Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Islam in Russia: Evolution in action?

Last month, The Globe and Mail of Toronto published a series of five reports by Graeme Smith, "Russia Shrinks", devoted to an examination of some of the demographic dynamics at work in the present Russian Federation: the high death rate, the suspicions of Chinese immigration, most worryingly the growth of violent racist youth gangs and paramilitaries. Smith's report of the 25th, the article "Tensions rise in Lenin's hometown" was particularly interesting, examining the growth of Christian-Muslim tensions across Russia through the prism of events in Ulyvanosk Oblast.

Abdul Karim, 26, knelt on the thick carpets of the mosque after evening prayers and described how his Russian neighbours are getting interested in the previously obscure study of demographics.

"They know the number of non-Christians is increasing," Mr. Karim said. "They're afraid Muslims will populate the whole country. Muslim families have three or four children. Russians have one. The math is simple. Naturally, they're afraid."

Russia is shrinking. Demographers predict the country will lose almost a third of its population in the next half-century. But some minorities, most notably the Muslims, are defying the trend -- and their flourishing numbers have revived ancient fears among the ethnic Russians about being overrun.

Russia doesn't officially count its religious minorities, but estimates of the country's Muslims range from 14 million to 23 million, or 10 to 16 per cent of the population. Despite the imprecise numbers, it's generally accepted the figure is growing quickly. Fifteen years ago, Russia had about 300 mosques; today, there are at least 8,000.


Smith goes on to observe that in Ulyanovsk Oblast, even as the total population has shrunk the Tatar Muslim population has grown sharply to reach 12% of the province's total population. He fits this into a general and growing hostility towards Muslims in Russia, precipitated by the bloody wars in Chechnya and exacerbated by the fact that Muslim populations in Russia are growing where non-Muslim populations are shrinking. Islam is newly visible in Russia, and this disturbs many. American observer Paul Goble has gone so far as to predict that Russia will become a Muslim-majority country, pointing out Russia's Muslim population has increased by 40% and claiming that anywhere from 2.5 million to 3.5 million Muslims now live in Moscow.

Gobel and others are quite correct in noting that Islam in the Russian Federation has become more prominent than ever before. However, contrary to what some people might believe, Islam in Russia has a long presence, extending at least as far back as the conquest of the regions of the Middle Volga in the 16th century, which brought the Tatars and related Turkic peoples on the Middle Volga into the Russian state. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Russian conquests in the North Caucasus brought the Muslim peoples of this region--Dagestanis, Circassians, Chechens, Ingush, and others--into the Russian state. Further afield, the independent states of Central Asia and Azerbaijan were brought into the Russian state as part of the same imperialist push that incorporated the North Caucasus. Total estimates on the size of Russia's Muslim population vary substantially, ranging from a low of 5% who describe themselves as practising Muslims to 17% who are of Muslim background. Suffice it to say that Russia's Muslim community is of much older vintage than the Muslim communities of other European countries, and that it is both absolutely and relatively much larger than any found in the European Union. If anything, the collapse of the Soviet Union has left Moscow with many fewer Muslims under its rule than it had for generations; if, as some suggest, the North Caucasian republics are allowed to drift away from Russia on the model of France's withdrawal from Algeria, the numbers will at least stabilize if they don't drop still further.

Will Russia be Islamized as the population of ethnic Russians shrinks while the Muslim populations grow? This depends on what one means by "Islamize." Certainly the profile of Muslims in Russia is going to increase sharply, as it has since the 1980s when the Muslim populations of what was then the former Soviet Union began to oppose the forced secularization and Russification of the Communist era. It would have to have risen--the sharp growth in the number of mosques has to be seen in the context of the general revival of religion in post-Communist Russia. Further, the fact that the Muslim population of the Russian heartland is growing sharply has to be seen in light of the fact that this area is not only richer than the Muslim areas of the North Caucasus, itself one of the poorest regions of the Russian Federation, but that the Russian heartland's relative wealth makes it a magnet for immigrants from across the former Soviet space and beyond. People from Kyrgyzstan are as likely to migrate to the Russian Federation as people from Moldova; life in isolated post-Soviet countries is equally hard regardless of whether the religion of the majority population is Islam. Too, it's worth noting that Muslim-majority former Soviet republics all exhibit TFRs lower than those exhibited in North America or Australasia in those continent's post-Second World War baby booms, often much lower; Soviet rule really did accelerate the demographic modernization of these areas.

