Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Anti-Extremism Effort Targeting Ever More Groups

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 17 – Moscow has expanded the list of groups it is targeting in its anti-extremism campaign to include not only Islamists and religious “sectarians” as in the past but now also football fans, independent trade unions, and environmental activists, according to a Moscow expert on the Russian force structures.
In the latest of her series of articles in “Yezhednevny zhurnal” on the Russian government’s anti-extremist effort, Irina Borogan of today discusses the original list of “extremists” the powers compiled and how that list has grown as the economic crisis in Russia has deepened (
On December 16, 2008, she reports, the Russian Procuracy General, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) issued a joint order “on improving work for preventing and interdicting the activity of social and religious groups disseminating ideas of national hostility and religious extremism.”
That document, Borogan says, which says that “extremist manifestations have become one of the main factors creating threat to the national security of the Russian Federation” thus represents “guidance for the actions of the force structures.” And the list contained therein provides the clearest indication yet of what the authorities define as “extremism.”
The first category on the list is “extremism under cover of Islam,” a grouping that includes “Muslim communities and preachers not dependent on the Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs),” institutions into which the FSB and MVD have often inserted themselves to control all Muslims.
The idea that any Muslim not part of the MSD-supervised structures was underscored by Yury Kokov, the head of the MVD Department for the Prevention of Extremism, who said at the time of the Nalchik violence in October 2005 that young Muslims who refused to subordinate themselves to the MSD there had thereby “transformed themselves” into anti-Moscow militants.
Next on the list in this document, Borogan continues, are “followers of pagan cults, which are already prohibited as extremist for their use of the swastika and ‘a number of other [religious] organizations.” But she says, the Expert Council for Conducting State Religious Expertise at the Ministry of Justice seems set to broaden this category significantly.
Headed by self-described “sektoved” Aleksandr Dvorkin, this group seems inclined to treat as extremist almost all religious groups not subordinate to the MSDs or to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Among the “totalitarian sects” Dvorkin has already pointed to are the Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, and Mormons.
According to Borogan, the MVD “at present does not have any opinion” on this given “how difficult it is to find evidence of a crime” in normal course of religious activities. But she says, “the FSB on the contrary is trying … to interfere in the activity” of religious groups in order to prevent them from emerging as “terrorist” threats.
The FSB, she says, has been behind the Russian government’s efforts to ban the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi as “extremist,” not so much because “the doctrine of the sufi theologian agitates the leadership of the special services” but rather because the FSB fears “the growing influence” of Turkish activist Fetulla Gulen in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.
Next on the December 2008 list, Borogan notes, are “participants in informal youth groups,” a category that would seem far from politics but one the powers that be are increasingly focused on. And following that are “opposition parties and movements,” a category that will not surprise anyone familiar with Russian government attitudes.
In addition to this list, the order adopted at the end of last year calls for the monitoring of the Internet and “the neutralization and unmasking of groups whose members are inclined toward extremism,” a definition so elastic that the siloviki can go after any group any member of which can be deemed to be “inclined” to extremism.
Borogan reports that “already this spring it became obvious that the siloviki intend to broaden the list” of extremist groups enumerated in the December 2008 order. On April 15, Aleksey Sedov, the FSB official responsible for the defense of the constitutional order and the struggle with terrorism, made a presentation to the Social Chamber.
At that time, he said that “it is necessary to consider the consequences of the world financial crisis as a catalyst of the possible activation of terrorist activity and the growth of extremist manifestations, including the use of force by various types of ‘disagreeing’ extra-systemic opposition and among young people and students.”
From that, it is entirely understandable that the siloviki are now focusing on independent trade unions lest they launch a wave of strikes and warning the leaders of such groups that they risk being charged with extremism as Petr Zolotaryev, the head of the VAZ Union, was already in April.
But what is perhaps most disturbing, Borogan notes in conclusion, is that the Russian force structures are increasingly prepared to define as extremist social groups far from politics, including people who have lost money in the financial crisis or who want to defend the environment, as being “extremist.”
With such an expansionist and elastic definition of the word, the Russian government is putting itself in a position to charge anyone it does not like with extremism, thus violating not only the provisions of the Russian Constitution but also all of the undertakings Moscow has made as a signatory to various European and international rights accords.

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