Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Darkness in Russia

Carl Gershman, NED President, in the Washington Post:

By treating all Chechens as terrorists and Islamic militants, and by silencing all criticism of its policies, the Russian government is helping to bring about what it most fears, which is the spread of Islamic radicalism throughout the seven republics of the North Caucasus region. Saner heads among the Russian leadership are aware of this danger, as evidenced by two reports prepared by the office of Dmitri Kozak, Putin’s plenipotentiary representative in the Southern Federal District. The reports link the spread of Islamic extremism in the region to official corruption and impunity, pervasive crime, and abnormally high levels (even by Russian standards) of poverty and unemployment.

Most worrisome to the authorities is the possibility that the radicalization of the Muslim population could spread from the North Caucasus to the Volga Muslim republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, bringing to the Russian interior the growing polarization between Islamic militancy and rising Russian nationalism. Russian anxieties are being fed not just by the widening war in the Caucasus but by the declining population of ethnic Russians, whose birth-rate is far below that of Russian Muslims. Such conditions will only increase the appeal of Russian fascism, which now looms realistically in Russia’s future.

In this context, the idea that the Russian authorities would be targeting liberal journalists and human rights activists as enemies who need to be silenced should be of the utmost concern to the United States and Europe, which still seem to regard Russia as a responsible partner. With Anna Politkovskaya’s killing a light went out, and with the rising crackdown on dissidents that is reminiscent of the Soviet period, a darkness is now spreading over Russia. Politkovskaya spoke of Chechnya as “a small corner of hell” and gave her life trying to expose evil deeds there. Despite growing repression, there are still people in Russia who are trying to avert a looming disaster. We would be kidding ourselves to think that we don’t have a stake in their survival.
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