Valery Tishkov and Valery Stepanov took an invaluable look at the evolution of the Russian population in their analysis of the 2002 Russian census. They noted that "[t]he overall number of Russians decreased by 3%, and their share in the country's population fell by 2%" owing to the aging of the Russian population, but further noted that this overall tendency towards population shrinkage was substantially compensated by the immigration of Slavs and by the assimilation of such ethnic minorities like Russia's Ukrainians, Chuvash, Mordovians, and Belarusians. Russia's Muslim populations did resist the tendency to assimilate somewhat: The country's substantial Tatar, Bashkir, and (surprisingly) Chechen populations did grow somewhat through natural increase, while immigration was responsible for the sharp growth of Kazakhs and Azeris. The Muslim peoples of the Russian Federation are only somewhat behind their non-Muslim counterparts in the demographic transition; as Nicholas Eberstadt noted in a September 2004 analysis ("The Russian Federation at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century: Trapped in a Demographic Straitjacket", PDF format), only the republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan seem to be at replacement levels of fertility. Even assuming that out-migration from Muslim-majority areas has artificially depressed measured fertility, Russian Muslims aren't having that many kids. If the Tatar women of Ulyanovsk really are all having three or four children, they're decidedly anomalous.

None of this means that the Russian population of 2050 is not going to be more Muslim in origins than the Russian population now. It certainly will be: Russian and Eurasian Muslims might be well advanced in the demographic transition, but population momentum inside the Russian Federation and migration from the Russian near abroad is going to push the total proportion up. I remain skeptical, given low rates of religious practice, high rates of intermarriage and assimilation, and the nature of Russia's Muslim community as an aggregate of multiple diasporas, that most of the Russian population is going to be made up of practising Muslims as some Russian Muslims predict. Like most former empires, Russia is a pretty effective melting pot: Even Tatarstan's relatively successful nation-building is weakened by the dispersal of most Tatars outside of Tatarstan and by the relatively high rates of assimilation inside that autonomous republic. Besides, given the apparent ascendancy of the ideology of Eurasianism in Russia, it's not at all obvious that a more strongly Muslim population will necessarily change that much, at least so long as obvious provocations are avoided on all sides and the full assimilation of Russian Muslims as equal citizens made possible.

Unfortunately, as Dora Apel warns at Open Democracy, the ascendancy of xenophobic and explicitly anti-Muslim ideologies in Russia and the Islamization of the Chechnya issue threaten to do just this. It goes without saying that this is a terrible mistake. Russia's population is projected to decline sharply in the generations to come, even with the demographic dynamism lent it by its Muslim populations. Especially with the prospect of western and central Europe offering better living and working conditions for potential migrants, Russia just cannot afford to exclude a large and growing share of its population. Frighteningly, it may do just that with obvious calamitous consequences for everyone involved. Here's to hoping that the best-case scenarios materialize.

18 comments:

Will Baird said...

In an amusingly related news story that's popped up:

Putin, unchallenged at home and due to step down in 2008 after two terms in office, zeroed in instead on Russia's catastrophic demographic situation, saying the population of the country was falling by 700,000 people every year.

"The problem of low birth rates cannot be resolved without a change in the attitude of our society towards the issue of family and family values," he said.

"We must at least stimulate the birth of a second child," Putin said, adding that concerns about housing, health care and education prompt many families to stop at one.

To loud applause from officials, he said a special program would be set up in the 2007 state budget that would make 1,500 rubles ($55.39) monthly payouts to families for their first baby and double that sum for a second child.

He called on the government to work more effectively to raise Russians' standard of living, and made a now customary -- though ineffective up to now -- dig at state corruption, saying that a number of officials "have enriched themselves at the cost of the majority of citizens."


From CNN

Scott said...

Yes, it is comical that a former KGB official has the nerve to mention "family values."

