Friday, September 22, 2017

Islamization a Response to Urbanization in North Caucasus, Sokolov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – Urbanization in Daghestan and Kabardino-Balkaria has promoted Islamization because those undergoing this process have come to view Islam as a substitute for the rural communities they have lost and a defense against globalization, according to Denis Sokolov of the RAMSCON Research Center.

            This process has different meanings for difference generations and for men and women, for their emigration from the region and for the success of ISIS in the region , he details in his new research on “Fear and Honor of the Family as Fear and Honor of Men” (

            The status of men and women change dramatically with the shift from rural communities to cities, he says, with women gaining independence and status, often becoming the breadwinners and intellectual leaders of families, and men losing status, often without work and depending on their wives for income, Sokolov reports.

            Newly urbanized men often turn to Islam in order to try to restore their dominance, he continues, something that is often supported by older women (but not often by younger ones) who come to view Islam as a substitute for the community norms that have been undermined by modernization and globalization.

            “In the urban space,” he says, “Islam has become an instrument for the restoration and strengthening of the power of men.” But at the same time, “in Islamic families one sees the emancipation of women” as well, with shifting gender roles toward greater equality and partnership even if both accept Islam.

            A case in point is polygamy. In Soviet times, the shortage of men after the war made polygamy in the North Caucasus a logical necessity, Sokolov argues. Then it came to be justified by Islam. The older generation viewed second wives as “lovers” but the younger one wants to involve them in complete families.
            The first generation to grow up in urban areas is especially inclined to turn to Islam for social regulation, he continues. “On the one hand, they do not want to live according to the rules of rural communities. But on the other, the global world frightens them and they are not prepared to live according to its rules. Islam [thus] becomes the regulator.”

            Sokolov makes a variety of other points, three of which are especially intriguing. First, he says, the lack of opportunity for upward mobility by new arrivals from rural areas makes them a receptive audience for ISIS propagandists even if these North Caucasians are not radicalized more generally.

            Second, those in the North Caucasus who were radicalized in the early 2000s often had nowhere to go, a situation that led to a turning inward until they were able to travel to Iraq or Syria but that did not end the influence of radicalizing factors on younger generations in the North Caucasian cities.

            And third, “the several tens of thousands” of North Caucasians now in Turkey, a flow that “has intensified since 2013” are not in the main on their way to fighting for the Islamic State. Instead, Sokolov suggests, they have fled their homeland because they do not feel secure on the territory of the Russian Federation.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

In Soviet Times, Russian Children were More Like Adults; Now, Russian Adults are More Like Children, Psychologists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – Fifty years ago, Soviet psychologists conducted a major study of Russian children in the fourth and fifth classes; now, Russian psychologists have replicated that study and conclude that in Soviet times, Russian children were more like adults while now Russian adults are more like children. (

            The 1967 study was conducted by Daniil Elkonin, while the current one, which was based on an updated protocol of the first, has been carried out by Katerina Polivanova, the director of the Moscow Center for Research on Contemporary Childhood, journalist Kseniya Konyukhova reports in today’s Komsomolskaya Pravda (

            “In the 1960s,” one of Polivanova’s colleagues says, “fifth class pupils wanted that they be dealt with as adults, that their opinions be considered and that they be treated with respect … [Now] “childhood is a much more attractive period than adulthood, which they see as consisting of a multitude of obligations and lack of time.”

            “Soviet youths,” Polivanova continues, “showed themselves more focused on school. On the one hand, they took their studies seriously; but on the other, there were those who revolted, who protested against this and undervalued education.” Present-day pupils “do all their tasks accurately and on time” not because they are more obedient but because they’ve concluded it is “’cheaper’” to do so.

            The current generation of pupils is also less inclined to view whatever the teacher says as true. Another difference, researchers say, is that present-day pupils have far fewer responsibilities other than getting an education – and that is something their parents make clear they need to do to succeed in life.

            The reason school children have changed, the researchers say, is that “life itself has become different.” Few now work along a strict ladder of school-job-pension bur rather confront a world of various opportunities, and those opportunities can come at almost any age.  As a result, “the border between age groups is becoming less clearly defined.”

