Thursday, June 14, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Muslims Skeptical of Russian Efforts to Win Their Votes

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 14 – Muslim leaders are dismissing efforts by the leaders of Russian political parties to win their votes as nothing more than “the usual pre-election maneuvering” and “empty public relations.” But at the same time, some Muslims say these efforts point to the growing influence and even power of their community.
On June 1, Federation Council speaker and Just Russia Party leader Sergei Mironov told Muslims at a meeting in St. Petersburg that he and his colleagues in the parliament and his party carefully attend to Muslim concerns and are doing everything they can to protect the rights of Islam and its followers.
Mironov’s remarks came in response to a suggestion by Marat Murtazin, the deputy chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR), that “Muslims in Russia are neither listened to nor defended” and that in his view, this situation in this regard is getting worse (
The response of the Federation Council head did not impress many of the other Muslim leaders present. Mukkadas Birbarsov, the Saratov mufti who heads the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of the Volga Region, said that the only reason the Just Russia leader was saying this is because “elections are approaching.”
Mironov’s personal reputation among Muslims is not great because of his role in blocking a power-sharing agreement between Moscow and Kazan, and the standing of his party among Muslims also is anything but high. Consequently, Bibarsov said, Mironov was clearly engaging in “pre-election maneuvering,” and his words were “empty PR.”
And Bibarsov added that “judging by the attitudes of people not only in Saratov oblast but also in other regions where I have been, I am very skeptical about the chances of Just Russia winning support from Muslims” even with promises like those Mironov made at the St. Petersburg meeting.
At the same time, Muslim leaders at the session also expressed their concerns about the other pro-Kremlin party, United Russia. Many of them are still angry about the dismissive reaction of the Kremlin and its United Russia followers to their open letter to President Vladimir Putin earlier this year.
Instead of getting a response from Putin himself, they received a response from a second-level official in the Presidential administration that many of them felt insultingly dismissed their concerns. And they have been further angered by Moscow’s moves against Muslims, including arrests of mullahs and the banning of the works of Said Nursi.
But some Muslims at least see a silver lining in all of this: In the words of one, “’the struggle for the Muslim electorate’ demonstrates a very important and simple truth:” Muslims are now so numerous and hence potentially powerful that no Russian party can afford to ignore their concerns, at least when it is seeking their votes.
And, as put it, this competition for the Muslim vote will lead Muslims to become more active in defending and advancing their interests during this electoral season, and that in turn will ultimately force Russia’s parties to take the interests of the country’s Muslims more seriously – and not just at election time.
Indeed, according to’s Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov, the first party which “adequately formulates a response to this ‘Islamic question,’ will receive the support of Muslims. The only problem is whether such a group is to be found [anywhere in the Russian political system] today.”

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