Staunton, March 20 – Damir Mukhetdinov, the first deputy chairman of the Union of Muftis of Russia, says that demographic trends mean that Russia could have its first Muslim president by mid-century, a reflection of demographic trends among Russia’s nationalities and the influx of Muslims from Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Mukhetdinov’s prediction, first aired on Golos Rossii last Friday and being repeated by many other sites yesterday and today, is certain to be disputed by both demographers and politicians, but it is sufficiently plausible to frighten Russians across the political spectrum and increase opposition to new mosques and support for a visa regime with Central Asia (nazaccent.ru/content/7174-zampred-soveta-muftiev-v-2050-godu.html).
Making demographic projections so far into the future is extremely difficult. Mukhetdinov’s notion certainly reflects his view that immigration from Central Asia and the Caucasus will continue and that non-Russian and predominantly Muslim groups will continue to grow faster than the Russian nation, thereby adding to the relative size of the Muslim electorate.
But making political projections for nearly 40 years in the future is even more problematic because these trends may not remain of the same size they are now and even more because the reaction of the current majority to these trends and to such projections is likely in the Russian case to be sharply negative.
Making such predictions to provoke such reactions has reached almost epidemic proportions in the Russian media: Today, for example, “Golos Rossii” carried a story suggesting that Estonia, where Muslims currently form no more than two or three percent of the population is “threatened” by Islamization (rus.ruvr.ru/2013_03_20/JEstonii-grozit-islamizacija/).
These predictions and the one Mukhetdinov made are certain to generate a backlash. Indeed, according to an article in “NG-Religii” today, they already have and in a way that the mufti at least could not possibly have wanted: they have united Russians of various political persuasions against new mosques, against immigration, and against any expansion of a Muslim role in Russian politics (ng.ru/ng_religii/2013-03-20/5_protest.html).
Obviously, over the next four decades, demography may prove to be destiny in Russian thinking as it already has in some other countries. But in the short term, and under the conditions of Vladimir Putin’s rule, it seems more likely that Mukhetdinov’s projection will have exactly the opposite effect that he might hope. Indeed, even he is likely to regret that he made it.