Staunton, December 9 – The leaders of Ukraine’s Muslim communities have declared their support for expanding Ukraine’s ties with Europe and their opposition to any attempt to threaten that country’s territorial integrity, positions with which some Muslim groups in the Russian Federation have expressed their solidarity
Last week, the two largest all-Ukrainian Muslim organizations, AlRaid and the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Ukraine followed the earlier and more dramatic declarations of the country’s Crimean Tatar population and issued a declaration in support of the goals of those meeting in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities (arraid.org/ru/node/3359).
Arguing that the current dispute between the Ukrainian people and it government represents “a test of political maturity,” the two said that what was at stake is “whether Ukraine will remain a European legal state, the most important values of which were and remain law and the freedom of citizens ... with political, inter-ethnic and inter-religious tolerance” or become again something else.
Twenty-two years ago, Ukrainians voted for independence and since then have “built a legal democratic state.” Civil society “is maturing,” and an important “attribute” of such a society is “an open legal state.” Because that is at risk, the two organizations declared, “religious and social organizations ... cannot remain on the sidelines of these events.”
The process of defending Ukraine’s status as a European state is not going to be easy, they continued, but it is critically important that everyone involved seek to “preserve the unity and integrity of the state and not allow bloodletting, chaos and force” or fall victim to provocations.
They declared that “Muslims are patriots of our common Motherland who are prepared to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity” and they “like people of other religious views have come out to openly express their civic position at peaceful meetings.”
Only by acting in this manner, the declaration concluded, “will we preserve for ourselves and future generations the possibility of becoming a peaceful, democratic and flourishing country which will occupy a wealth place in the family of European peoples.”
Although there are several million Muslim gastarbeiters in Ukraine, the indigenous Muslim population of that country is under a million of whom between a third and a half are Crimean Tatars. Thus, they do not constitute large fraction of the population, but their support for a European path for Ukraine is nonetheless valuable.
More intriguing and perhaps more explosive are two developments among Muslim groups in the Russian Federation. One may be only a kind of provocation, but another suggests that Ukrainians striving to integrate into Europe have some allies in what for many may be an unexpected place.
The first of these concerns a declaration by NORM, the national organization of ethnic Russian Muslims. This group which has often shocked other Russians by its radicalism did so once again last week when its leader Vadim Sidorov announced that he was assembling a delegation to go to Kyiv to voice its support of pro-European forces there (interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=53666).
“If it were the case that Russia really was a native state for Muslims and guaranteed them their rights, freedom and development,” Sidorov said, “then of course in any clash with any Ukraine, European Community or the United States, we would support our country with much greater satisfaction than to do otherwise.”
But he continued, because the Russian Federation today is anything but that, NORM as an organization that unites ethnic Russians who have converted to Islam “is vitally interested in the maximum weakening” of Russia and thus supports Ukrainian aspirations to be part of the EU rather than part of anything dominated by Moscow.
The second of these declarations from a Muslim group in Russia is more significant – and undoubtedly for Moscow more troubling. The Council of Elders of the Republic of Ingushetia in the North Caucasus issued a statement in support of the Kyiv demonstrators and in opposition to Viktor Yanukovich (06-ingushetiya.livejournal.com/224745.html).
The Council said that it supports “with all its heart the striving of the Ukrainian people ho are struggling today for a European path of development for their country and to guarantee a happy future for all Ukraine and for each of its citizens.” At the same time, it said, “we see that as a result of the latest decisions of the dictator Viktor Yanukovich, who has frozen Euro-integration processes, millions of people in Ukraine feel deceived and insulted.”
“We believe that Ukrainians who have enormous positive experience of defending their civil rights and interests in this moment too will be able to demonstrate their will, decisiveness and firmness, to show their sense of responsibility to future generations and not to permit hypocritical and weak leaders to impose decisions on them which put a brake on the development of Ukraine by keeping it outside the circle of civilized countries.”
“We also turn to Russian President Vladimir Putin with the demand to immediately stop interfering in the internal affairs of Ukraine and to recall Russian spetsnaz units sent by the leadership of the Russian Federation to Ukraine for dispersing peaceful acts of protest and in support of the regime of Viktor Yanukovich.”
The Ukrainian people “have the right to decide the future of their country” without such outside interference, the Ingush elders said, adding that “we are confident in the final victory of the Ukrainian people.”