S.M. Stirling said...

In re: the increasing Russian hostility to Muslims, demographic projections have to take into account the great fact revealed in the past 100 years: "population is fungible".

exemplia gratia: there are 1/3 fewer living Chechens than there were 15 years ago.

Randy said...

Tishkov and Stephanov's analysis suggests otherwise. What is happening is a rapid diaspora of the Chechen population from its North Caucasian homeland to other points: Russian cities, points elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, even the European Union. In the light of their analysis, absent citations I'd have to be skeptical of a one-third fatality rate.

Anonymous said...

it is comical that a former KGB official has the nerve to mention "family values"

Why?

Anonymous said...

Because everyone knows, all former KGB agents are cold hearted murderous barbarians who feel no love or sympathy, have no families, and care only for the destruction of everyone and everything!!

Of course then we must ignore the fact that Putin is married and has two children, but ignoring facts and replacing them with movie inspired stereotypes is what some people do best.

Edward Hugh said...

"Of course then we must ignore the fact that Putin is married and has two children"

Sorry, I'm not sure I get your point. Are you simply saying that instead of:

"all former KGB agents are cold hearted murderous barbarians who feel no love or sympathy, have no families, and care only for the destruction of everyone and everything!!"

we should be saying:

"all former KGB agents are cold hearted murderous barbarians who feel no love or sympathy, and care only for the destruction of everyone and everything!!"

Or are you trying to say he isn't an autocrat but a nice guy. Of course Al Capone was also very much a family man. It depends simply on which type of family you are talking about.

Really the big tragedy in all of this is that it is always the Russian people who get to pay for the broken plates. Right now inflation is spiraling onwards and upwards out of control, fuelled largely by a shortage of suitably trained and educated men and women ready willing and able to meet the needs of a modern growing economy, and a large part of the explanation for this state of affairs is the demographic problem.

Anonymous said...

"Or are you trying to say he isn't an autocrat but a nice guy. Of course Al Capone was also very much a family man. It depends simply on which type of family you are talking about."

No, I'm saying that you shouldn't stereotype someone based on their (former) job, especially when you know absolutely nothing about the job in the first place aside from propaganda and rumors you've heard from 3rd party sources. The whole "ooohh KGB evil killers" bit is getting old, and quite juvenile in my opinion.

As for inflation, I'd hardly consider a slight rise in the midst of overall improvement as "spiraling out of control". Further, it's predicted to drop about 4% by 2008. That's one strange looking spiral.

Edward Hugh said...

"As for inflation, I'd hardly consider a slight rise in the midst of overall improvement as "spiraling out of control". Further, it's predicted to drop about 4% by 2008. That's one strange looking spiral."

Who predicts this low level of inflation? I certainly don't. Read my article. Getting inflation down with current levels of growth is impossible due to the population structure. This will only stop when it crashes. This is the whole point of this article here, not the personal background of the leader, but the fact that the country is running out of people.

Ukraine, which has a similar issue, just hit 19% y-o-y yesterday. There is no easy fix here, which is why Russia needs to come in from the cold and start to dialogue with the ROW. To do that it needs to create a political class which is more compatible with modern democratic standards. If it fails to do that - and this is a possibility - then it will simply die.

Edward Hugh said...

"As for inflation, I'd hardly consider a slight rise in the midst of overall improvement as "spiraling out of control". Further, it's predicted to drop about 4% by 2008. That's one strange looking spiral."

Who predicts this very low level of inflation? I certainly don't. I have written an extended and detailed analyis of current Russian economic dynamics: Russian Inflation, Too Much Money Chasing Too Few People? Read my article. Getting inflation down with current levels of growth is impossible due to the population structure. This will only stop when it crashes. This is the whole point of this article here, not the personal background of the leader, but the fact that the country is running out of people.

Ukraine, which has a similar issue, just hit 19% y-o-y yesterday. There is no easy fix here, which is why Russia needs to come in from the cold and start to dialogue with the ROW. To do that it needs to create a political class which is more compatible with modern democratic standards. If it fails to do that - and this is a possibility - then it will simply die.

