Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Neighborhood ‘Seceded from Russia This Morning,’ Russian Comedians Joke

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 20 – In a bow to the classic British film “Passport to Pimlico,” comedians at a nightclub in Moscow now joke that “this morning Southern Butovo seceded from Russia,” a crack that a leader of the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party says is no laughing matter.
Since an article appeared in Komsomol’skaya pravda about the apparent formation of a Muslim neighborhood in Butovo (http://www.kp.ru/daily24002/4/81044) only five days ago, the Russian media have been filled with comments about this possibility ranging from the humorous and dismissive to the apocalyptic.
But yesterday, the Project Russia web page of United Russia queried two of its experts on what the rise of such a neighborhood or others like it could mean for the future. Their answers, now posted online, make a bow to humorous comments but themselves land squarely among the apocalyptic.
Given their close ties to President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s ruling party, their comments deserve attention as an indication of thinking in the Kremlin even if each of the two was careful to say that he was giving his own personal reaction rather than speaking for anyone else (http://rus-proekt.ru/nrpc/2459.html).
Andrei Tatarinov, a member of the political council of the Young Guard of United Russia, said his reaction to the rise of such neighborhoods was entirely negative. Referring to the joke about the secession of southern Butovo, he said “it turns out that there is not just a dollop of truth [in that remark] but the whole truth.”
“We don’t need Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist or other segregated quarters,” he continued. “So much time has already been devoted to laying the foundations for dialogue among various religious confessions, and yet again certain people are attempting to keep themselves apart and stop this conversation.”
“If they do not want to assimilate and live in our city like all the rest of us live, then why are they here at all?!” Tatarinov asked. And he concluded his response about such neighborhoods with the question, “what then is the difference between these neighborhoods and their native auls?”
The portal also asked Dmitriy Sokolov-Mitrich, a special correspondent with “Izvestiya” and someone close to the United Russia Party, for his views. His reaction to the appearance of neighborhoods in Russian cities was equally negative but longer and somewhat more thoughtful.
Like Tatarinov, he said that the appearance of a Muslim neighborhood in Moscow could have a domino effect, leading our religious and cultural groups to form their own. And that process, he suggested, “at the very least,” could contribute to “a sharpening of social conflicts.”
The “Izvestiya” correspondent suggested that a common culture is a most important support for the existence of a stable society and state and that such a culture is best produced among a country’s citizenry when its members live mixed together in a kind of “’melting pot’” rather than separately.
But, he continued, “if groups begin to settle in separate neighborhood and open cafes only for Muslims or only for Orthodox Christians, then this will contribute to the exacerbation of inter-ethnic or religious discord” both directly and by prompting other groups to insist on the same arrangements for themselves. .
Among the latter, he suggested, could be parts of the ethnic Russian majority. But of course, Sokolov-Mitrich noted, if restaurants of schools for Russians only appeared, almost certainly those behind them would be accused of “extremism,” even though the majority group in this case would only be doing what some of the minorities have.
Moreover, the journalist said, the formation of ethnic neighborhoods in the Russian capital would eliminate “one of the few superior features” Moscow enjoys in comparison to “other world capitals – the absence of ghettos and the existence of a certain common kasha in which everyone lives together.”
“Why does it appear,” he asks rhetorically, that we seem “to need the same problems which New York and Berlin now have?”
Without acknowledging it, the “Izvestiya” journalist pointed to one of the key reasons why the situation in Moscow is moving in that direction. All too often, Russian officials block efforts by minorities to open religious and cultural institutions, and thus members of those groups try to live where the few such institutions actually exist.
Such clustering, of course, could be prevented were the state either to permit minority groups to open such institutions wherever they want did so, they would face anger among many Russians unhappy about such changes to the face of “their” city.
And because the political costs of doing the one thing that could prevent the emergence such ethnic neighbors are so high, few in the pro-Kremlin party are likely to be willing to pay them, at least during this election season. And as result, the process these two men fear so much is likely to accelerate.

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