Below are a few news items from the last week about developments in the post-Soviet space that have been overshadowed by the Georgian events but that merit attention.
MUSLIMS WIN 10 OF RUSSIA’S 23 GOLD MEDALS AT BEIJING GAMES. Muslims in the Russian Federation have been celebrating that their co-religionists won ten of the 23 gold medals the Russian team brought back from Beijing (www.islamnews.ru/news-13973.html). The percentage of Muslim winners is roughly twice the share of Muslims in the Russian population, something many Muslims see as a harbinger of the future. Especially pleased by this outcome were the Circassians, whose athlete won five of the ten medals Russia’s Muslims did (www.ingushetiya.ru/news/15342.html). The Russian umma is also well-represented on Russia’s Para-Olympic team: 20 of the members of that group which is headed to Beijing this week reportedly are Muslims and prayed at a mosque before departing for the Chinese capital (www.islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusnews/4282/).
IF MOSCOW RAISES PENSION AGE, FEW RUSSIAN MEN WILL LIVE TO COLLECT. The Russian government’s plan to raise the age at which Russians can retire will mean that many Russian men will never live to collect a pension. At present, the average life expectancy for men in the Russian Federation is under 58 and falling, a figure four to seven years younger than the new proposed retirement ages (www.flb.ru/info/44419.html).
NEW MUSLIM UNIVERISTY GRADS SWEAR TO FIGHT WAHHABISM. The pro-Kremlin Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Mufti Talgat Tajuddin required all 58 graduates of the Russian Islamic University to swear that they would never depart from the principles of the Hanafi rite of Sunni Islam and that they would always struggle against “Wahhabism and religious extremism in all its manifestations” (www.islamrt.ru/htm/news/news.htm#384).
ORTHODOX MONK PREDICTS CHINESE WILL OCCUPY YEKATERINBURG IN NOVEMBER, URGES RUSSIANS TO FLEE. An especially inflammatory example of religious commentary in the Russian Federation today is a prediction by the head of the Russian Orthodox monastery in Alatyr in Udmurtia that the Chinese are about to “seize” Yekaterinburg and that Russians should prepare to flee (www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=monitor&id=12695). His prediction and prescription for which there is no evidence has been making the rounds of Orthodox and Russian nationalist web sites and has even appeared in Moscow’s “Izvestiya” newspaper.
TATARSTAN INCREASES STATUS, RESPONSIBILITIES OF OFFICIALS WORKING WITH RELIGIOUS GROUPS. Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev has transformed his republic’s Council on Religious Affairs into an Administration for Religious Affairs, thus elevating its powers within the government. Shaimiyev did not change the leadership of this body, but its officials say that they will now focus on evaluating religious literature and academic programs for extremism (www.islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusnews/4224/). Two things make this action important: On the one hand, it will put additional pressure on Moscow to form a Council on Religious Affairs, something Muslims want but that the Orthodox Church opposes. And on the other, it will centralize in Tatarstan at least expertise on “extremism,” thus potentially limiting the power of prosecutors and judges to rely on whomever they want to reach their verdicts in such cases.
RUSSIANS CAN’T GET OFFICIAL DATA THEY’RE ENTITLED TO -- BUT CAN BUY THAT TO WHICH THEY AREN’T. According to an article in “Novyye izvestiya,” Russians are facing ever greater obstacles in obtaining government information that the law says they are entitled to. But at the same time, the paper reports, many officials are quite prepared to give them information the law says they are not supposed to have if they pay the necessary bribes (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-08-26/96698/).
FINNISH WRITER SAYS ESTONIA WILL ‘DISAPPEAR’ WITHIN TEN YEARS. A new book by a Finnish writer says that Estonia, which now has only 1.3 million people, will “disappear” in ten years or perhaps sooner, an argument that has been taken up by the Russian-language press there and one that could contribute to a deterioration of ethnic relations there (www.dzd.ee/?SID=2e72e885dfe61fc1059dc1c3887a0a1d&n=17&a=2790).
ETHNIC CONFLICTS ESPECIALLY LIKELY IN SMALL CITIES AND TOWNS, DPNI SAYS. The openly xenophobic Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) has published a survey of interethnic violence across the Russian Federation and says that serious ethnic conflicts occur far more often in Russia’s smaller cities and towns than they do in the larger cities, something that means that many human rights groups may be underreporting the number of such clashes because they do not have people on the scene outside of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other large urban areas (www.dpni.org/articles/kommentari/9805/)
REGION IN KARELIA SEEKS TO BE RECLASSIFIED AS ‘NATIONAL’ ONE. Residents of Pryzhinskiy rayon near Petrazavodsk have asked that their district be reclassified as a “national” one, an action that challenges Vladimir Putin’s ongoing drive to eliminate most ethnic autonomies and one that suggests ethnic groups in hitherto non-ethnic areas may follow suit (finnougoria.ru/news/index.php?ELEMENT_ID=7136). It is as yet unclear with the Karelian government will go along. According to the 2002 census, 37 percent of the district’s 18,224 residents were Karelians, 46 percent were Russians, six percent Finns, and 11 percent others.
PUSH FOR MOSCOW MEMORIAL FOR NADEZHDA MANDELSTAM CONTINUES. For some years, the admirers of the great Russian memoirist Nadezhda Mandelstam have sought to erect suitable memorials to her in Moscow and other Russian cities, but they have faced obstacles from officialdom. An article posted at www.polit.ru/dossie/2008/08/25/chron.html. Meanwhile, opposition leader Gari Kasparov says that a monument to murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya will be raised only after the fall of the current “bloody” Russian regime (http://www.sobkorr.ru/news/48B930B7C7DAD.html).
EUROPEAN STUDY OF EAST-WEST SPLIT DIVIDES WORLD INTO RED STATES BLUE STATES. A West European study of the ways in which countries have changed sides since the end of the Cold War includes maps which, extrapolating recent American practice, identify countries as “red states” or “blue states” (www.nr2.ru/pmr/192810.html). Those backing Moscow are shown in red, and there are a lot fewer of the red states today than 20 years ago.