            And that in turn means that children and adults are more similar than they were 50 years ago.

Kremlin’s De-Monopolization of Force a Threat to the Regime, Latynina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – The Kremlin’s de-monopolization of force, a step forced upon it by the breakdown of its two previous chief supports, is creating a situation which threatens the regime itself, according to Yulia Latynina, a Russian commentator recently forced to move abroad as a result of violence directed against her person.

            Since the murder of Boris Nemtsov in February 2015, “quasi-state force has flooded Russia,” she says.  Most of those who carried out such attacks remained unpunished even if the evidence against them was overwhelming (

            The Russian economy remains monopolized by the state: 65 percent of it is in the hands of the government. But “instead of de-monopolizing the economy,” Latynina continues, “the Kremlin has de-monopolized its control of the means of force.”  Why did that happen now? she asks rhetorically. “Because all its remaining arguments [on its behalf] had failed.”

            “Until 2014,” she says, the Putin regime relied on two things to legitimate itself: oil dollars which allowed it to buy off almost everyone, and television which delivered its message and which almost everyone watched.  Those who weren’t bought off or who didn’t watch TV were not numerous enough to worry about.

            In that year, “the oil dollars ran out,” Latynina continues. “Formally, they ended after Crimea,” but she says that she believes that “Crimea was a preventive strike. Patriotism was supposed to replace the oil dollars” in maintaining the loyalty and support of the Russian population.

            But remarkably quickly, television, the chief propaganda arm of the Kremlin, began to lose its ability to define the situation, with ever more people turning away from it to YouTube, Facebook and VKontakte.  Moreover, the average age of those watching television has continued to climb: it is now 63. 

            Any authoritarian regime has two primary resources: the lie and force, Latynina points out.  “When the lie ends, force begins,” and one should not ever suggest that it will be ineffective. In fact, history shows that it can be extremely effective if it is used with sophistication and care.

            But at some point, “the effectiveness of force falls because it has been delegated to para-state structures,” she suggests.  The reason that states like Putin’s do that is because they want to have plausible or even implausible deniability, the ability to insist that they were not involved even when everyone knows they are.

            Ending the state’s monopoly on the use of force, however, entails “other problems.” One is that “in a contemporary state, those bearers of de-monopolized force are primarily the lumpen” because “no one, except the lumpen, dreams about a career as a street thug” and only rarely do they have such a career opportunity opened for them.

            But Putin’s war in the Donbass gave the lumpen a remarkable opportunity.  Many Russian lumpen flocked there because “what had earlier been considered a crime was now considered an act of glory.” The same thing holds for other nominally privatized uses of force in Russia. 

            “When these lumpen receive the chance to engage in force, then the elites begin to feel very uncomfortable -- and that goes for any elites including the financial, governmental and siloviki.”  That is the first thing that happens as a result of the de-monopolization of the use of force and it is no small one.

            The second result is that no one ever commits an act of violence for someone else. People engage in violence “always for themselves,” Latynina says; and as a result, “the de-monopolization of the force strengthen the position not of the Kremlin but of those who engage in such force.” Thus, “Chechnya is not the exception: it is the rule.”

            And it is the height of naivete to think that “any of the enthusiasts of present-day force want to serve the Kremlin. Each of them with the help of force wants to strengthen his own position.”

            A third thing about lumpen-driven force is that it is “especially effective when  it is applied in the name of the Big Lie, God, races, the Bright Future, when people are prepared not only to kill but to die,” and that opens the way to the spread of radical ideologies which may in the minds of some justify such a sacrifice.

            And finally, the Russian commentator says, there is one other aspect of this situation which must trouble the powers that be: any use of force “typically gives rise to a counterforce.  Yanukovich fell not when he began to shoot at the peaceful people but when the people began to shoot back.”

            With regard to this factor, Latynina concludes, recent figures “aren’t in the favor of the Kremlin.” In Omsk last week, 20 people came out to demonstrate against Mathilda, but 7,000 assembled to back opposition presidential candidate Aleksey Navalny.