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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
September 30, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Revival of Ethnic Code Immunizing Circassians against Islamist Radicalism, Neflyasheva Says

Staunton, VA, September 30, 2016 - Even though Islam has made a comeback in many Circassian regions, Naima Neflyasheva says, it has not generated the kind of radicalization seen elsewhere, largely because along with the revival of Islam has been a revival of the Adyge Khabze, the traditional code of etiquette that has governed Circassian behavior. 

In the past, that code was seen as antithetical to the Muslim shariat, the specialist on the North Caucasus at Moscow’s Institute of Africa says; but today, many Muslim leaders in Circassian areas view it as complementary to Islam and as having a positive influence on believers.

Speaking at a meeting in MGIMO this week, she drew a sharp contrast between Daghestan and Kabardino-Balkaria where radicalization of Muslims is continuing and Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Adygeya where “there are no signs of radicalization” at the present time.

The Moscow scholar suggested that a major reason for that was the revival of Adyge Khabze and the support it enjoys among some Muslim leaders in the region goes a long way to explain why “radicalization has not engulfed the Western Adgys [Circassians] even though it has affected others. 

Neflyasheva’s argument is important because, given Moscow’s concerns about the radicalization of Muslim opinion in the North Caucasus, it could provide a justification for the center taking a more positive stance with regard to the Circassians and to Circassian traditions and also for Moscow to promote the revival of similar pre-Islamic value systems elsewhere. 

Another speaker at the session, Akhmet Yarlykapov of MGIMO’s Center for Problems of the Caucasus and Regional Security, stressed that “re-Islamization in the eastern regions of the North Caucasus, particularly in Daghestan, has had ‘an explosive character’ since the disintegration of the USSR.” 

According to him, “Islam now only has expanded its influence by increasing the number of mosques, medrassahs, and practicing Muslims but deepened it by penetrating all sides of the life of society.” At the same time, however, Yarlykapov insisted that “this must not be the occasion for panic.” 

Not only does the Russian government understand the situation better than it did, viewing sufism in Daghestan as a positive phenomenon rather than a negative one as it did in Soviet times, but it also recognizes that some problems are of its own making, including the failure to bring to justice those who kill imams and the spread of corrupt and repressive practices. 

These things, like the two Chechen wars, helped radicalize young people in the North Caucasus and have helped ISIS to recruit as many as 5,000 fighters for its wars in the Middle East, an exodus that has “not ended up to now.” But Moscow has succeeded in undermining all radical Islamist “political” projects in the region. 

Yarlykapov stressed that it is a mistake to think that radicalism is largely the product of poverty. “At present, many quite well-off people are leaving for ISIS,” he said, some of them because of anger about corruption and repression at home and the way those things have closed off their opportunities for social advancement. 

The MGIMO scholar said that those in Moscow who believe that they can use what they call “’traditional Islam’” as a barrier against radicalization are now at a dead end. What such people should be asking is whether an individual or group is “loyal or not,” rather than getting involved in theological doctrine. 

Neflyasheva agreed. She said that the Daghestani authorities should “return to the practice of the previous head of the republic under whom was conducted a dialogue of various trends of Islam and adaptation commissions worked.” They should also allow for the creation of a distinctly Daghestani Islamic educational system and the development of Islamic thought.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 51

Staunton, VA, September 30, 2016 - The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore. 

Consequently, Windows on Eurasia presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 51st such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, once again, one could have put out such a listing every day -- but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest. 

1. Rumors Swirling about Putin’s Exit and a New Russian Revolution.  In the low-information, high-tension environment in which Russians exist, rumors often sweep across the country. This week, there have been widespread reports that the Russian elite is preparing itself for Putin’s departure; and others are talking openly about the likelihood of a new Russian revolution by the time of the anniversary of the Bolshevik one in 1917.  Some commentators are assisting in the spread of such rumors by suggesting that the broken windows principle applies to Russia, with increasing problems opening the way to chaos. But other observers are more sanguine about the situation: Vladislav Inozemtsev, for example, says that the current regime will survive until it shoots ten protesters in the streets. 

2. Situation So Dire Russians No Longer Appreciate Horror Flicks. One commentator says that the situation in Russia is so bad that people there no longer appreciate horror movies which require a disjunction between day-to-day life and what is shown on the screen.  There is certainly evidence that things are getting worse: there is no money for food for poor children in the schools of many regions or for food stamps or cards for the poor more generally.  The Accounting Chamber says that the entire social sector is degrading rapidly, and one international survey finds that Russia now ranks last in terms of the health of its population among countries with at least five million residents. Moreover, bread is increasingly adulterated across Russia, Russians are cutting back on computer links in their homes inflation in Russia is now running at a rate 39 times that of EU countries, and to add insult to injury, Russians are going to have to make a separate payment for trash collections as of January 2017.

3. Few Russians Believe Kremlin Claims that Crisis is Easing. Ever fewer Russians accept as true claims by Vladimir Putin and his regime that the economic crisis is easing, with more than 80 percent saying that Russia is mired in one and that they do not know when it will end

4. 40,000 Russian Pensioners Flee to China for a Better Life … Russians have adopted a variety of strategies to deal with the economic problems in their country. One of the most unusual if least commented upon is that some 40,000 pensioners have fled to China where they feel that their lives are a paradise compared to what they were in Russia. Tens of thousands more are planning to move that way in the dear future, a Moscow paper reports.  

