Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Russian’s Nightmare: Moscow as Beirut or Ulster

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – Class, religious, and ethnic succession in Moscow is creating a situation in which the worst possible nightmare for any Russian would be the transformation of the Russian capital into something between Beirut and Ulster, according to Russian commentator Yevgeny Ikhlov.

            The Muslim “proletariat” there, consisting of gastarbeiters from Central Asia and the Caucasus, while often mistreated by businesses and officials, he argues, is in fact “close to optimal” because its members are pursuing their dream of creating a better life for their children allowing them to rise into the middle class (

            The problem now, Ikhlov continues, is that “native Muscovites (conditionally Slavic and conditionally Orthodox) categorically do not want to multiply in numbers and their children categorically do not want to become part of the proletariat.” Both groups have higher aspirations than that.

            Russians who travelled into the city in the past to earn their keep might have been able to supplement this group, he suggests, but they were pushed into the middle class “precisely by the Muslim proletariat” in much the same way that in the musical “West Side Story,” the rise of the Puerto Ricans pushed the Irish and Poles into the category of “’real Americans.’”

            Hereditary Muscovites a generation ago viewed the “limitchiki” as outsiders in much the same way, but now they have to view them as part of their community, something that creates problems for both groups and especially for the former outsiders who now want to do everything to maintain their status against the rising Muslim proletariat.

            Moscow has been very fortunate that it has avoided the formation of religious or ethnic ghettos, Ikhlov says, although it is clearly on its way thanks to the renovation program to forming wealthy neighborhoods and slums, with the strong possibility that the latter in many cases will take on an ethnic or religious dimension.

            If that happens, he suggests, these places will become “a state within a state” in which Russian rule will be only provisional.

            But there are two other problems, one near term and one more distant. On the one hand, there is the issue of building a sufficient number of mosques. Indigenous Muscovites will oppose them on the NIMBY principle, and officials will because given that they can’t control six mosques, they certainly wouldn’t be able to control 20 to 40.

            Indeed, Ikhlov says, three-quarters of any new mosques that might be built would quickly become Salafi and hearths of radicalization in the Russian capital, something both Muscovites and Russian officials fear even more than they do having Muslim neighbors.

            And on the other, Ikhlov concludes, given the inability and unwillingness of Russians to become proletarians in the capital, the Muslim community will continue to fill that niche. As a result, he says, he very much fears that a populist will win the mayor’s job in some upcoming election.

            In that case, the commentator warns, the newly elected city head would fulfill his promises during the campaign and order the closure of mosques in the center of Moscow. In that event, the Russian capital “would very quickly be transformed into something midway between Ulster and Beirut.”

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