Friday, February 13, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Economic Crisis Limits Moscow’s Ability to Help Russia’s Muslims, Kremlin Aide Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 13 – As a result of the economic crisis, the Russian government-backed Foundation for the Support of Islamic Culture, Science and Education fell short of its fund-raising goals last year and will likely not meet its new and higher target figure in 2009, according to a Kremlin aide who helps administer the group.
In 2008, Aleksei Grishin, an advisor in the Presidential Administration, said in an interview published in the February issue of “Islam Minbare,” the foundation was able to raise about 90 percent of its goal of approximately six million US dollars and is likely to fall short of its goal of expanded goal of nine million US dollars in 2009.
He laid the blame for this situation on the financial crisis which has restricted the ability of private-sector donors to meet the commitments they had made because of straitened circumstances, and he said that the foundation will adapt accordingly, funding projects according to their ranking on its own priorities (
At the top of the foundation’s list have been and remain science and education, Grishin said, and “financing of scientific and educational programs will not be reduced under any circumstances” – including those that promote “tolerance and mutual understanding” among various religions.
Other areas where Grishin said the foundation will not reduce spending and may even increase it include aid for Islamic publications, scholarships for Muslim students, support for families of “religious who have died in the struggle with extremism and terrorism,” and “the more important congresses, conferences and seminars.”
But unfortunately, the amount of money distributed to support Islamic religious organizations such as the Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) may fall somewhat, although Grishin indicated that the cuts would be kept at a minimum. One project that may have to be put off is a program to supply the muftiates with their own “mini-typography” machines.
Any cutbacks in this area, he said, would be doubly unfortunate. On the one hand, publications are “the face” of Russian Islam and the government would like that face to be “beautiful.” And on the other, there are now far too many “publications of an extremist direction” in Russia.
The foundation, which has its own website at, is not without problems of its own, Grishin admitted. Some of the organizations seeking grants have to be disqualified because their operations have liens against them. Consequently, if the foundation gave them money, they would have to pay off loans rather than carry out programs.
Moreover, the foundation has had problems with its reporting requirements. On the one hand, the apparatus of the foundation has often been slow, but on the other, many grantees either provide inadequate reports or in the case of some no reports at all. Nonetheless, these groups continue to apply for more funds and expect to get them.
And finally, the foundation has watched with some horror the emergence of a class of people who offer to help for a fee various Muslim organizations applying to the foundation for grants. Such people, Grishin said, are in violation of the law, and his group has asked prosecutors to go after them.
The Kremlin aide said the foundation is working to tighten up its procedures to ensure that only “officially registered religious organizations” receive grants – although he acknowledged that in the past and perhaps in the future, some individuals (“physical persons,” in Russian legal parlance) get them as well.
And he stressed in conclusion that while this foundation is the first in the history of Russia to involve both the government and Muslim groups, “the government only provides moral support for its activity.” All funds come from the private sector, albeit at least in some cases on the direct recommendation of the government.
Grishin’s interview, one of the fullest discussions so far of the work of this foundation, is important because if the foundation reduces the amount of money MSDs and Muslim institutions in Russia receive this year and next from domestic sources, more of them may again look abroad for assistance.
If they do and if they receive it in any significant amount, that could both make these Islamic institutions more responsive to their often more fundamentalist foreign donors, thereby recreating the situation of the 1990s that the Foundation of which Grishin is a part was set up to ensure never happened again.
But if these Russian Islamic institutions do not get more funding from abroad at a time when they are getting less at home, then that creates another kind of crisis for Islam in Russia, one that could lead some groups to cease their existence, others to become more closely allied with the state, and still others to move in a more radical direction.

No comments: