Staunton, Nov. 7 – Many commentators have reacted to the recent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic actions in the North Caucasus by suggesting that “we have become observers of a new “awakening” of the region and the collapse of stability there, Sergey Markedonov says. But such “alarmist” conclusions are at a minimum “premature.”
The MGIMO specialist on the region says that “the majority of residents of the North Caucasus are loyal to the Russian state,” but he adds that despite progress on the security and socio-economic fronts, there is a great deal yet to be done as far as identities are concerned (profile.ru/accidents/o-chem-govoryat-antisemitskie-vystupleniya-na-severnom-kavkaze-1414336/).
“Ethnic nationalism just like religious radicalism has not disappeared,” Markedonov says, although both have changed shape, with the former no longer about seeking independence but the latter far stronger and also and not unimportantly far more linking people in the region to their fellow Muslims abroad.
“Islam has confidently regained the positions which were lost during the decades of Soviet atheism,” he continues, especially in Daghestan. In that republic are “55 percent of all Russian mosques, 85 percent of all hajis, 90 percent of all Islamic educational institutions and 75 to 80 percent of all graduates of these.”
Moreover, “in terms of the number of congregations under its control, the Daghestani muftiate exceeds even certain inter-regional MSDs,” with more than 2500 Muslim religious organizations, “and many of these have complicated relations with the official spiritual hierarchy,” a euphemism for saying they are independent and radical.
And this trend has accelerated because of Russian government policies toward the region, Markedonov says. Officially, Moscow talks about secularism, “but in practice it agrees to ‘special conditions’ for those regions of the North Caucasus Federal district in which practice very much diverges from state standards.”
It often happens, he continues, that hte Russian government “closes its eyes to various ‘initiatives from the localities’ which are at odds with the general line. And all this, of course, creates in society the illusion that ‘red lines’ can be shifted as for example in the struggle with ‘Jewish schemes.’”
But Moscow has contributed to this re-Islamization of the North Caucasus in another and perhaps more fateful way. As the Kremlin has sought to recover its earlier influence in the Middle East, it has attracted the attention of Muslims within its borders to the Muslim world more generally.
And that means this, Markedonov says: Moscow must recognize that what it does in the Muslim world abroad will affect the Muslim world within the borders of the Russian Federation far more profoundly than it currently thinks. The events at the Makhachkala airport and in other North Caucasus cities are clear evidence of that.