Friday, February 29, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Medvedev Likely to Be Less Pro-Muslim than Putin, Russia’s Muslims Say

Paul Goble

Baku, February 29 – Two of Russia’s leading Muslim political commentators argue that Dmitry Medvedev is likely to be slightly less pro-Muslim than Vladimir Putin has been in both foreign and domestic policies, a shift that Russia’s Muslims should begin to mobilize in order to prevent.
In a discussion on ten days ago that has now been transcribed for the portal, Russian Islamic Inheritance head Shavkat-haji Avyasov and analyst Akhmad-haji Azimov said they expect the new president to be slightly more pro-Western and thus less pro-Muslim than Putin (
But they indicated that any changes in Kremlin policy toward Muslims at home or the Islamic world abroad were likely to be small, not only because they reflect Moscow’s own interests but also because Muslims are now better positioned to defend their positions.
Avyasov, for his part, said that Russia’s Muslims give Putin high marks for reining in “the bandit-oligarchic system” and moving toward “a genuinely democratic state,” for reaching out to the Muslim world abroad, and for his financial and political support of Muslim institutions of various kinds.
Because these trends have broad support, he and his colleague added, Medvedev is unlikely to depart from them, even though his more “pro-Western” approach and the increasing Islamophobia in Russian society mean that he is likely to be less openly pro-Muslim than Putin has been.
On the one hand, Azimov said, the president-to-be almost certainly will not want to offend leaders in the West by being too openly pro-Muslim even though he like Putin will continue to seek allies in the Islamic world as the best way to limit and then counter the power of the United States.
And on the other, whatever his own views, Medvedev will be presiding over a bureaucracy that is “also part of our society, which, unfortunately, suffers not only from Islamophobia but also from many other types of xenophobia. These people upon coming to power will put [such ideas] into practice,” whatever the new Kremlin leader says.
Given that danger, both Muslim analysts said, Muslim leaders and ordinary Muslims must become more politically active not only to ensure that their voices continue to be heard but to ensure that Medvedev and other Russian leaders recognize that Muslims are on their way to becoming the majority of that country’s population.
Up to now, the two argued, Russia’s Muslim leaders have generally limited themselves to making declarations without taking the organizational steps necessary to have significant political influence, and they have relied on others to point to the demographic revolution rather than making the point themselves.
In other comments, the two suggested that Kosovo was not a precedent for Russia’s Muslims. But they agreed that separatism – for which they said there is no “objective” basis -- could grow “if the government does not recognize the importance” of supporting Muslim values and introducing some of the principles of shariat law.
The likelihood that Muslims will become more politically active in the short term, however, may not be that great. According to Moscow scholar Aleksey Malashenko, Muslims played absolutely no role in the current electoral campaign, thus continuing the decline in activism of the last decade (
“The peak of [their] political activity, which occurred during the elections of Boris Yeltsin and then Vladimir Putin has passed. It did not lead to anything. Now the power vertical has been built,” and the chances that any Muslim leader will challenge that are small. Of course, the same could be said of most other Russians as well.
However that may be, the comments of Avyazov and Azimov indicate that Muslims, like other citizens of the Russian Federation, will be watching what Medvedev does and whether any shifts in the policies he has inherited from Putin will benefit or alternatively harm them.
And if Muslims decide that the new president is moving in a direction they do not like, at least some of them may become more active again, either on the assumption that they have nothing to lose or alternatively in the belief that with demography going their way they may have a country to win.

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