In an interview with "Radio Mayak" on August 22, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who oversees external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, said the term "rossiyanin" -- which refers to Russian citizens but not necessarily to ethnic Russians -- was "artificial."
Instead, Kirill said all Russian citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, should be referred to as "russky."
Rinat Nabiullin, deputy chairman of the World Congress of Tatars, told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service today that the comments are part of a troubling trend.
"Father Kirill's statement is quite a dangerous," Nabiullin said. "I can't imagine that he would have made it without consulting [with higher church authorities]. It shows that a new phase of a rather dangerous policy is starting to be implemented now. If it continues, it will be very scary."
Likewise, Yunis Kamaletdinov, leader of the Tatar Public Center, said the comment reflects growing nationalist sentiment among ethnic Russians.
"This idea is similar to a very popular one in Russia now: Russia only for Russians," Kamaletdinov said. "Every nation in Russia -- Tatars, Chuvash, Mordvas, Chechens, peoples of Daghestan -- has the right to live its own life, to develop its culture. Metropolitan Kirill seems to speak about sweeping those cultures away and substituting them with only Russian culture."
According to 2002 census, ethnic Russians account for approximately 80 percent of Russia's population. With nearly 4 percent of the population, Tatars make up the second-largest ethnic group.
Russia's Changing Face
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."
LISTENListen to the entire briefing (about 85 minutes):
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THE COMPLETE PICTURE: To view an archive of all of RFE/RL's coverage of Russia's North Caucasus, click here.