Sunday, March 17, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Muslims Willy-Nilly Becoming International Actors, Lezgin Leader Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 17 – Often despite their own desires, Russia’s Muslim nations are becoming international actors, the result of the impact of events in the Middle East and globalizing trends from the West and of their status as peoples who now find themselves divided by state borders, according to a leader of the Lezgin community of the Russian Federation.

            Speaking last week to the Russian Council of Foreign and Defense Policy on the role of Muslims in Russian foreign policy, a session that attracted senior Russian diplomats, scholars, and activists, Ruslan Kurbanov, vice president of the Russian Federation of Lezgin National Autonomies, described this development (

                The meeting of this influential non-governmental organization was in fact called, other speakers said, because “since the beginning of the 21st century, the Muslim peoples of the world in all their ethnic and national multiplicity … are ever more becoming the subjects” of policy and not just its objects as was typically the case earlier.

                These speakers also noted that Russia is “a country where Muslim peoples are a state-forming community, and representatives of that community play an active role in society,” but they noted, “the opinion of Muslims about Russian foreign policy and their assessment of what is taking place in the world  around Russia rarely become part of public discussion.”

            Last week’s meeting was intended as a corrective to that and addressed how the Muslim peoples of Russia view Moscow’s foreign policy, what particular concerns they have about it, and “to what degree should the authorities take into consideration the position of Muslim peoples” given that “the national interests of Russia are much broader and more complicated than just its relations with Muslim states.”

            Kurbanov told the group that “today in the Muslim social milieu of Russia can be observed a rapid globalization of consciousness and activity of peoples who formerly were cut off from the processes in the international arena.”  This development is taking place throughout these communities but is most clearly scene in the intellectual and practical spheres.

            The Lezgin leader gave as an example of this the rapid transformation of the communities of Daghestan, the Caucasus and the Middle Volga, a transformation that he described as “revolutionary” and the involvement of foreign states in this process through the education of young people from these Russian regions.

            Today, Kurbanov continued, “an ever greater emancipation of the Muslim peoples of Russia is taking place” as they obtain “ever greater access to education” and thus are in a position to realize their “potential in business, politics and education.” But, he added, this process is not without certain problems.

            “The Muslim peoples of Russia,” the Lezgin leader said, at the same time are suffering “a rapid deformation and destruction of their traditional society” under the impact of alien influences that are, in the first instance, destroying “the traditional nuclear structure of Muslim society.”

            The Muslim communities have enormous energy, but it will require a thoughtful approach to ensure that this is manifested in positive ways rather than negative ones. And nowhere is this requirement greater than in international affairs where Russia’s Muslims often “in spite of their own will” are becoming “subjects of international politics.”

                “A clear example of this” is provided by the Lezgins, who number more than a million but are divided “in half by the state border between Russia and Azerbaijan.” But there are other divided Muslim peoples as well, including the Rutuls, Avars, Tsakhurs, and Circassians, who because they are divided cannot develop “to a full degree their identity and culture.”

            This problem, which stands at the intersection of domestic and foreign policies, represents a serious challenge for Moscow, one that if it is not addressed carefully and soon, the Lezgin leader concluded, could reach “crisis” proportions in the near future and thus threaten Russia’s national interests.

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