Sunday, August 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: An Unintended Consequence of Making Russian Governors Responsible for Ethnic Peace -- More Mosques

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 18 – The Kremlin’s decision to hold governors responsible for ethnic peace on their territories is having an unintended consequence: some groups, including those who want the construction of mosques, are insisting that governors agree to their demands or face the kind of mass protests that could cost the governors their career.

            “Muftis,” “NG-Religii” reports, “are exploiting the main fear of bureaucrats – the fear of mass disorders and a tolerant legal regime in which mass public religious services even when they are unsanctioned are not prosecuted, in contrast to the situation with regard to political meetings” (

            In Stavropol and Khabarovsk, Muslim religious leaders have said they will hold such services, which officials fear could lead to ethnic clashes, unless and until they are given permission to build mosques, a step many non-Muslims oppose but that the authorities are now afraid to oppose, even if the Muslim leaders are violating the law in other ways.

            Since spring, Stavropol Mufti Mukhammad Rakhimov has unsuccessfully sought to obtain a plot of land for a new mosque, but the regional authorities have turned him down because over the last two years, eight mosques have been constructed in the kray, and the local population does not want any more.

            To get around that obstacle, the Muslims had a local businessman buy the land they wanted and began building a mosque. When the authorities intervened and said it was illegal and would have to be torn down, the mufti replied that he would hold mass public prayers at the site, something the authorities did not want.

            “To the legal demands of the local authorities,” “NG-Religii” continues, “the muftiat responded with blackmail,” threatening career-killing disorders “of a religious character” between the authorities and the local diasporas.

            Mufti Rakhimov has promised to hold a mass prayer in the central square of Pyatigorsk on September 20 “before the residence of the presidential plenipotentiary to the North Caucasus Federal District,” a location that would guarantee exactly the kind of high-level attention to conflicts between officials and the population that the officials cannot afford.

            After Muslims in Kislovodsk threatened to use the same tactic and despite the fact that 92.5 percent of that city’s residents are against a new mosque there, “the local authorities hurried to agree to a project for the construction of a Cathedral Mosque in the center of the city and ‘think over’ the lifting of the judicial decision calling for tearing down” another mosque.

            This political strategy is now being applied in other regions and with apparent success, the Moscow journal says. After Muslims staged public prayers in Khabarovsk, the kray and city officials ended their opposition to the construction of a mosque and have given assurances that they will support a new Muslim religious center.

            “Such cases already can be considered a trend,” the Moscow journal continues, the result of the Kremlin’s decision to hold local officials responsible for inter-ethnic peace and the conclusion of the local officials that they are better off in career terms to agree to the construction of new mosques than to risk the consequences of large public demonstrations.

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