Staunton, January 19 — Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s aspirations to be the leader of Russia’s Muslims threatens the stability and unity of the Russian Federation by exacerbating conflicts between Moscow and the predominantly Muslim non-Russian republics and by intensifying concerns among Russians about what Kadyrov’s efforts mean for Russia.
That conclusion is suggested but not made by Valery Solovey, an MGIMO professor, about what Kadyrov is doing and how it will play out as the Chechen leader seeks to mobilize Muslims in defense of what he sees as sacrilegious attacks on Islam in Paris and elsewhere.
Solovey begins with a discussion of the fact that in the West, freedom of speech now has priority over religious feelings, a development that he says “does not mean that in the West there is no Christianity” at all as some Russians think. In reality, “there are a lot of believers in Europe, more than in Russia in fact.”
But European societies are places “where Christian values already are not absolutes … but only one of several value systems. And as such, they can be criticized and even laughed about,” Solovey says.
In other societies, which are “not so secular and not so religious as the Western ones, such a situation is impermissible,” and the West’s failure to give primacy to religious values over civil rights is viewed as a weakness, even though Solovey argues that it is in fact a source of the strength of those countries.
Russia occupies a special place, he continues. It “also is a post-Christian society, possibly even more post-Christian than Western society is,” something Solovey says he “regrets.” Russian society is “not agnostic; it is a pagan society” in which people combine all sorts of beliefs and think they are being consistent much like the Roman Empire of the first and second centuries.
The Orthodox Church “enjoys authority” and in fact “is perhaps the only institution in Russia” besides “the institution of presidential power” which does so. “But it is very difficult to call Russians Christian; the majority of them are pagans.” But at the same time, Russians live next to an increasingly large Muslim community.
That community is “crystallizing” and from the point of view of many Russian “Christian pagans,” the Muslims appear as a militant group who are “presenting a certain cultural and value alternative.” That frightens Russians even though “the overwhelming majority in Russia” remains “nominally” Orthodox or followers of other faiths.
That is what makes what Kadyrov is doing so disturbing. His holding of a mass meeting in Grozny is “not a religious meeting; it is a political manifestation.” And Kadyrov is “aspiring not simply to defend Islam, he is aspiring neither more nor less … to be the political leader of Islam in Russia.”
That will not promote the possibility of dialogue between Russia’s Orthodox and Russia’s Muslims, Solovey continues. When Russians view reports about Kadyrov’s meeting, they will ask themselves “why is this possible in Grozny but why the holding of meetings in defense of [Russian] values is banned in Moscow and St. Petersburg?”
And they will ask as well: why should Chechens or Muslims more generally have that right when Russians don’t?
“When Russians see hundreds of thousands of people at this meeting in Grozny, it will not elicit the very warmest feelings about those taking part,” Solovey says, because Russians have anything but a warm attitude toward Chechens. And they will also be concerned about what it means that a head of republic is showing his ambition to be the political leader of Islam in Russia.