PARIS (Jan. 24)
East European experts, Kremlinologists and intelligence experts believe that the Soviet Union moved into Afghanistan, provoking a major East-West crisis for strategic reasons, but also because of its own internal Moslem problems.
These experts are convinced that the Soviet Union’s Moslem population is increasingly turbulent in its demands for local autonomy and cultural determination. Since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return to Iran a year ago, millions of Soviet Moslems regularly listen to Radio Teheran and are increasingly attracted to his teachings.
Europe’s best known expert on Soviet ethnic problems, Helene Carrerre d’Encousse, is convinced that the Russian empire, outwardly a close their state over which Stalin’s iron list hung less then a generation ago, is now bursting at the seam Dozens of nationalities, mainly Moslems from the Kalmuks to the Kazaks, openly aspire towards a certain form of national independence and resent traditional Russian domination.
Prof. Carrere d’Encausse and many other European experts believe that the Russian empire will soon be in danger of fragmentation into a mosaic of diverse national interests.
The most restless element are the ‘Soviet Union’s 50 million Moslem. In a generation from now they will number 80 million and, if current demographic trends continue, will become the Soviet Union’s majority by the middle of the next century.
MOSLEMS RESENT SLAVIC AUTHORITY
The Asian Moslems who border Iran and Afghanistan, already openly resent Slavic authority, kneel towards Mecca five times a day, celebrate with unabated fervor Moslem religious holidays and aspire towards an Islamic cultural and national revival. Soviet official statistics quoted by Prof. Carrere d’Encausse, show that they contract no outside marriages in spite of intense atheistic state propaganda and even managed to convert to slam the nomadic tribes in the deep south.
For the Soviet Union’s Moslems, Karl Mars, after 60 years of Communist rule, is still only a minor prophet, somewhere between Buddha and Jesus. The intensify of Khomeini’s preachings and the dangers of an Islamic Republic in Afghanistan were reportedly seen by the Kremlin as a direct threat to Soviet state integrity."
The Soviet Union was always preoccupied by the relations between the various nationalities. Lenin dealt with it and so did Trotsky but the real expert was Stalin. It was "the little father of the peoples" who gave the Soviet Union its Russian character and it was during his rule that the Russian and in general Slavic domination over the other 51 nationalities became absolute.
With Khrushchev’s rise to power the various nationalities start showing their ethnic and religious particularities. Since the early 1970s, this process has been accelerating. This national process is also accompanied by a demographic explosion. While in 1959 the Russians represented over 55 percent of the Soviet Union’s total population and the Moslems 12, the Russians now represent less than half of the population and the Moslems close to 16 percent.
The Soviet Union is a country of huge internal migrations. Every year a minimum of 15 million people change their place of residence, sometimes moving over thousands of kilometers. But most of these migrants are the Slavs, Russians and Ukrainians, who settle in the far off territories, further depleting their own republics and drowning in the mass of the native inhabitants.
The Slavs are the administrators, the technicians, often the higher echelon experts in most of the non-Slavic republics. The first Secretary of the local Communist Party usually is a native but the Second Secretary, the man who holds the reigns of real power, is a Russian or Ukrainian.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NATIONALITIES
Within the Moscow Central Committee, 82 percent of the members are Slavs and within the Palitburo 14 out of 16 are Slavs. Within the Secretariat, all 11 members, from Leonid Brezhnev down are Slavs.
Within the army, Slavic and especially Russian domination is complete. Although army units are officially integrated and of mixed nationality, the Moslems find themselves in such branches as the infantry which require less formal schooling and the Russians in the Air Force.
At the end of World War II, this disproportion was even greater. Ninety percent of the men serving in artillery units were Slavs and 90 percent of the officers were Russians. A recent statistic published by the Red Army newspaper. "The Red Star," reveals that even for junior officers 82.5 percent come from workers families and only 17.5 percent from farming villages. Most Slavs are employed in industry; practically all Moslems in agriculture.
As far as senior officers are concerned, Western intelligence sources find that 91 percent of generals promoted between 1940 and 1976 are of Slavic origin with 60 percent Russian, 20 percent Ukrainian, 4 percent Byelorussian, 2 percent Poles and 5 percent of unknown origin.
A more recent study shows that of the generals, members of the Supreme Soviet (Parliament), 95 percent are Slavs and of 42 generals mentioned by the Soviet press in 1977, 40 are Slavs, one American and one either Jewish or of German origin.
A NATIONAL AND RELIGIOUS RENAISSANCE
This anti-Moslem discrimination was accompanied by a national and religious renaissance. In the Karakalpak Republic (part of Uzbekistan) close to 80 percent of the inhabitants officially declared themselves practising Moslems–this in spite of the dangers inherent in such a declaration. Over 25 percent of the population said they were "fervent" Moslems and even in the northern Caucasus, closer to Moscow and central influences, only 20 percent of Moslem school children said in school tests that they were atheists.
While the Soviet Moslems are divided, as elsewhere, between Sunnites and Shiites, they invariably define themselves as "plain Moslems" and explain that for them their religion is "belonging to the Umma, the Islamic community."
The Moslems follow their religious precepts and when they cannot, due to government imposed restrictions, they try to find another solution. Thus the Soviet authorities have forbidden the killing of animals for the "feast of the sacrifice." The Moslem Religious Council issued a "fetwa" (edict) saying that the sacrifice can be replaced by a financial contribution equal to the value of the animal which would have been killed.
In this way, the Soviet laws are respected. But not only do the faithful continue their ancestral practices but their communal organizations and funds grow ever more prosperous.
Another "fetwa" replaced the feast of Mavlud, celebrating the birth of the Prophet, which is normally accompanied by a gathering in the mosque, with private celebrations. Thus, according to Soviet observers quoted by Carrere d’Encausse, for every mosque celebration over 90 private ceremonies are held in homes, out of the authorities’ sight.
Even the pilgrimage to Mecca, which the Soviet government forbids, has been replaced with pilgrimages to local sites within the Soviet Union.
Practically 100 percent of Moslems undergo religious weddings and the number of mixed marriages is practically nil. When such a rare marriage does occur, it usually involves a Moslem and a non-Moslem woman. The children are invariably raised in their father’s religion.
Soviet legislation forbids the marriage of minor girls or paying a price for the bride. In spite of these laws, the traditional practices continue unabated. In 1965, the Central Committee of the Uzbek Communist Party even laid down a ruling for what it considered the "normal" price: 500 Rubles, 200 kilograms of flour, 80 kilograms of rice, two sheep and nine suits, or a total of 2000-3000 Rubles for a good looking and healthy wife.
INSTANCES OF TRADITIONAL PRACTICES
Another instance of traditional practices occurred in 1972 when one of Tashkent’s main Communist leaders died. The Moscow Central Committee sent an official representative who organized a state funeral in the city’s cemetery–a non-religious institution in which all deserving Communists are buried. The family, including his Communist Party member sons, adamantly refused and opted for a religious burial in the Moslem cemetery.
When a foreign journalist on a visit to Uzbek asked last year on the eve of "Revolution Day" what is the Soviet Union’s most important holiday, he was invariably told: the end of the Ramadan.
While practically all nationalities have accepted the Cyrillic alphabet, in Daghestan the local Central Committee officially asked for the adoption of the Arabic alphabet, explaining in its request "that it is the Latin of the East."
Moslem vitality, religious and cultural, is not only more intense than in the rest of the Soviet Union but seems to be growing stronger every year. According to Western analysts, the Kremlin probably considers in this context, the spread of Khomeini’s Islamic revolution to the Soviet Moslem republics to be a major danger.