Modernization and Security in Eurasia: EWI Initiates International Debate on Preventing Violent Intercultural Conflicts

News | January 07, 2011

The growing potential for ethnic and religious conflict in Eurasia in large part lies in the deficit of proper inter-ethnic integration policies at national and international levels in government-led active economic modernization efforts.

Summary report of the EWI seminar held in Brussels on December 6, 2010

The growing potential for ethnic and religious conflict in Eurasia in large part lies in the deficit of proper inter-ethnic integration policies at national and international levels in government-led active economic modernization efforts.

This is the basic analytical conclusion of the seminar on Ethnic and Religious Risks of Modernization organized by EWI in cooperation with Leo Gumilev Center (Moscow), a new think tank focused on issues of multiculturalism.  The seminar was held in Brussels on December 6, 2010, as a sideline event of the EWI’s Global Conference on Preventive Action (European Parliament, Brussels, December 6-7, 2010).


The policy context of the seminar, bringing together 30 independent and government experts from Russia, the EU and the  U.S.,  was largely determined by the Russian President Medvedev’s initiative on national technological and economic modernization. International “partnerships for modernization” are becoming a major element of Russia’s ongoing rapprochement with the EU, the U.S. and other developed Western democracies, and are seen by the Russian leadership as an important source of advanced technologies and innovative management know-how. 

In his introductory remarks Vladimir Ivanov, Director of EWI Russia Branch, pointed out that these governmental efforts largely focus on the development of several critical technologically advanced sectors (e.g. energy efficiency, space technologies, bio and medical science, advanced IT, etc). In the meantime, it is obvious that sooner or later promoting technical innovations will lead to deep social, cultural and political changes. As the Russian federal government is planning massive public investments in such industry clusters, competition among regions for these centrally disbursed funds will increase. In such a multiethnic country as Russia, social and economic transformations on the regional level will inevitably provoke the rise of regional cultural identities. Conflict potential based on ethnic and religious values bears the risk of breaking out into outspoken nationalistic movements, religious radicalism and violent extremism. Increased migration flowing from the conflict regions like the Caucasus will feed instability in megacities and centers of accelerated development. Eventual counter-modernization reactions in Eurasia may well become inspired by anti-Western slogans, as modernization is largely perceived as “westernization” of traditional societies. These trends will challenge domestic and international security of Russia and its neighbors, both in west and east. 

The importance of the seminar was highlighted by an unprecedented wave of inter-ethnic clashes in Russia, which rolled through major Russian cities from Kaliningrad to Vladivosto. The clashes started on December 11, 2010, with a 5,000-person demonstration of nationalistic football fans near the Kremlin walls, who protested against growing ethnic criminality and the inability of authorities to stop it.  For the first time since the end of the 1990s, these events forced the Russian leadership to acknowledge inter-ethnic tensions as a serious domestic issue requiring systemic policy action.

The purpose of the seminar, as defined by the organizers, was to explore new policy ideas for addressing these risks in the globalization of Eurasia, including such issues as soft security responses to religious radicalization and violent extremism, and cultural and economic conflicts caused by the influx of migrating populations into centers of dynamic development. The participants sought to develop a multiculturalism policies agenda for modernization initiatives, both in their domestic dimension and in the framework of international development aid and cooperation programs (e.g. the Eastern Partnership, the EU-Russia Partnership for Modernization, post-war recovery programs for Afghanistan, etc). 

Discussion centered around: comparative analysis of ethno-political and religious effects of  modernization experiences in Russia, particularly in the North Caucasus, the Baltic States, Turkey and  China; the role of migration flows in fuelling national and religious radicalization in the EU and Eurasia; and practical policy implications.

Key presentations were delivered by the following experts: Evgeni Bakhrevsky, Coordinator, Peoples' Rights Movement (Russia); Jean-Pierre Devos, Superintendent of the Belgium Federal Police (Belgium) and Project Manager for Community Policing Preventing Radicalisation & Terrorism (CoPPRA project); Irina Ivakhnyuk, Deputy Head, Department of Population, Economic Faculty of the Moscow State University (Russia); Kirill Koktysh, Senior Fellow, Moscow State Institute for International Relations (Russia); Pavel Levushkan, Chief Editor, Christian Portal “Baznica” (Latvia); Christopher Marsh, Director, J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, Baylor University (United States); Andrey Marudenko, President, Aurora Expertum Club (Russia); Kirill Serebrenitsky, Director, Eastern Bureau for Ethnic and Political Studies (Russia); Denis Sokolov, Head of the Center for Regional Social and Political Studies RAMCOM (Russia); Pavel Zarifullin, Director, L.Gumilev Centre (Russia).

