Friday, September 30, 2016

Revival of Ethnic Code Immunizing Circassians against Islamist Radicalism, Neflyasheva Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 30 – Even though Islam has made a comeback in many Circassian regions, Naima Neflyasheva says, it has not generated the kind of radicalization seen elsewhere, largely because along with the revival of Islam has been a revival of the Adyge Khabze, the traditional code of etiquette that has governed Circassian behavior.

            In the past, that code was seen as antithetical to the Muslim shariat, the specialist on the North Caucasus at Moscow’s Institute of Africa says; but today, many Muslim leaders in Circassian areas view it as complementary to Islam and as having a positive influence on believers (

            Speaking at a meeting in MGIMO this week, she drew a sharp contrast between Daghestan and Kabardino-Balkaria where radicalization of Muslims is continuing and Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Adygeya where “there are no signs of radicalization” at the present time.
            The Moscow scholar suggested that a major reason for that was the revival of Adyge Khabze and the support it enjoys among some Muslim leaders in the region goes a long way to explain why “radicalization has not engulfed the Western Adgys [Circassians] even though it has affected others.

            Neflyasheva’s argument is important because, given Moscow’s concerns about the radicalization of Muslim opinion in the North Caucasus, it could provide a justification for the center taking a more positive stance with regard to the Circassians and to Circassian traditions and also for Moscow to promote the revival of similar pre-Islamic value systems elsewhere.

            Another speaker at the session, Akhmet Yarlykapov of MGIMO’s Center for Problems of the Caucasus and Regional Security, stressed that “re-Islamization in the eastern regions of the North Caucasus, particularly in Daghestan, has had ‘an explosive character’ since the disintegration of the USSR.”

            According to  him, “Islam now only has expanded its influence by increasing the number of mosques, medrassahs, and practicing Muslims but deepened it by penetrating all sides of the life of society.”  At the same time, however, Yarlykapov insisted that “this must not be the occasion for panic.”

            Not only does the Russian government understand the situation better than it did, viewing sufism in Daghestan as a positive phenomenon rather than a negative one as it did in Soviet times, but it also recognizes that some problems are of its own making, including the failure to bring to justice those who kill imams and the spread of corrupt and repressive practices.

            These things, like the two Chechen wars, helped radicalize young people in the North Caucasus and have helped ISIS to recruit as many as 5,000 fighters for its wars in the Middle East, an exodus that has “not ended up to now.”  But Moscow has succeeded in undermining all radical Islamist “political” projects in the region.

            Yarlykapov stressed that it is a mistake to think that radicalism is largely the product of poverty. “At present, many quite well-off people are leaving for ISIS,” he said, some of them because of anger about corruption and repression at home and the way those things have closed off their opportunities for social advancement.

            The MGIMO scholar said that those in Moscow who believe that they can use what they call “’traditional Islam’” as a barrier against radicalization are now at a dead end. What such people should be asking is whether an individual or group is “loyal or not,” rather than getting involved in theological doctrine.

            Neflyasheva agreed. She said that the Daghestani authorities should “return to the practice of the previous head of the republic under whom was conducted a dialogue of various trends of Islam and adaptation commissions worked.”  They should also allow for the creation of a distinctly Daghestani Islamic educational system and the development of Islamic thought.

Will the Sixth Finno-Ugric Festival in Udmurtia Be the Last? Officials Tighten the Screws

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 30 – An official action in Izhevsk this week has some dangerous implications not only for the more than 2.3 million members of Finno-Ugric peoples now living within the borders of the Russian Federation but also and more ominously for the cultural life of all non-Russians in that country.

            At the closure of the highly successful sixth Finno-Ugric Ethno-Cultural Festival in the Udmurt capital, officials from the republic’s nationalities ministry said that there might not be another one in the future, although they were unable to explain why that in fact might be the case beyond suggesting there were problems with “the format” (

                “The true cause,” Radio Svoboda’s Tatar-Bashkir Service reported, “is to be found in the deficit of the republic’s budget, the general tendency of the leadership of the country to contracting cultural activities, and also the lack among the leadership of the regional nationalities ministry of political will to defend necessary cultural initiatives.”

            If Moscow succeeds in shutting down such enterprises under the cover of budgetary problems and via the intimidation of regional and republic elites, many non-Russians will see their cultural life impoverished and imperiled, none more so that the smaller nations like the Finno-Ugrics and the numerically small peoples of the North who have survived by cooperation.

