22 September 2003, 21:48

Islamic socio-political movements in Russia

Launched by the perestroika, the democratization of various aspects of social life in the country, an upsurge of the national morale of peoples and, related to this, the religious renaissance process in regions where Islam was traditionally widespread have led to the emergence of various Muslim socio-political parties and movements. The Ittifak/Ittifaq party (Tatarstan) and Islamic Democratic Party (Dagestan) have manifested themselves in the most remarkable way at the regional level. Major federal statements have been made by the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP; created in June 1990 in Astrakhan); the Union of Russian Muslims, a nationwide socio-political movement (set up in May 1995 in Moscow); Nur ("Light"; set up in May 1995 in Moscow); and Russian Muslims (set up in April 1996 in Saratov). The IRP that has generated a group of similar parties in some former Soviet republics has not found a substantial social base in Russia. One of the main reasons for this is that wide Muslim public did not support the party's goal proclaimed by several party leaders that consisted in creating an Islamic state using Iran's experience. Participation of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party, born inside the IRP, in the armed bloody fight for power in that country contributed to further decline of Russian Muslim's trust in the party, so many Russian analysts think that it has "passed away quietly and in private."

Members of the mentioned nationwide Muslim movements flatly reject the radical positions leaders of the IRP and its offices in the regions stuck to. The movements' key goals, as formulated in their platforms, consist in uniting the Russian Muslims and representatives of national minorities for comprehensive contribution to the nation's recovery from crisis; its rebirth as a great power; creation of required conditions for the reproduction of the ethnic life of Muslim peoples and other national minorities in all its richness; and preservation and development of their national cultures, languages, and traditions. All the three movements advocate the extant national integrity of the Russian Federation, which has taken shape historically; its development as a secular and constitutional state that would secure equal rights for all ethnic groups and equality of all religions and religious unions before the law; peaceful regulation of interethnic conflicts, problems arising between the center and the regions, and conflicts between the regions.

Supporting development of a socially-oriented multiform economy based on the equal operation of all forms of property (private, government, municipal, and cooperative), members of the movements also advocate a substantial correction of the government's line of economic reforms in favor of the majority of the population; they say reforms should lead to a rise in production and the welfare of every family instead of leading to the collapse of industrial, scientific, and technological potential.

The movements' platforms reflect general tasks such as: a) study, expression and consistent protection of political, economic and social interests of the Russian Muslims; b) fighting for achieving a proportional representation of Muslim peoples in government institutions at all levels, local government, and mass media; c) protection of the extant structure of the nation and government codified by the Federative Treaty and Constitution of the Russian Federation; resolute rejection of plans for "provincialization" of the country, as well as proposals for turning Russia into an Orthodox power; d) fighting for the declaration of days off on the most important Muslim holidays in those Russian regions where the Muslim population is substantial in number. The movements advocate development of integration processes within the CIS; expansion of mutually advantageous cooperation between Russia and Asian and African nations, especially Muslim states.

All the three movements come out resolutely in support of good relations between religious groups and business cooperation between adherents of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism, in all areas of social life; they do demonstrate such cooperation in practice, especially in peacekeeping and humanitarian activities.

Unlike the IRP whose leaders with some reservations opposed both Muslim spiritual boards and the leaders of mosques operating on a legal basis, the above-mentioned movements are prepared for extensive interaction with the "official" clergy and Islamic institutions loyal to the government. It is therefore no wonder the number of their supporters rapidly increased. Their unswerving stance on issues of regulating the conflict in Chechnya facilitated even greater popularity of these movements.

The experience of operation of the above-stated movements provides evidence that the Muslim public en masse is centrist and afraid of radicalism. Attempts to guide these movements towardss close cooperation with the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) ended in failure. Politicians with close links to the LDPR from among the founders of Nur and the Union of Russian Muslims were democratically removed from government of the corresponding movements.

Allowing for the common social base and key goals and tasks of the mentioned Muslim public movements, three likely scenarios of their development can be forecast. The first suggests their rapprochement and merger in one moderate centrist movement with prospects for turning into a political party that may become one of the elements of the developing civil society. A number of local offices of these movements are persistently voicing such suggestions. The second scenario implies intensifying competition between the movements for the sake of satisfying ambitious interests of a certain part of their leaders. The result will be the weakening of the movements, their loss of support from ordinary Muslims, and "fading away" of their activity. The third suggests radicalization of the movements under the influence of intensifying interethnic and religious conflicts and grave violations of the constitutional principles of separation of religious unions from state and equality of all of them before the law. Which of the scenarios will the country's active nationwide Muslim movements follow? In many respects, this depends on the ability of authorities to ensure the implementation of the constitutional principles of equality of peoples, separation of religious unions from state, and equality of all of them before the law. Sure enough, the position the leaders of the Muslim movements will take up will also play an important role.

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