Anonymous said...

Who predicts this? The experts. Not to take anything away from what you wrote, as I'm sure it's very interesting and I will look it over, but I'll take the official word over a bloggers analysis any day.

http://en.rian.ru/russia/20080131/98079867.html

"MOSCOW, January 31 (RIA Novosti) - Inflation in Russia hit 2.2% in January, the finance minister said on Thursday."

..."At the same time, Kudrin said the Russian government intended keeping inflation within the projected figure of 8.5% in 2008."

Anonymous said...

"To do that it needs to create a political class which is more compatible with modern democratic standards"

Democracy, the wonder ideology!

Got inflation? Corruption? Poverty? marriage problems? A pimple? Constipated? Get democracy! Call in the next 5 minutes and receive a guaranteed-no-invasion rebate, valued at over 1 million human lives! (I guess saddam lost his cell phone).

Democracy these days is a word and a word alone. It used to mean something, a long time ago.

Here's ones of my favorite quotes from a well known author.

"In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different."

Edward Hugh said...

"Who predicts this? The experts. Not to take anything away from what you wrote,"

Well for what its worth I am an expert, or at least as expert as you can get on this tricky and difficult topic. But I think we could live without wasting our time on arguing about this. The point is:

"MOSCOW, January 31 (RIA Novosti) - Inflation in Russia hit 2.2% in January, the finance minister said on Thursday."

The number you quote is - as the quote actually suggests in saying "hit" (ie indicating that this was big) - this was monthly inflation, ie prices in Russia went up 2% between December 2007 and January 2008. The number is from Rostat, so I don't suppose we will argue about that.

The year on year (jan 2007 - Jan 2008) number was 11.9% and rising steadily, see the chart here. The thing is, I take no pleasure in any of this, as it is one enormous tragedy. Conventional monetary policy doesn't work in the present environment, since it simply attracts more funds, to try and employ even more people who either don't exist, or are too old or sick to work. We don't know yet how this can unwind, but just keep watching by the month, and you like me will learn.

Latvia hit a 15.8 annual rate today - we tend to call the Baltics the canaries in the coalmine - since they started swooning under the weight of all this first. Watching what happens in the Baltics may well tell us what gets to happen next more generally across Eastern Europe.

Edward Hugh said...

..."At the same time, Kudrin said the Russian government intended keeping inflation within the projected figure of 8.5% in 2008."

Well, not wanting to be excessively clever or anything, but they were of course saying something similar last year, and we ended the year on a much higher level than the official forecast, but then again, that is pretty normal in many countries, and not especially a hallmark of this Russian administration alone.

But I do note we have suddenly shot up from the 4% you initially mentioned. The only way this number can come down is by putting a very strong brake on growth, and if you do that Russia will stay poor for ever. This is the corrosive problem that having long term low fertility presents.

Of course a country like Italy can only grow at around one per cent per year for similar reasons, but then Italy got relatively rich before she started to get old and enter the low growth era.

I don't think the people currently running Russia have a clue about the gravity of this problem or what to do about it. A first step would be to stop denying that it is a problem, and to go and talk modestly with people in other countries who have been struggling to turn the fertility issue around, and over many years.

Headline grabbing gestures like those that we tend to see from time to time from demagogic leaders like Putin and Berlusconi actually turn out to do virtually nothing useful in the longer run. And yet the problem remains.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, my apologies I did misunderstand what they meant by "hit 2%". Though it's worth noting that they did achieve their inflation projections for the previous year (2006).

In general I do agree with you about it being a bigger problem than most people seem to grasp, and that some real steps need to be taken in order to tackle the problem. That said though, I still don't quite agree with the doomsday scenarios, and I think your tone is a little on the alarmist side.

That's basically what I was trying to stress in my previous posts. Not that you're wrong, just jumping the gun a bit. Perhaps it's my optimist bias getting the better of me, but I still see things improving overall throughout the next decade or so. Not just inflation, but everything.

If you look at the death/birth rates in Russia over the past 20 years, it's quite obvious what caused the negative population growth in the first place. Extreme rises in poverty, crime and stress leads to an increased death rate, and a lack of the safety net and security that was all a part of communism results in less babies being born.

