Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has formally denied that all young males in Chechnya will be required to obtain a "spiritual-moral passport" registering details of their religious beliefs.
The previous day, February 18, the Chechen parliament website and the official news agencies Chechnya Today and Grozny-Inform had reported plans to introduce such documents for 14-to-35-year-olds at Kadyrov's behest in the interests of cracking down on "terrorism" and "extremism," the blanket terms applied in Chechnya to the Salafi Islam espoused by both the North Caucasus insurgency and the Islamic State (IS) militant group, and the acts of violence committed by members of those groups.
Dismissing as "fantasies" articles citing the planned introduction of such documents, Kadyrov stressed that "there is only one passport in our country -- [that of] a citizen of Russia!" Several Moscow-based analysts have suggested that Kadyrov was constrained to make that statement under pressure from the Kremlin, given that such requirements would violate the Russian Constitution.
The new "passport" was reportedly to contain the bearer's name; nationality; ancestry (all Chechens are expected to know their family line dating back seven generations); clan (teyp); what strain of Islam he professes; and, assuming that he is a Sufi, the "vird" (brotherhood) to which he belongs. It would also contain the names of those people "responsible" for the holder's actions, in line with Kadyrov's periodic threats to hold the families of suspected Islamic militants responsible for crimes they commit.
Russian researcher Denis Sokolov criticized the initiative as illegal and reminiscent of the writings of British novelist George Orwell.
Svetlana Gannushkina, who heads the NGO Civic Initiative, pointed out that it contravened Article 24 of the Russian Constitution, which prohibits the gathering of personal information without the individual's consent, and Article 26, which says no one can be forced to divulge his or her nationality. Varvara Parkhomenko of the International Crisis Group (ICG) said it also violated Article 28 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of belief.
Battling 'False Ideologists'
First to go public with details of the purported "passport" scheme was Chechen parliament deputy Adam Malikov. Addressing secondary-school students on February 18, he reportedly said it was both expedient and timely, given that "young people today are subjected to the attacks of supporters of extremist groups who try to poison their consciousness with false ideas."
Malikov was not quoted in published accounts of the meeting as explicitly mentioning IS. But parliament deputy speaker Shaid Zhamaldayev delivered a similar message to a gathering of heads of communities on the outskirts of Grozny the same day. According to Zhamaldayev, "Chechen young people are being subjected to active attacks on the part of false ideologists whose impact and influence on the minds of the generation now growing up is becoming stronger by the day." Zhamaldayev went on to underscore Kadyrov's efforts "to prevent young people being drawn into the whirlpool of horrific events taking place today in the Near East."
Other, unidentified speakers at that meeting touched on the issue of parental responsibility, affirming that "parents should keep tabs on where and with whom their children spend the time when they are not studying, and also know which social networks they visit."
Kadyrov's seeming obsession with imposing on the Chechen population his own interpretation of both "traditional Islam" and recent Chechen history has been one of the leitmotifs of his political credo since Russian President Vladimir Putin first appointed him Chechen leader nine years ago.
In 2012-13, for example, Kadyrov decreed the compilation and propagation of a Single Concept Of Spiritual-Moral Upbringing intended primarily to discredit and effectively counter the Salafi Islam professed by the North Caucasus insurgency that was headed at that time by a Chechen, Doku Umarov.
Speaking in February 2013 at a conference in Grozny devoted to the Single Concept, Kadyrov declared that "today our enemies are working actively online, trying to recruit young people and deflect them from the correct path." He stressed the need for young people "to remember who you are, and not fall prey to their false ideas."
Upwards of 59,000 lectures and pep talks have been organized over the past three years to inculcate the Single Concept. Those measures have apparently not had the desired effect, however. Many young Chechens still eschew Kadyrov's idiosyncratic reinvention of Chechen Sufism in favor of Salafism, which they consider purer. Chechen media regularly report the detention of young men whose appearance (in particular a long beard and a clean-shaven upper lip) gives grounds for suspecting them of Salafi sympathies.
Meanwhile, the military and ideological threat posed by Umarov and his Caucasus Emirate has been eclipsed and superseded by that of IS, which Kadyrov clearly takes just as seriously. Evaluating that threat in October 2015, he blamed the exodus of young Chechens to Syria to fight in the ranks of IS to inadequate counterpropaganda, and tasked district heads with reporting on a weekly basis what specific measures they had taken to prevent local youngsters from succumbing to the pernicious influence of IS recruiters.
The announcement of the planned new "moral-spiritual passports" was preceded by a series of high-level meetings convened by Kadyrov to discuss how to thwart those who propagate "terrorism and extremism." On February 12, he disclosed that police and members of the clergy had identified and apprehended a group of individuals who had created a website to propagate "Wahhabism, extremism, and terrorism." Kadyrov reportedly posted footage of the group on his Instagram account, but their identity has not been divulged.
While denying the reported plans for introducing "spiritual-moral passports," Kadyrov stressed the need for closer cooperation between society and the police in order "to save young people from the influence of extremists and terrorists." He added that that threat "does not emanate only from Syria."
Moscow-based analysts were not convinced by Kadyrov's denial, which they construed as an attempt to save face. Parkhomenko suggested that the Chechen authorities may opt instead for the long-standing practice in neighboring Daghestan of maintaining police registers of persons suspected of Salafi sympathies. (Their number is estimated at some 100,000 of a total population of just under 3 million.)
That approach has only served to compound the antagonism between Daghestan's Sufi and Salafi communities, and is unlikely to yield the desired results in Chechnya. On the contrary, stricter monitoring of religious affiliation is more likely to alienate disaffected young Chechens and contribute to their exodus to join the ranks of IS.