5. … While Other Russians Make Big Money Killing Ukrainians. One way that Moscow continues to attract Russian “volunteers” to fight in Ukraine is by paying those who go there big money at least compared to their incomes in Russia. According to one report, Russian mercenaries in the Donbass are currently being paid US $3,000 US dollars for each Ukrainian soldier they kill, vastly more than most of these people could earn from regular jobs in Russia in six months or even longer. 

6. Moscow Now Lags Behind Tallinn, Riga and Almaty as World Financial Center. In what must be a bitter blow to the oil and gas rich Russians around Putin, Moscow now ranks below three cities that once were inside the borders of the USSR, Tallinn, Riga and Almaty, among world financial centers. 

7. Tatarstan Protects Local Vodka Producer Against Competition from Russian Brands. In an echo of the 1990s, Kazan has raised the price of vodkas coming into Tatarstan from elsewhere in Russia in order to protect a local producer. 

8. Nations in Sakha Press for Nationality Insert in Passports.  In another step recalling the 1990s, ethnic groups in the Sakha Republic are pressing for the restoration of an insert in Russian Federation passports that will allow them to declare their nationalities. 

9. Russia Pumping More Oil Despite Falling Price and Rising Difficulties.  Russia appears on course to set a record for pumping oil even though prices have fallen and the oil it now pumps is far more difficult to extract and transport than in the past). Moscow’s higher costs thus make its lower income from the sale of oil even lower than many calculations show. 

10. Duma Elections Having Real Consequences But Perhaps Not the Ones the Kremlin Wanted. The Kremlin got the constitutional majority it wanted in the Duma, but the cost of its heavy-handed falsifications are having some consequences it probably would have liked to avoid. Ever more experts are documenting how fraudulent the elections were and thus raising questions about how much support the regime really has.  People are protesting in the regions and republics if not yet in Moscow.  And opposition parties are cooperating in ways that no one would have thought possible only a month ago, as in Karelia where even the KPRF and the liberal opposition are coming together to push a single opposition candidate for governor. 

11. Skype in the Tundra; WIFI in Moscow Cemeteries.  Reindeer herders in Chukotka now can make use of Skype to keep in touch with family members and others. Meanwhile, visitors to Moscow cemeteries, although presumably not their permanent residents, now will have access to WIFI. 

12. Russian Vigilance This Week. A Russian was fined under the anti-extremism laws for reading the Russian Constitution in public.  The irrepressible Russian senator Elena Misulina says that men who beat their wives are not as guilty as women who demean their husbands and that Russian law should reflect this reality. Meanwhile, in Tomsk, nationalist activists have saved residents of that city from being exposed to “homosexual propaganda” having discovered that the stairs in city underpass were painted the colors of the gay rights flag, and Vladimir Putin reportedly has moved to protect Russia from any “Jewish-Masonic conspiracy” by banning the Rothschilds from entering Russia. 

13. Statue Wars Update: Mannerheim to Stay Up as Pavlik Morozov Goes Up.  A St. Petersburg court has rejected a suit seeking the removal of the memorial plaque in honor of Finnish Marshal Mannerheim. Meanwhile, activists in Brest have erected a monument to Pavlik Morozov, the boy who turned in his parents in Stalin’s time and became a role model for generations of Soviet children

And six more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood: 

1. Ukraine Graduates First Class of Soldiers Trained According to NATO Standards. A ceremony took place in Kyiv to honor the first group of Ukrainian soldiers who have been trained according to NATO standards and thus are ready for full cooperation with the Western alliance. 

2. Uzbek Mufti Says Picking Cotton a Muslim Obligation. A Muslim leader in Uzbekistan has discovered a new requirement for the faithful. In Uzbekistan, he says, they are required to pick cotton regardless of what their usual employment is. 

3. Kazakhstan May Ban Visits by Imams to Private Homes. In order to block the spread of Islamist extremism, the government of Kazakhstan is considering imposing a ban on visits by imams to private homes, thus limiting their legal activities to the mosques where the authorities can monitor them more closely. 

4. Russian-Language Papers in Post-Soviet States Shift from Print to Internet. Falling subscriptions and ad revenue is forcing ever more Russian-language newspapers in the post-Soviet states to end their print publication and move exclusively to Internet distribution.  

5. Turkmens Now Pay a Minimum of 17 US Dollars a Pack for Cigarettes. Thanks to government taxes, smokers in Turkmenistan now must pay a minimum of US $17 dollars a pack for cigarettes, a figure that is vastly higher than it even might appear given the low incomes of people in that country. 

6. Will This Be the Last Generation of Lithuanian Tatars in Belarus?  The Lithuanian Tatars, a Muslim community that has been in what is now Belarus for more than 600 years, is now at risk of dying out in the coming decades, with ever more of its dwindling number (now under 10,000) assimilating. But community activists say that the memory of the Lithuanian Tatars lives on even in those who now identify as ethnic Belarusians.

The previous issue No. 50 is here.