Sunday, October 3, 2010

Window on Eurasia: New Bashkir Head Takes Direct Control of Religious Affairs Agency

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 3 – Reflecting the deterioration in relations between Ufa and the Muslims of Bashkortostan, the new republic head has renamed and taken direct control of the agency responsible for supervising religious affairs there, a move that could presage similar changes in other Muslim republics of the Russian Federation.
Like most of these republics, Bashkortostan has had a Council for Religious Affairs attached for the republic government since the end of Soviet times, but now the new republic president, Rustem Khamitov, has renamed it the Council for Government-Inter-Confessional Relations and attached it to his own office (
Vyacheslav Pyatkov, the head of the council, told the news agency that Khamitov was devoting particular attention to religious affairs because “a constructive dialogue between the state and the representatives of various confessions is important in our days as never before.”
On the one hand, he said, “the reorganized Council has been dealing with the resolution of a large number of problems” left over from the previous regime. But on the other, the Council chairman suggested, “Russia has encountered a global confessional problem. And this problem is Islam.”
“Of course,” Pyatkov quickly added, “the issue here is not in the religion itself.” But “unfortunately, there are people are trying to distort this religion and force it to serve their criminal goals,” with evidence coming in each day about “acts of force and terrorism which are carried out supposedly under the banner of Islam.”
Some of the responsibility for this development, he said, lies with the government “which not always and everywhere turns out to be capable” of dealing with the problems of young people. But “no less responsibility” for this trend is born by “spiritual leaders” who have failed to act in ways that assure them of “the necessary authority” among young people.
Such problems have been frequent in the Caucasus “for the last two decades,” Pyatkov continued, “but in recent times such organizations under the cover of Islam have sought to develop their activity also on the territory of our republic, a region where the followers of Islam and Christianity have lived in peace and harmony already more than 450 years.”
Indeed, the Council head said, “the events of last summer show that attempts at the explosion of gas pipelines and the murders of imams are completely possible also with us,” in Bashkortostan, a danger that the state and the spiritual leaders must oppose lest “such pseudo-religions survive in our society.”
“Our task,” he continued, “is to introduce ideological order in the republic. Although on the whole we have such order.” Among the most problematic areas, he said, are those far from the capital of the republic in which there is now “a far from simple economic and spiritual situation.”
Pyatkov added that “of course, the struggle with bandits which plant explosive devices on gas pipelines will be conducted by law enforcement organs and the special services.” The Council on State-Inter-Confessional Relations will use “more peaceful” means and conduct “an ideological struggle” through meetings and the media.
Pyatkov suggested that his agency would focus on the young so that those entering on adulthood would reflect before entering a path of extremism that could lead them to “nothing except punishment and shame.” And he stressed that “a believer is a patriot,” who will “never turn arms on his fellow citizens.”
But even as Pyatkov was giving his interview, some 120 Muslims, most of them young, were assembling in Ufa to protest what they said were “an increasing number of arrests” and also “illegal actions toward them from the side of the state organs,” including the arrest of publishers and editors (
And while most of the protesters were restrained in their criticism, some shouted “Allah is Great,” carried the flag of Saudi Arabia (the homeland of Wahhabism), and called for an end to “falsification of criminal cases against Muslims.” Not unimportantly, no representatives of the official Muslim establishment were present.
This combination of greater official attention to Muslims and greater activism among Muslims in opposition to the actions of the state suggest that Bashkortostan, long noted for the relative peace among its historically moderate Muslim community, may be changing in ways that point to more clashes ahead.

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