Disarmament of Chechen rebels in the mountain village of Zandak, 1996. (Credit: Vladimir Varfolomeev/Flickr)
Disarmament of Chechen rebels in the mountain village of Zandak, 1996. (Credit: Vladimir Varfolomeev, 'Чечня. Переговоры и разоружение'/Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0) (via: bit.ly)

On 11 April 2017, the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute held a roundtable on the dynamics of extremism in Russia, moderated by Prof. Alexey Malashenko, the organisation’s chief researcher.

Grigory Shvedov, the editor-in-chief of the Caucasian Knot website, presented detailed statistics on the number of victims of armed conflicts in the North Caucasus over the last few years. Traditionally, the number of victims (both those killed and those wounded) is considered the main indicator of the intensity of an armed conflict, which can also be quantified in terms of clashes, explosions, and terrorist attacks, numbers of which are no less important and informative as indicators.

A comprehensive analysis of each of the regions in the area shows the North Caucasus experiencing a positive trend: In 2017, there was a 39% fall in the number of conflict victims compared to 2016. Chechnya, Dagestan, and Igushetia had the largest numbers of both killed and wounded people of all the regions in the North Caucasus in 2017.

Alexander Yarkov is the lead research associate and expert at the Center for Countering the Ideology of Extremism and Terrorism, based at the Tyumen State University. He analysed the religious situation in Siberia and the Russian Far East and expressed his thoughts on how to find an antidote to extremism.

The Russian Far East is one of Russia’s most attractive regions for economic migration and as a result, it faces a variety of problems associated with unregulated migration and family reunification, which, it is thought by some, could lead to a rise of extremism in the region.

Besides migration, Siberia’s Islamic community is experiencing significant change, with repercussions for the whole region. Previously, the main representatives of Islam in the region were Tatars and Bashkirs, but they are now the recipients of aggression from natives of the North Caucasus. The situation in Siberia is complicated by its role as a region where convicts serve prison sentences.

One means of combatting extremism would be a renewed focus by social scientists on the issue, but there is a shortage of specialists on Islam in Russia, resulting in a lack of analysis. It is also necessary to establish relationships with authorities, law enforcement bodies, and the research community, and to work with positive influences which already exist within religious communities.

The chair of political sciences at the Ural Federal University, Alexey Starostin, also vice-president of the Ural Association, outlined the role of public organisations in the prevention of extremism, based on the experience of the Middle Ural region. The most important actions in this area would be to prevent extremism among the young generation; to conduct special educational programmes for those working in factories where explosives are produced; to provide different educational activities related to history, traditions, and ethno-confessional diversity; to inform people about destructive activities in cyberspace; to refine patriotic programmes and encourage socio-cultural integration for migrants; to encourage scientific research and analysis of mass media and social media.

Roman Bykov is an associate professor at Tomsk State University’s Sociology department. He looked at the problem of extremism as a consequence of trends in modern society. He provided an overview of contemporary society’s global characteristics, focusing on things which are of concern, not only to Russia, but the whole world too. Through examples of radical Islam, radical nationalism, and anti-cult movements, he demonstrated the importance of considering the influence of socio-cultural characteristics, which can determine the development of various trends in society, including extremism.

Bzkov cited studies which analysed the causes of extremism and mechanisms for its restraint, focusing on prevailing ideas in both scientific and public debate. The main reasons for the spread of extremism and motives for joining nationalist associations are generally socio-economic, ideological, or related to the experience of migration, a lack of education, individual values, and the generation gap.

All speakers agreed that Russia’s experience of extremism is complicated. To some extent, the phenomenon of extremism, both national and religious, has always existed and will continue to exist in future. To prevent critical situations, it is necessary to develop an integrated approach, with state action drawing on the expertise of the research community.

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the original author(s) and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views and opinions of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, its co-founders, or its staff members.