Monday, June 26, 2017

Internet More Influential in Russian Regions than in Moscow, Schulmann Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 27 – Although the Internet came first to Moscow and the major cities, Yekaterina Schulmann says, now, “people in Russian regions spend more time on the Internet and on social media than do residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg,” exactly the opposite of what most people in the Russian capitals think.
            The senior scholar at the Presidential Academy of Economics and State Administration says on Radio Sol that “in the regions, the audience is larger than in the capitals and it spends more time there as well,” largely because “in the regions, there are many fewer means of obtaining information or finding entertainment” (

            And in this absence of numerous public spaces, Schulmann continues, “precisely the regional user” – especially in northern parts of the country – “is becoming more attentive, selective and thoughtful,” again exactly the opposite of the image of Russia beyond the ring road in the minds of Muscovites and most Western observers. 

Feuding Fetwas Creating Problems for Russia’s Muslims and Russian State

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – In many federal subjects of the Russian Federation, there are now multiple Muslim Spiritual Directorates each headed by a more or less independent mufti who has the authority to issue fetwas, the Arabic term for “legal opinions,” that are intended to guide the lives of Muslims.

            But as Islam has become more important in the lives of the Muslims of Russia, that has created a problem for them as well as one for the Russian state. Muslims have the option to choose among the fetwas on offer, many of which contradict each other, and the Russian state is faced with uncertainty about just what advice even Russian-based muftis are giving.

            That is not a new problem or exclusively a Russian one. Within Islam, believers are remarkably free to choose which fetwas they consider authoritative; and in Russia, there have long been complaints about the absence of any one single Muslim “patriarch” or “pope” who alone can speak with legal authority.

            However, this problem has been compounded in Russia by three factors: the remarkable and largely uncontrolled growth in the number of MSDs which has meant that in most federal subjects there is more than one, the impact of foreign missionaries and scholars on the Muslims of Russia, and the low – thanks to Soviet oppression – level of religious knowledge among them.

            In a comment for Radio Liberty, journalist Lyubov Merenkova describes the problem this way: Within Islam, “there is no clear structure in which one body is subordinate to another and fulfills the directives of the one above it. No one has the right to issue fetwas which operate on the entire territory of the country. And while there is a supreme mufti, he is no more ‘supreme’ than the leaders of other major Muslim organizations of Russia” (

            Further complicating this situation, she continues, is the fact that it is enshrined in state law which allows believers to form a primary organization and then any three of these have the right to form a superordinate one on their own. 

            At present, according to the MSD of the Russian Federation which is within the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR), there are 136 superordinate Muslim organizations or MSDs of various titles (  But that list is clearly incomplete. It doesn’t include, for example, the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia which was set up in November 2016.

                Four institutions, what some call the super-MSDs because they include other MSDs as members, are recognized as especially authoritative: the SMR, the Central MSD, the Coordination Center for Muslims of the North Caucasus and the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia – although one commentator says there are now really seven that deserve that ranking (

            “From a legal point of view,” Merenkova continues, “all these structures are parallel and their leaders have equal rights.” But in reality, they don’t even control the actions of their subordinate MSDs and muftis in many cases. (The head of the Central MSD calls himself and is called by others “the supreme mufti” only because his body is the heir to the original MSD created in tsarist times.)

            That is creating legal chaos within the Muslim community. In some small places, there may be several MSDs represented and their muftis may have issued fetwas which contradict one another. In one village, the journalist there, there often are “three organizations” and so Muslims are free to choose which fetwa they will be guided by.

            And there is no clear way out, Marenkova says. Not only are Muslim parishes free to exit existing MSDs and create new ones, but existing MSDs are free to ignore the super-MSDs of which they are a part or even shift from one of these to another at their complete discretion. There is little those above can do to stop that.

FSB Seeking to Block or Control All Links Between Russians and Emigration, Melikhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – Like the KGB in Soviet times, the Russian FSB is seeking to block or take control of any links between Russians inside the Russian Federation and the emigration, according to Vladimir Melikhov who was recently convicted and sentenced for trying to promote such connections.

            Melikhov, an entrepreneur who founded two museums about the anti-Bolshevik resistance and has promoted the revival of Cossack identity, was convicted on June 13 of illegal possession of firearms even though the gun he had could not be fired and the bullets the authorities found were likely planted.

            The subject of a major profile in the New York Times five days ago (, Melikhov has now provided additional details about his views in an extensive interview taken by Boris Tseytlin for Moscow’s Rufabula portal (
Three of his comments are especially noteworthy:
First, Melikhov says that while he does not know the names of his persecutors, he is certain that they form “a group of FSB officials who are united about three main goals:” to break or take control of any ties between Russians inside the Russian Federation and Russians abroad, to “completely subordinate the Cossacks,” and to promote “a new Russian (or more precisely neo-Soviet) ideology” in which the state and its power are the central articles of faith.

            “After visiting our museums and memorials, people are left with no doubt that such an ideology will lead only to the degradation of society and the human personality and that it will be possible to avoid this degradation only when the Individual is put at the center of the construction of the state.”

            Given those goals, he says, it was absolutely impossible that he would not be targeted; and the state’s campaign against him began long before he erected the statue at Lienz, Austria, in memory of the forcible deportation of the Cossacks to Stalin’s Russia. That was simply the last straw.

            Second, Melikhov argues that suggestions that young people “are ceasing to consider themselves ethnic Russians … is not entirely so.”  What they are rejecting is the Russianness as defined and offered by the existing regime.  That is something “many young people” simply won’t accept.

            Unfortunately, “they do not know any other ‘Russianness’ because the education of our society including of young people does not allow anyone to seriously focus on this. On the contrary.” The state with its siloviki and secret services does everything it can to make sure that people within the borders of the Russian Federation have only one definition.

            Young people will return to that identity when it is redefined, when “conditions are established for creative activity and for the education of the young” about “that tragic path and the clarification of the errors which were committed in the preceding century, Melikhov concludes.

            And third, he argues, precisely because “the state of semi-collapse” was built into the Russian Federation from the very beginning by its authoritarian and hyper-centralist approach, “the Kremlin vertical is creating the very conditions that will make this collapse happen ever sooner.”

            But what is especially tragic, he says, is that “the longer this structure of administration will exist in Russia, the greater will be the probability of this collapse.”