Monday, September 30, 2019

Russian Islam’s MSDs have Outlived Their Utility and Should Be Disbanded, Yemelyanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 27 – The congress of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), a body that used to be strikingly diverse and independent, resembled its rival the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate of UFA which has always been deferential to officialdom and the meetings of the CPSU in the past and the ROC MP now, Valery Yemelyanov says.

            Such a development, the Vremya i mir commentator says, is especially unfortunate because it increasingly sets these groups at odds with the far more genuine religiosity of Muslims at the local level and especially in the North Caucasus and among immigrant communities from Central Asia (

            And that suggests, he continues, that the MSDs have outlived the real utility they had in the wake of the collapse of the USSR and should be disbanded because otherwise the gap between the leadership of these institutions and real Muslim life will continue to grow and the possibility for radicalization in the latter increase along with that development.

            “Already for a long time in the Muslim community of Russia,” Yemelyanov says, “there have been questions about the practical need for ‘spiritual administrations’ in their current form. Structured at the beginning of the religious rebirth in post-Soviet Russia, they then were really necessary for organizing the active religious life of Russians and securing needed resources.”

            “Now, however, they are converting themselves into a kind of bureaucratic superstructure where only one thing is important – the growth of their own apparatus and constant hidden (and not vey) conflicts among the spiritual administrations,” bodies which are foreign to Islam which has only “One ‘Spiritual Administrator,’” Allah.

            In his view, Yemelyanov concludes, “it would be more ‘canonical’ to concentrate administrative direction at the level either of one jamaat or local associations of believers. Centralization in ‘muftiates’ like those which exist in Russia are typical of countries where Muslims form the absolute majority of the population,” something not true of Russia.

            The commentator’s argument may be one whose time is coming. Earlier this month, Ingushetia shuttered its MSD (; and others may soon follow given fights among ethnic groups for control over these structures (

            But the biggest worries, ones that have informed discussions about the future of the MSDs, lie elsewhere in a combination of two fears: that Moscow is losing control of these structures ( and that the MSDs by their closeness to the state are losing Muslims to radical groups (

With Regard to Internet Freedom, Moscow Using Its Version of Federalism Against Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 15 – One of the great virtues of federalism is that various parts of a country can come up with independent ideas and programs that, if they work out, other parts of the country can adopt.  But in Russia, the central government typically uses the nominally federal system in exactly the opposite way.

            That is, it tries out something it would like to extend to the entire country in one place, such as repressing the North Caucasus ( or, as now, using the Urals Federal District as “a pilot territory” for controlling the Internet (

            From the Kremlin’s point of view, trying something out far from Moscow with its enormous media and foreign embassy presence is desirable in at least two ways. On the one hand, the central authorities can develop their projects to a point where it is then far easier to spread them to the rest of the country.

            And on the other – and this is something that should not be neglected by those who care about real federalism – using federal arrangements in this way discredits the idea of federalism in the minds of many Russians who see it as just another means the center uses to get its way rather than something of value in and of itself for them.

            Those who do recognize the value of federal arrangements thus have a double task: They must publicize Moscow’s use of its federal arrangements so that it cannot use them as testing grounds for bad ideas without criticism; and they must explain to Russian audiences why this is a misuse of federalism and not its inevitable result.

Russia Lacks a Real Left that Can Resist Right’s Egotism and Aggressiveness, Skobov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 27 – The fact that the Russian regime and the Russian opposition were united in denouncing Greta Thunberg for her message on climate change highlights something many prefer to ignore, Aleksandr Skobov says. Russia lacks the immune system to the egotism and the aggressiveness of the right and makes its recovery that much more difficult.

            Throughout the world but not in Russia, the Moscow commentator says, reaction to Thunberg’s message generally dividing between those on the left side of the spectrum who typically supported her and those on the right who opposed what she had to say (

            In many respects, the young Swedish activist instantly became almost “the situational leader and face of ‘the big left of center camp’ of the world political scene,” a camp that recently has been suffering from “a serious systemic crisis,” Skobov continues.  But fortunately for the left, the right is also suffering from a similar crisis.

            Otherwise, he suggests, the right’s “informal world leader would not be such a clown as Trump. In general, we live in an era of the global crisis of traditional political structures.”  Those on the left unfortunately often play the role of “’useful idiots,’” defending what they should criticize and failing to counter the right’s drive to return the world to “’the law of the jungle.”

            “Gret Thunberg may be mistaken in details,” Skobov says; “but namely the camp which is represented by her defends the values of empathy, solidarity and human rights” that serve as limits to unfettered competition and the struggle for domination and that restrain “the bestial egoistic foundation in human beings.”

            This camp on the left is “the immune system of humanity,” Skobov argues.

            “Many on the left today do not fully recognize what a threat to freedom throughout the world emanates from the regime of the Kremlin Hitlerites. But in the near future, only ‘the left wing’ of Western civilization has a chance to defend this civilization from the aggressive revanchism of traditionalism and its inevitable part, authoritarianism.”

            That those known as progressives in Russia opposed Thunberg so passionately is explained by the fact that “a significant majority of Russian liberals are rightists in their heads. That is, in fact they are not liberals but conservatives. But in fact, the situation is even worse than that.”

            “In Russia,” Skobov concludes, “there are no leftists,” with the exception of some marginal groups.  Instead, there are “’Red conservatives,’” “Soviet traditionalists,’” and “Soveit fundamentalists.”  But all these groups are “archaic and interested in preserving or restoring the past not in moving toward the future.”

            And that means something tragic: “Russia is a country without the immune system” to authoritarianism and egotistical politics unlike other countries which at least have some who continue to campaign for a more humane world in which empathy and human rights have a central place.