UFA, Russia (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev, facing challenges from Islamist insurgents and far-right nationalists, used a trip to a Muslim region of Russia on Friday to urge a return to what he called tolerant Soviet values.
Speaking in the regional capital of Bashkortostan, he attacked political extremism and called for measures to root out nationalism from the education system.
“In Europe it has become fashionable to talk about the failure of policies aimed at multiculturalism,” he said, speaking at a State Council meeting.
“If we talk about the failure of multiculturalism, then entire cultures can be destroyed, which is a dangerous thing, and European countries should understand this,” he said.
European leaders, most recently British Prime Minister David Cameron, have pointed to a failure of state multiculturalism that they say has left many Muslim youths isolated and has increased the risk of radicalism in major European cities.
In Russia tensions are high between the Christian, Slav majority and an estimated 20 million Muslims from the country’s southern reaches, including the North Caucasus, where Moscow is fighting an Islamist insurgency.
Islamist militants claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 36 people last month at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, the busiest in Russia.
Russia has more than 140 different nationalities according to a 2002 census. “There was a lot of good and bad in the time of the Soviet Union, but there was active propaganda regarding shared goals,” Medvedev was reported as saying, referring to the Communist period when authorities proclaimed the ideal of a “Friendship of Peoples”.
The Kremlin is anxious to contain rising nationalism. Police struggled in December to contain far-rightists and soccer fans who gathered steps away from the Kremlin, shouting nationalist slogans and attacking non-Slavic passersby.
“It is categorically unacceptable to allow into governmental service those who have a criminal record for crimes of an inter-ethnic nature or are simply extremist in nature,” Medvedev said.
Demographers say failure by the Kremlin to reconcile its Slavic and Muslim populations would hit the economy in major cities like Moscow which depend on migrant labour from mainly Muslim areas inside and outside Russia
Russian authorities fear that insurgents who aim to create an Islamist state in the country’s North Caucasus may spread to peaceful areas further west like Bashkortostan and Tatarstan.
Writing by Thomas Grove, editing by Mark Trevelyan