Thursday, June 13, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Three Bellwethers of Russia’s Future

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 13 – Three reports over the last few days – a shift in the language used in mosques near Moscow, appeals by Tuvin officials to students to avoid angering ethnic Russians, and a poll showing that Russians are almost as unhappy “feeding” Moscow as they are “feeding” the North Caucasus  -- point to more serious problems ahead for the central Russian government.

            First of all, on Tuesday, the Regnum news agency reported that religious leaders in the 14 mosques of the Moscow region will stop using Kazan Tatar, the language they have employed since the 1940s, and begin using Russian for all parish activities, including homilies and other parts of religious services (

            This reflects the increasing domination of those congregations by migrants from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, who are far more likely to know Russian than Kazan Tatar, and the diminished status of Tatar religious figures, a group known for  its moderate form of Islam.

            Ali khazrat Khasanov, the deputy head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of the Moscow oblast, said that “the Tatars of Moscow just like the ethnic Russians often have difficulties with the migrant communities” and said that their arrival has made the mosques “multi-national” and forced the mullahs to shift to Russian “a language accessible to all.”

            Paradoxically, this shift in languages almost certainly that Muslims near the Russian capital are now more likely to hear more radical messages even though they are going to receive them in Russian rather than a non-Russian language, a development that parallels the role of Russian as a lingua franca in the North Caucasus and elsewhere.

            Second, also this week, officials in the education ministry of the Republic of Tuva appealed to Tuvan students not to do or say anything that would further exacerbate their relations with ethnic Russians after some Tuvins got involved in an Internet dispute with members of the ethnic Russian Pan-Slavic Youth Union there ( 

            In May, some members of the Pan-Slavic Union posted highly critical articles about Tuva, denouncing it as “’a Siberian Chechnya’” and demanding that Tuvin students not be allowed to study in Russian universities.  Tuvins responded by saying among other things that the Russians should recognize that they are occupying the lands of others and should leave (

            What makes this exchange so disturbing is that in fact Tuva, which most Russians elsewhere very as a kind of mysterious land, in fact was the site of the first pogroms of ethnic Russians at the end of the Soviet period, attacks that resulted in deaths and injuries and drove almost half of the ethnic Russians there to leave.

            If similar tensions are re-emerging as this exchange suggests, then Moscow might soon have to contend with a new wave of ethnic assertiveness and violence in a region that the center has in recent years has assumed was too far away and too isolated to be a problem for the Russian Federation. (For background on recent events there, see also

            And third, also on Tuesday, the Levada Center released a poll on popular reaction to slogans offered by the opposition. Among the most interesting of its findings are these: Nearly half of the sample – 48 percent – said they backed the idea of “Russia for the [ethnic] Russians; and almost as many said they opposed feeding Moscow (50 percent) as opposed feeding the Caucasus (55 percent). (

            The combination of these two findings suggest that Russian ethno-nationalism is indeed growing, something many now acknowledge, but that this nationalism may be directed almost as much against the central government as against non-Russian groups, a pattern that various regionalist groups may exploit, something few appear to have recognized.

            That in turn means that if the Kremlin seeks to win support for itself by exploiting Russian nationalism, it may unintentionally create a force which will oppose the center, something new in Russian history and something that could transform the current political system there.

No comments:

Post a Comment