Tuesday, December 12, 2023

‘Religious Decolonization’ has Already Taken Place in Daghestan, Kaliszewska Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 8 – Daghestan is “the freest republic in Russia,” Iwona Kaliszewska says, because decolonization based on religion has already occurred there, a development which those who think about that process only in secular terms cannot understand and have generally failed to take note of.

            The Polish ethnographer outlines her reasons for that conclusion in an interview with Kavkazr host Mairbek Vachagayev (kavkazr.com/a/dekolonizatsiya-v-dagestane-antropolog-iz-poljshi-ob-otlichiyah-respubliki-ot-sosedey/32716660.html) and in a new book, For Putin and for Sharia. Dagestani Muslims and the Islamic State (DeKalb, 2023).

Kaliszewska says that “seven or eight years ago, [she] came to the conclusion that Daghestan is the freest republic in Russia.” Its residents are prepared to speak freely about even the most sensitive political issues and can even say without fear that they don’t like the powers that be.

She says this freedom arises from the multi-ethnic composition of the population and the related fact that for its residents, “there is no single individual who could become the authority for all.” Moreover, every individual in Daghestan is part of a clan and feels that his or her clan will defend her.

One consequence of this is that the authorities have not brought any cases about discrediting the army. They are afraid that if they do, members of the clan of any individual charged would go into the streets. But the polyethnic nature of the population also means that no armed underground has emerged. People are too varied for any single one to take shape. 

According to Kaliszewska, this is all the result of the resurgence of Islam after the end of Soviet times and the rise of shariat as a defining feature of life in Daghestan. “At the government level, shariat doesn’t exist, but the entire essence of Daghestan is that people are aliented from the state” and act on the basis of shariat principles rather than secular laws.

Asked to compare Daghestan with other republics in the North Caucasus, she points to three distinctions: no other republic is as multinational, none has as much freedom of speech, and none have populations which feel themselves so free to go into the streets in protest about things of concern to themselves.

In many respects, the Polish scholar says, “this republic as it were is already outside of Russia.” Daghestanis area already alienated from the Russian state and look to Muslim countries abroad for guidance. Thus, “a certain decolonization has already taken place but under the slogans of Islam” rather than under secular ones.

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