Vienna, October 11 – By the middle of the 21st century, Moscow’s ambassador for relations with the Organization of the Islamic Conference said yesterday, Muslims will form a majority of the population in the Russian Federation, up from around 15 percent now and “more than a third” of the total in 2027.
At a Moscow press conference, Ambassador Veniamin Popov said these numbers -- which clearly refer not to the number of active believers but rather to the size of historically Islamic nationalities -- represented current “demographic predictions” which, he continued, “apparently are not far from the truth.”
While he insisted that the number of Russian citizens overall continues to decline, Popov said that the rapid growth of the Muslim communities there reflected the fact that in the traditionally Islamic regions of Russia the population continues to grow rapidly (http://www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/print.php?act=news&id=20767).
A similar pattern holds in Europe as a whole, of course, where the number of native-born residents in many countries is declining while the number of immigrants from Muslim regions and their children continue at high levels. As a result, he said, “in two to three generations, Europeans will be a minority” in their own countries.”
This dramatic change in the religious affiliations in these two places, the ambassador concluded, will have a profound effect both on these countries individually and on the international system, with the next few years in particular featuring sharp conflicts between “the world of Islam and the West.”
At a minimum, he concluded, “conflicts like those in the Middle East today and the war in Iraq and Somalia in the immediate future will only become more numerous.”
Popov’s remarks thus provide a useful context for considering three other events reported this week: President Vladimir Putin’s promulgation of a new concept paper on demographic development, polls highlighting inter-ethnic attitudes there, and a threat by Muslim voters to vote against officials who don’t meet their demands.
This morning, President Putin signed off on a concept paper concerning demographic policy in the Russian Federation to the year 2025. The document, to be given more concrete form in the coming months, calls for Moscow to reverse the country’s ongoing demographic decline (http://www.ami-tass.ru/article/28116.html).
Among its provisions are greater state support for pro-natalist policies, expanded public health campaigns designed to reduce alcohol and tobacco consumption and thus cut deathrates among working age men, and a variety of other measures intended to reverse the declines in life expectancy among the citizenry.
Until more details are made available, of course, it is impossible to say whether the document attempts to treat ethnic Russians and historically Muslim groups in much the same way or in radically different ways.
If it treats these groups the same as many expect, that could increase the demographic divergence to which Ambassador Popov points and about which many ethnic Russians are worried. But if it attempts to treat them differently, that could spark protests from the growing and in that case outraged Muslim community itself.
The second development was the release of data by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion concerning Russian attitudes toward ethnicity and the role it has played in the history of that country and in the daily lives of ethnic Russians and others today (http://wciom.ru/novosti/press-vypuski/press-vypusk/single/8946.html).
The poll highlighted many interesting attitudes: Ninety percent believe that Russia has united the various peoples who live within its borders on a peaceful basis, 78 percent say that relations between ethnic groups have always been based on tolerance, and 71 percent said that the government has always treated members of various groups equally.
Asked whether they had encountered discrimination in their own lives on an ethnic basis, only four percent said that they had, And asked whether they would marry someone of a different ethnic group or allow their children to do so, 59 percent of the total sample said they would.
Intriguingly, the share of non-Russians who said they would was far higher – 75 percent – than the fraction of ethnic Russians – 57 percent.
Fifty-four percent of ethnic Russians said that the president of the country must be an ethnic Russian, while 23 percent said he or she might be someone of another nationalities. Among non-Russian groups, however, 58 percent said that they had no objection to having a president of a different nationality than their own.
Sixty-nine percent of the total sample said that they had colleagues or close acquaintances who were of a different nationality, and 68 percent said that they had friends who were not of their own nationality. But significant percentages said they were not related by blood to anyone of a different nationality.
These figures are already significant as indicators of the ways in which ethnic Russians and non-ethnic Russians interact today. They are certain to become more so as the country’s demographic and cultural mix changes in the ways that Ambassador Popov suggests.
And third, there was an intriguing indication that Russia’s Muslims are beginning to act on the basis of their expanded share of the population. Yesterday, religious news sites posted an open letter from Muslims to Moscow Governor Boris Gromov demanding that he back the opening of more mosques (http://www.muslim.ru/1/cont/8/15/1260).
According to its authors, the governor’s administration has been ignoring the will of the Russian president and the Muslim residents of his region by allowing his staff to “slow or at times simply forbid the construction of Muslim houses of worship which are needed” for their religious duties.
The letter ended with a warning: “Mr. Governor, if you think Muslims of our country will quietly react to this and vote for the party on whose regional list you are, a party which is taking part in the elections under the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, you are very much mistaken!”
Such threats may become more numerous, but another event this week suggests few Russian officials will take it too seriously now. When an article from Italy reporting that many Christian churches in Western Europe are being closed with some of them being sold to Muslims, Russia’s Union of Muftis of Russia politely changed the title.
La Republica’s title was “From a Europe of Cathedrals to a Europe of Mosques” (http://ww.inopress.ru/repubblica/2007/10/10/12:31:48/berlin). The SMR report featured a less provocative one: “In Russia [Muslims] are building mosques, not taking over anyone else’s churches” (http://www.muslim.ru/1/cont/20/1261.htm).