You already know this of course, but the point is, with less crime and poverty, improved health care, better financial security and increasing trust in the capitalist government, coupled with positive immigration, the population will surely start rising again some time soon so long as things keep improving at the rate they currently are. I see the demographic problem fixing itself over the next 20-30 years or so, which will in turn help deter many other problems that the country faces due to said problem, including inflation.

I guess you could say that's my main gripe with demographic projections; they assume everything will stay the same when history tells us they won't. Even if they try to predict, taking into account possible social changes, it's impossible to do so accurately in a case like Russia's.

Edward Hugh said...

Hi again,

And thank you for clarifying your point of view. I would just make a couple of points.

"Though it's worth noting that they did achieve their inflation projections for the previous year (2006)."

Absolutely. This is important. Inflation was coming under control. And I am not saying that they were applying especially bad policies. Maybe you could critice Putin for being rather loose on spending with elections and then presidential elections coming up, but then he is far from being alone here, and so this seems to be beside the main point.

Something is going on here, and I don't think any of us really understand the process completely. But this situation has become so general across Eastern Europe, and is now arriving in China, regardless of the fact that the policies applied regarding currency and taxes and fiscal spending, and interest rates etc have all been very different, then you need to ask yourself whether or not there may be some much more general underlying cause or causes.



"coupled with positive immigration,"

Yes, but the point may be that the problem is so general in the East that it is not really clear where all the migrants will come from. This is a problem we have been looking at to some extent on this blog.

"That said though, I still don't quite agree with the doomsday scenarios, and I think your tone is a little on the alarmist side."

Well look. I agree, we don't need to think doomsday here. Rather than alarmist I would say I was frustrated. There are so many things that could be done in the here and now, today and tomorrow, but they simply aren't being done.

Japan, eg, could open to immigrants and encourage inward migration.

Countries like Turkey, Morocco, Brazil etc, where fertility is now moving quite quickly below replacement could be putting policies in place to support working mothers and encourage fertility, but they aren't, because no one is explaining to them that they need to do this. By no-one I mean multilateral agencies like the world bank, the OECD and the IMF. So there is a real risk that all these newly developing countries will follow Southern Europe and the Asian Tigers (other late developers) down to very low fertility levels before they realise that there is a problem.

How many times have you read a statement by a world leader saying that China needs to do something about its currency peg, and how many times have you read the same people saying that China needs to change the (intentional) one child per family policy?

So all of this is very frustrating. In the past I am sure that little could have been done, since it was hard to see what was coming. But now we can to a certain extent see, yet we are still inactive, and in many cases worse still in denial.

I mean I think it is very important to understand that what is happening is not the normal short term excess-demand stoked inflation, but inflation provoked by long term structural labour supply distortions. Somehow or another Adam Smiths wonder-hand wasn't around when all those children didn't get born. So sometime or another China may well hit a brick wall. I don't know how far we are away from this. I am simply watching the inflation now ticking up month by month.

I am more or less precise in my words, so inflation in Russia is now in a dangerous upward spiral, while China is, at this point, simply ticking up and up. Latvia and Ukraine of course have already gone through the roof.

As I say, in the long run - the 30 or 40 year horizon you mention - I am not especially worried, since the whole system will by then have had time to adjust. I am much more concerned over the next 10 or 15 years, as asset markets and pension funds in the some developed countries increasingly have to take up the strain, and as these quite large countries like China, Russia, Ukraine and Poland who had their demographic transition and demographic dividend without getting modern economic growth have to find a way to make ends meet and balance the books during the transition to some sort of new homeostatic level.

Anonymous said...

I just came across some interesting new statistics and thought of this blog post. According to the federal state statistics service:

"In 2007, the population shrank by 237,800 people, or by 0.17% (in 2006 - by 532,600 people, or by 0.37%). Migration grew by 50.2% in 2007."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_Russia

It appears my predictions of demographic recovery are already in motion, although I can hardly claim that my predictions were anything more than common sense.

Anonymous said...

Hi! very nice artical.I like it Islam in russia


Thank

Sana