Staunton, October 1 – Over the last decade, Russian officials have increasingly treated extremism as one crime among many, a major change from earlier when it was viewed as something exceptional and one that has opened the way to abuses and confusions that hurt the country, according to Rais Suleymanov.
The Kazan-based specialist on Middle Volga who has been much criticized for his anti-Muslim views argues that since the regional MVD centers to counter extremism were established in 2008, the country has witnessed “the actual transformation of extremism into crimes of an everyday character” (apn.ru/index.php?newsid=36704).
As a result, people have come to view fighting extremism as “a matter of routine for law enforcement organs,” and officials have thus been encouraged to report about their successes in countering it by increasing the number of such crimes to the point that they rival those of ordinary violent actions.
On the one hand, Suleymanov suggests, this shift has had the effect of trivializing the danger that extremism in fact represents. And on the other, it has led officials in some places to impose the same kind of limits in acting against and reporting on crimes of other non-extremist kinds.
In Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, he says, this has taken the form of officials seeking to ensure that there is “an ethnic balance” among those charged with this kind of crime, to send a message that “there are extremists in every ethnic group” and that there is an equivalence of extremists of “Russian, Tatar, and Bashkir nationalism and religious fundamentalism.”
“For the authorities of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, it is extremely important to maintain the sense of the population that there is inter-ethnic and inter-religious stability” and that these things are threatened by “extremism on a national or religious basis.” And the best way for them to do that is to punish members of both the titular nationality and the Russians equally.
That leads to two kinds of distortions, Suleymanov suggests. It means that if there are too many members of one group guilty of extremism relative to the number in the other, then the original crimes will not be listed as extremist or the crimes of the latter will be so described whether this is the case or not.
And it means that extremism as such is thus reduced to a run of the mill crime rather than the attack on the system it in fact represents, he argues; and thus treating it in this mechanical way has the effect of reducing vigilance and letting some groups get away with far more than they should be allowed to.