Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Ukraine’s Muslims Don’t Want to Be Part of Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 8 – Muslims are quite comfortable living in Ukraine and have no interest in having the regions where they live be annexed to the Russian Federation where relations between Muslims and others are known to be far worse, according to a Daghestani native who has been living 35 years in Luhansk.

            Seyfulla Rashidov, head of the Muslim community there and a professor at the Eastern Ukrainian University, told Vadma Byurchiyev of Kavpolit.com that he and his fellow Muslims are happy to be part of Ukraine and won’t support Moscow’s efforts to annex portions of their country (kavpolit.com/articles/krymskij_stsenarij_v_luganske_ne_projdet-2788/).

            Saying he would favor a tougher and more professional response by Ukrainian officials to pro-Russian demonstrators, Rashidov noted that he “had not seen a single acquaintance in the crowd of [pro-Moscow] demonstrators.  I am certain that they came from other cities. I have no evidence that they are citizens of another state, but they clearly are not Luhansk people.”

                What has happened in Donetsk will not happen in Luhansk, he continues. “Of course, there are pro-Russian attitudes in the east of Ukraine, especially among representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate.”  But “not all Russians are calling for an exit from Ukraine,” and if a referendum were held, 60 to 70 percent would vote “against both federalization and separation.”

                The Muslim community is seeking to keep out of the way, Rashidov says. It hasn’t issued any declarations and it hasn’t taken part in demonstrations. Its members are very concerned, however, with what are for them very unwelcome developments. “We want the presidential elections to take place peacefully. Over time, the situation must stabilize, although the financial position of Ukraine is very difficult now.”

            When he speaks with relatives and friends in his native Daghestan, the Luhansk Muslim leader says, “practically all of them say that “it would be good if you were joined to Russia.’ Even from my brother,” he says, he “has heard that view several times.”

            “But here in Luhansk,” there are no such feelings among those who have come from Daghestan.  Many of them are entrepreneurs and members of the middle class, and “they are afraid that they would have many problems if the region was united with Russia.” They are citizens of Ukraine and are “patriotic.”

            Muslims in Ukraine have many fewer problems there than do Muslims in the Russian Federation, Rashidov continues.  They feel themselves quite “comfortable,” and have never had any difficulties with the authorities. Indeed, he says, “Ukraine treats Muslims very well. Perhaps even better than in several Western countries.”

            “Of course,” he concludes, “Ukraine is a primarily Orthodox country, and the Moscow Patriarchate enjoys certain preferences. But we understand that and act according to the principle that we observe the law and support the traditions.”  As a result, and except for some personal clashes, “there are no inter-ethnic problems” in Luhansk.

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