muslim official in the republic and now after the firebombing of seven Russian Orthodox churches there.


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