Sergei Markedonov: There are a number of symptoms of growing destabilization. The first is the changing character of the political dangers Russia faces in the [North] Caucasus. If in the beginning of the 1990s, and until the middle of the 1990s, the main challenge for the Russian state in the Caucasus was ethnic nationalism, now the main danger is not ethnic nationalism, but radical Islam.
RFE/RL: Is this a new trend that is unique to the region, or has the same transformation been witnessed in other parts of the world?
Markedonov: The North Caucasus follows the same road traveled by North Africa and the Middle East. We can recall that the main terrorist groups in the '60s and '70s in North Africa and in the Middle East were secular nationalist groups. In the '80s and in the '90s the landscape changed and radical Islamic extremist groups became the most active.
RFE/RL: Is ethnic nationalism leaving the political scene in the North Caucasus as well?
Markedonov: One way or another, ethnic nationalism is a European phenomenon that was exported to eastern (Islamic) countries. As an ideology, as a discourse, it undergoes a certain crisis. On the other hand, the ethnic groups that came to power in the Northern Caucasus in the '90s 'privatized' authority -- isolating themselves and leaving the native nationalities they claimed to represent without a voice, and using them only as infantry troops for rallies.
RFE/RL: What are the specific characteristics of radical Islam in the region?
Markedonov: Radical Muslims are operating in a postcommunist society. The collapse of communism has left a niche for demands for social justice. Radical Muslims have occupied this niche of egalitarianism, the niche of social justice.
RFE/RL: Does Chechnya continue to be the main trouble spot for the Kremlin in the region?
Markedonov: Daghestan has become the leader in terrorist activities. Just last year it surpassed Chechnya in terms of the number of terrorist acts. Daghestan has become a territory in which Islamism is very active. Daghestan, has become a leader is this competition, shall we say, in this negative kind of competition.
(translated by Valentinas Mite)
THE COMING MUSLIM MAJORITY: On February 28, Russia expert PAUL GOBLE, vice dean of social sciences and humanities at Concordia-Audentes University in Tallinn, Estonia, gave a briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office. Goble said ethographers predict Russia will have a Muslim majority "within our lifetime." Since 1989, Russia's Muslim population has increased by 40 percent, Goble said, rising to some 25 million self-declared Muslims. He said 2.5 million to 3.5 million Muslims now live in Moscow, gving Moscow the largest Muslim population of any city in Europe. Russia today has more than 8,000 mosques, up from just 300 in 1991. By 2010, experts predict, some 40 percent of Russian military conscripts will be Muslims.
Goble noted that these changes have been accompanied by a "rising tide" of anti-Muslim prejudice. Public-opinion surveys reveal that up to "70 percent of ethnic Russians" express sympathy with xenophobic slogans. Goble warned that heavy-handed state efforts to "contain Islam" could backfire and cause groups to move underground, "radicalizing people who are not yet radicalized."
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