            This is not the first such move against the Finno-Ugric nations living within the borders of the Russian Federation. In May, the authorities suddenly cancelled the showing of films by Estonian, Finnish and Hungarian directors, and subsequently, they blocked Finno-Ugric participation in an international conference.

            The Finno-Ugric peoples have two major advantages as they seek to defend their rights as nations. On the one hand, they can look to three Finno-Ugric nations which now have their own independent states, Estonia, Finland and Hungary, all of which have shown an intense interest in what Moscow does to their co-ethnics inside Russia.

            And on the other, the tradition of cooperation among the Finno-Ugric peoples inside the Russian Federation has led them to work together in ways that in many cases pass under Moscow’s radar screen.  One of those was recently reported by the Nazaccent portal (

                Finno-Ugric journalists in Russia, facing serious problems of keeping their publications going, have organized an electronic catalogue of these journals as an alternative to one distributed by post. It will ultimately include links to the more than 60 journals now issued in Finno-Ugric languages in the Russian Federation.

            And more creatively still, the Finno-Ugric journalists have agreed that when they visit each other’s home areas, they will stay with fellow Finno-Ugric journalists from the local community, thus simultaneously saving money and increasing the awareness of these numerically small peoples of their common origins and common fate.

Putin isn’t Panicking Because West Still Doesn’t Recognize Nature of His Threat to the World, Pavlova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 30 – Many Russian opposition commentators are saying that in the wake of the release of the report showing Moscow’s culpability in the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner Vladimir Putin is panicking and fears being hauled before an international tribunal in the Hague. 
            But these commentators are wrong, historian Irina Pavlova says, because Putin recognizes not only that he is not threatened by such a fate but also that the West has failed to take his measure and put in place measures that would end or at least limit his use of the strategies and tactics he has been using (

            Analysts like Andrey Illarionov ( and Vitaly Portnikov (, not to mention those who have long been predicting the imminent end of Putin’s regime and the emergence of a new Russia at peace with the world have fastened on the MH17 report as pointing to that, the US-based Russian historian argues.

            They are almost certainly wrong, she says, pointing to the words of another Russian commentator, Ilya Milshteyn, whose conclusions about what the MH-17 report really means for Putin and a West that still has yet to take his measure (

“For the first time in all of history, he writes, “humanity has been taken hostage and for its liberation something as yet unclear is required: Either capitulation with a further signing of agreements about the division of the world with the Kremlin, or a clash and victory, or a longterm policy of patient and exhausting balancing on the edge of war and peace.”

Milshteyn continues: “Right now, in this clash of humanity with a most powerful terrorist organization, one Russia hasn’t banned but chosen has entered a new stage.” But all indications are that “everything still remains in a fog” with the West still unsure of what it is up against and how it must act as a result.

If somewhat emotionally expressed, Pavlova says, this is exactly right because the West still has not recognized that “today it is dealing not simply with a dangerous figure but with a new type of political player on the world arena,” one who behaves albeit armed with the most powerful weapons like a thuggish youth who “spits on rules, obligations, and Western values.”

Putin is, she says, “aggressive, purposeful and consistent in his actions,” all facts that many in the West and in Russia too have failed to take into account.

Pavlova concludes by quoting her own words of more than a year ago: “Today, from the Western countries and above all the US wisdom and political will is required to oppose the political challenge posed by the Kremlin.” This response must be peaceful because in a military conflict, Putin will use his nuclear weapons (

Therefore, she wrote then and reiterates now, “the response must be intelligent, precise and unexpected. The Russian powers that be must be forever deprived of the temptation to build their policy on human ignorance, lies and disinformation” and thus take away from them the ability to act in foreign policy by “Stalinist methods of provocation.”

For that to happen, Pavlova says, “it is vitally necessary to find ‘a key’ to change the policy of the present Russian authorities, to undermine the pro-Stalinist identity constructed by it within the country, and to destroy the image of the global world which the Kremlin is trying to build, using the values and methods of Stalinist great power approach.”

“Unfortunately,” she writes now, “there is none of this in evidence yet.” And because there isn’t, Putin isn’t panicking and will continue to act as he has confident that he can get away with murder and much else besides.