Experts identified the following major factors leading to ethnic and religious radicalization in the framework of modernization initiatives:

  • Accelerated urbanization and disaggregation of traditional societies, especially transformation of labor and consumption into market values;
  • Perception of modernization initiatives by local communities as externally imposed  in the absence of targeted efforts by authorities to harmonize social innovation with indigenous mythology and traditions; often governmentally imposed secularism associated with modernization (as in the USSR, Kemalist Turkey, Communist China, Iran under the White Revolution);
  • Massive financial injections of government funds into institutionally unstable regions with strong population growth rate, leading to the development of regional “economies of violence” which, through the mechanisms of corruption and migration, expand into the national centers of decision-making (e.g. Caucasus vs. Moscow);
  • Lack of proper integration policies (observed in Russia, particular EU countries and at the  EU level in general) for migrating populations;
  • Strong presence of alternative ideologies (e.g. fundamentalist Islam) in the modernizing countries and regions.

Exposure of particular regions to these factors is even stronger if they are situated in the “critical frontal zones” where different civilizations geographically meet each other, as in: the long-lasting divide between Celtic and Anglo-Saxon identities in the UK; the divide between Romans and Germans in Belgium; the great African chain of conflict zones, from Western Sahara and Southern Senegal through Sierra-Leone, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Northern Chad, Southern Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia, marking the neighborhood of the Arab Muslim world and Christian and polytheistic Tropical Africa;  and the Asian civilizational frontal -- Palestine and adjacent Arab territories, Iraq, Kurdistan, Northern Caucasus, the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, the Chinese Turkestan and Xingjiang.
Another contemporary conflict multiplier, according to experts, is the recent global economic crisis: it increased the fight for resources between ethnic groups and fostered transformation of tensions caused by social inequality into inter-cultural identity conflicts, which was particularly demonstrated by cases of growing nationalistic tensions in the North Caucasus, Southern Russia and major Russian cities. 
Turning to practical ideas on how to address ethnic and religious risks of modernizations in Eurasia, experts suggested a broad series of recommendations for policymakers on national and international levels:

  1. Include ethnic, religious and migration risk analysis in the modernization programs and relevant international partnership agreements, and develop appropriate preventive concepts and action plans focused on protecting regional cultural identities, and devise flexible integration policies for migrants. Eurasianism, a historic school of thought in Russia dating back to the end of the 19th century that explores ways of managing regional cultural diversity as a basis for sustainable development, can serve as one of the key methodological sources for such policies.
  2. Develop networks of independent monitoring centers in critical conflict zones in Russia and CIS countries with the following major roles:
    • Permanently conduct field analysis of cultural identity trends, including through ethnographic expeditions;
    • Create and permanently update a map of ethnic and religious risk zones;
    • Advise policymakers on conflict prevention and mitigation strategies and  methods taking into account local cultural specifics;
    • Mediate local conflicts on behalf of the civil society.
  3. Undertake analysis of legal practices in conflict regions and devise measures to harmonize state legislation and customary law and dispute resolution practices (e.g. Shariah law, adats, traditional ethics and norms of the Caucasus). Russian Northern Caucasus could serve as a pilot zone for such efforts.
  4. Explore ways to strengthen  international legislation on protection of peoples’ rights on the basis of existing UN documents (UN Charter, the UNGA Declaration of 2007 on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UNESCO Universal Declaration of 2001 on Cultural Diversity, etc.) to reflect new requirements for preventing ethnic conflicts in the 21st century.
  5.  Establish the institute of Ombudsman for Peoples’ Rights, on national and regional levels, in Russia and other CIS countries, with the role to oversee and preserve protection of ethnic cultural identities.
  6. Promote best practice sharing (e.g. the EU-supported CoPPRA project) in Eurasia, involving UN, EU, NATO, OSCE, CSTO, SCO and respective national authorities and NGOs, in training enforcement agencies in order to enhance their capacity to identify members of radical movements and to cooperate with local communities in preventing violent extremism at early stages of engagement of frustrated individuals by organized radical groups. 
  7. Develop political and spiritual leadership training programs in cooperation with moderate Muslim institutions, targeting potential young radical leaders, with the purpose of providing them with attractive alternative career opportunities within the normal, non-violent political field.

On December 7, 2010 recommendations of the seminar were reported at the concluding session of the Global Conference on Preventive Action at the European Parliament. EWI has established a special project series under the rubric “Modernizations and Security” and will continue cooperation with its partners to further consider the conclusions of the seminar  in view of developing them into specific action-oriented projects.