A PhD candidate of Russian Studies at Moscow Friendship of Nations University, Mr. Vakhshiteh is also the editor in chief for the Dideban news website.
The meeting opened with a introduction on history of Russia, which begins with cities of Vladimir and Novograd before 988 A.D. “Russian people were nature worshipers; after the conversion of the governor of Kiev, Christian orthodoxy became the official religion of the Russians. Later as the first church, Vasili the Holy was built in Kiev,” he noted.
According to him during the 8th and 9th century, the expansion of Islam in Russia began by the Volga River and the Ural terrain which is in the south. This occurred when the Khanate of Bulgar wanted to establish a powerful government in Russia and desired to liberate himself from the rule of Khazarestan. He thus allied with the Ottomans; “Of course in Russia Islam has always been associated with the Mongols and this has existed ever since their invasion.”
Mr. Vakhshite underlined that the Russian language, geography and orthodoxy are the 3 of four components of Russian nationalism; “Russians experienced an identity crisis during the presidency of Boris Yelstin but with Putin being president afterword certain measures were taken to curb this problem. One of the most effective solutions was the mother tongue legislation.”
Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism are the four official religions of Russia. According to an official census Muslims have a population of 20 million but according to unofficial reports it is believed to be 30 million which comprises 13.8 percent of the population. According to the 14th amendment of the national constitution, Russia is a secular state and no official religion exists. Therefore, no one is obligated to express the religious affinity, he said.
“In the 1970’s there was a surge of Jewish immigration to Russia and during Gorbachev Jews were given the opportunity to obtain both Russian and Israeli citizenship; in this period close to 1.25 million Jews immigrated from Russian to Israel,” Mr. Vakhshite underlined.
“Russians know Yelstin as the father of democracy and freedom in Russia” he emphasized, adding “during his tenure freedom of religion was at its peak; therefore an act of legislature approved that only the religions with a history more than fifty years in Russia had right to advertise.”
On Russian culture, he argued that during Christmas and the month of August, Russians tend to travel a lot and their preferred destinations are Israel, Egypt and Turkey.
Mr. Vakhshite reaffirmed that Russians value family and its foundation and they celebrate the 8th of July as Family Day, which is a day of love, loyalty, marriage and flower. “Flowers are important in Russian culture and the one million song is a clear example of this significance.” He also noted that families with a union history of more than 25 years are praised and their children are given remembrance medals.
“Age of marriage is low for girls and they marry at age of 22. Of course marrying in Russia is not as difficult as Iran,” he said.
“Almost half of Russian people read at least one book a week and digital e-book websites are numerous in Russia; there is one digital book café in Moscow and in metro stations people can connect to a digital book archive and read a book using their phone,” Vakhshite commended.
He said that ballet and theater are very popular arts in Russia while the most practiced sport is hockey.
Vakhshiteh also outlined the situation of the media in Russia. There are in general 330 channels which are mostly social media, internet, television and radio in and only 10 belong to the state. “According to 2017 polls about three quarters of those who watch TV (about 46 percent) trust these channels; the most important Russian TV channels are Russia Channel, NTV and Channel 1 and according to one poll 25 percent of youth aged between 18-30 do not watch TV. About 6.5 of global websites belong to the RUSSNET network,” he said.
Touching upon politics, Mr. Vakhshiteh said there are many political parties in Russia including United Russia, Center Right Party, Liberal Democrat Russia, Communist Federation of Russia, A Just Russia, Yablanka Party, The Alliance of Russian forces, Another Russia Party, Patriots of Russia party, Right Wing Party and etc.
“Meanwhile the Inter-Ethnic council, The Federal Agency, Ethnic Affairs Committee and the Ethnic Council are the four most important institutions in Russia,” he noted, adding “Russia enjoys from a moderate environment regarding politics; yet one should not really expect a democracy like one they find in Europe or the West.”
Mr. Vakhshiteh then moved on to social issues underlining that Russians are concerned with are inflation, poverty, economic crises, immigration and possess good ethnic relations, fair distribution of wages, and good practice of morals and values.
“The people of Russia believe that one objective can unite them it is constructive relations between ethnicities,” he said underlining “even a prize of 2.5 million Rubles is awarded to any person or NGO who can design a good plan to resolve ethnic issues by President Vladimir Putin.”
He also emphasized the patriotic spirit of Russians; “in order to criticize the country first you would have to show and prove your brotherhood to a Russian and that you do not have any bad intentions; then you are allowed to freely express your criticism about the country.”