Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Policies Could Make the Russian Far East a Muslim Region, Residents Fear

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 11 – Moscow’s plans to attract millions of gastarbeiters to construction and extraction sites in the Russian Far East could easily transform that enormous but sparsely populated region into a Muslim area, a danger that one Khabarovsk commentator suggests the center has failed to consider.

            Because there are so few people in the Russian Far East and so many of them want to leave, Albert Bityutsky argues, the arrival of even relatively small numbers of Muslims from Central Asia could change the face of that region far more than they have done in Moscow (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2013/06/11/kem_zaselyat_dalnij_vostok_k_2025_godu/).

            Biryutsky’s article suggests that for many in that region, fears of an influx of Muslims may have displaced fears of the immigration of massive number of ethnic Chinese as the greatest concern of the population there, likely the unintended product of recent Russian coverage about the spread of Islamist activity to parts of the Russian Federation where it has never been before.

            Russian officials have certainly been enthusiastic about the prospects of attracting Central Asians and Caucasians to the Russian Far East. Viktor Ishayev, the presidential plenipotentiary for the region has spoken about “more than one million” of them arriving over the next dozen years. And local governors have talked the need for even larger numbers.

            The program is already well advanced, Biryutsky says, with between 240,000 and 280,000 such labor migrants already having arrived and getting support from the leaders of the regions and republics of the Russian Far East. One governor said in April that no one should be “afraid” of this influx of gastarbeiters, but that hasn’t calmed everyone.

Vyachesav Furgal, an  LDPR deputy in the Khabarovsky regional duma, said that if the numbers of these Muslim immigrants increases, the region will have to build “more than one” additional mosque, something that he suggested the local Russian population is now very much loathe to do.

Responding to that possibility, the region’s governor said that “there is nothing dangerous in this, the main thing is to be prepared.”  But some Russians, including Biryutsky, see the authorities working hand in glove with the Muslims: the Central MSD recently awarded a special order to the head of the federal migration service in the kray.

In Biryutsky’s words, it is already clear that “the enormous army of gastarbeiters are bearers of their own traditional culture, language, mentality and traditions” and that this group “does not intend to accept the culture, traditions and even more the faith of the peoples of Russia living in the Far East.”

Many of the arrivals “do not know Russian well,” he points out, and are interested only in earning money and sending it home, not in making a new home in the region. 

Local people, Biryutsky continues, have little confidence that officials and businessmen in  the region are worried about that, even as they spend far more on these immigrants than they do on the often needy population, because like the gastarbeiters, they are interested only in the money they can make.

Indeed, he says, it appears that the authorities and businesses close to them are actively promoting what he calls “’the gastarbeiteriation” of the entire territory of the Far East” in pursuit of profit and without any regard to the small and rapidly declining indigenous Russian communities there.

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