Staunton, Nov. 29 – In Soviet times, the basic divide among the population in the North Caucasus, Yevgeny Varshaver says, was along ethnic lines because Moscow supported those identities and opposed others. But since 1991, he continues, the situation has changed and religion, not nationality in the Soviet sense, is the basic dividing line there.
The Higher School of Economics sociologist says this is the result of the declining saliency of ethnicity as far as the Russian regime is concerned and the growing contacts between Islamic peoples in the North Caucasus with institutions in the larger Islamic world (nemoskva.net/2023/11/28/indulgencziya-na-nenavist-pochemu-v-rossii-ne-lyubyat-chuzhih/).
As a result, Soviet ideas about “the friendship of the peoples” no longer are an appropriate way to discuss divisions in these societies because the peoples have changed: they are no longer ethnically defined as they used to be by a secular state but religiously, uniting groups on the basis of Islam, Orthodox Christianity or other faiths.
According to Varshaver, this change has been highlighted by the recent attacks on Jews in Daghestan, where the various ethnic groups sharing Islam have concluded that they are a community and that they are necessarily and even existentially at odds with others like Orthodox Christians and Jews.
To the extent the Moscow sociologist is correct, this change presages more conflicts between Muslims and other religious groups in the North Caucasus, a further exodus of Christians and Jews from that region, and what may prove to be the final collapse of Russian influence there.
At the same time, it also means that movements along ethnic lines in the North Caucasus are likely to be challenged by others who hope to build on a common Islamic identity, something that could weaken the former even as the latter gains strength.