Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Clashes between Russians and Muslims Spreading to Universities in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 12 – Conflicts between Russians and Muslims on the streets and in the Russian military have a long history, but now they are spreading to an important part of daily life -- in higher educational institutions where some administrators now calling for the students to be separated by ethnicity and religion to prevent more clashes.

            This phenomenon came to broad public attention this week when a video clip showing a Russian student being forced to publicly apologize for his comments about Caucasian women that Muslim students found offensive and denigrating attracted more than a million views online (ura.news/articles/1036273236).

            “This is not the first such incident” even in elite higher educational institutions like the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, Stanislav Zakharkin says in his report for the URA news agency.  Earlier, a Russian joke about the Koran led to a situation in which one foreign student was forced to leave her Russian university and ultimately the country itself. 

                Aleksandr Safonov, the pro-rector of the Academy, says that no one knows how many such clashes there have been because no one is keeping a record of the statistics.  But he says that it is his impression that the numbers may be growing and increasingly reflect religious and ethnic differences rather than between urban and rural groups as was true in Soviet times.

            The pro-rector suggests that the higher educational institutions can and should address this issue, possibly by “dividing” the students and explaining to each group how the other perceives it and what is the best way to overcome such differences.

            Maksim Shevchenko, a Muslim commentator who is a member of the Presidential Human Rights council, plays down the importance of these clashes, “Conflict,” he says, “is the essence of human nature” and a way to learn; and he dismisses the idea that such clashes are about nationality.

            “One must not speak about Russians and Caucasians in general,” he continues.  There are sad cases in all nations, and what is important is to learn when ethnic and religious differences matter, when they don’t, and how to address these differences in a civilized war.

            Others are pushing for a tougher set of reactions. Arslan Khasavov, a writer who is a member of the Russian Council on the North Caucasus, says universities and especially elite ones must impose administrative punishments on those who get out of hand. And if things go even further, they should refer matters to the police for criminal prosecution.

            The URA news agency reports that the Russian magistracy has begun an investigation into the case shown on the video clip and that the head of the Union of Chechen Youth in the Russian capital says that he will meet with and try to educate those Muslims who did the attacking in this case.

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