by Sufyan bin Uzayr
Foreing Policy Journal, August 18, 2014
Myanmar is undergoing a state of upheaval and transformation. As of now, the country is experiencing changes on the political, economic and social frontiers.
Amidst such transitions, Myanmar is also witnessing increased cases of religious intolerance. In spite of its rich cultural heritage and legacy of socio-religious harmony, present-day Myanmar is surely not the best place for its religious minorities.
Recently, the government of Myanmar proposed a law that seeks to impose a virtual ban on religious conversions (any case of religious conversion will need prior approval of the state). This proposed law is just one of the many recent ones that are being put into effect to target the country’s religious minorities: there are plans to outlaw interfaith marriages, and also to limit the birth-rate among non-Buddhist families residing in Myanmar.
But that’s not all. The worst part is the fact that these discriminatory laws are being backed by radical Buddhist monks (collectively known as the Mabatha), and there have been petitions signed by as many as 1.3 million people calling for elimination of Muslims from the country.
A Historical Perspective
Just like any other religion, Buddhism too has seen its principles being put at stake by its own clerics and clergymen. For centuries, Buddhist sects and monasteries have failed to arrive at a common consensus on various issues, both big and small.
Should a monk’s robe cover both shoulders or just one? Answer awaited.
Also, in spite of Buddha’s non-violent teachings and principles, Buddhist monks are no strangers when it comes to violence and conflict. During the colonial era, several Buddhist monastic orders made it mandatory for their members to engage in armed violence against the Europeans.
As such, politics is not unknown territory for Buddhist monks who claim to have denounced the world. In the period ranging from 1980s to 2000s, many Burmese monks participated in the pro-democracy struggles.
However, after the political transition of 2011, two extremist Buddhist outfits — the Mabatha and the 969 Movement — have dominated Burmese political thought and ideology. Firebrand radical Ashin Wirathu has emerged as the de facto proponent of communal discord. Both the 969 Movement and the Mabatha seem to have one common goal: creation of an exclusively Buddhist state in Myanmar.
Crimes Against Humanity
Back in mid-2012, communal violence took a turn for the worse, when riots broke out in the western state of Rakhine, killing hundreds and displacing over 140,000 Rohingya Muslims. The government simply refused to step in, and even when it did, the authorities blatantly sided with the extremists and essentially rendered the Rohingya people helpless. This showed that anti-Rohingya activities in Myanmar were (and still are) nothing more than planned religious pogrom being conducted by the Buddhist terror outfits in assonance with the government of Myanmar. More details about the ill-effects of the riots can be found here.
Apart from planned genocide, Buddhist extremist groups also indulge in anti-minority propaganda in the form of economic boycotts against Muslim businesses and false criticism of religions they do not like (which include, apart from other faiths, forms of Buddhism that do not agree with their extremist actions). Of course, Islam is the center of their hatred: when delegates of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation visited Myanmar in 2013, banners reading “Islam is a faith of animals with uncontrollable birth-rates” were flashed.
Fundamentalism Among Myanmar’s Monks — Exploring The Causes
The question is, if certain sects of Buddhism are engaging in violence, why are they getting away with it? Fundamentalism can be found in any religion: Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam… you name it! But in every religion, the majority of the followers are always against fundamentalism.
But in case of Buddhism, the anti-extremist or moderate voices are too feeble.
The problem is that the average Buddhist is taught, time and again, to think of monks as ascetics who have renounced worldly comforts and are thus immune to human flaws. Even if a monk errs, he is not called ‘corrupt’, but is instead termed as ‘deviant’. The robe of the present-day monk is still equated with the Wisdom of Buddha, even if the said monk is miles apart from the teachings of the Enlightened One. As a result, each Buddhist monk considers himself to be a Pope in his own right — incorruptible.
More importantly, on the practical front, the radical monks serve as handy allies for the pseudo-civilian government of Myanmar. Therefore, even Aung San Suu Kyi, so well known for her pro-liberty credentials, has chosen to be a mute spectator while innocent Rohingya children are being massacred.
A Ray of Hope?
Yet, all hope is not lost. In Myanmar, even though the extremists seem to have the upper edge, there are voices who are trying to protect the country’s secular fabric. Led by monks such as Metta Shin U Zawana, some intellectuals and students are coming forward to question the policies and propaganda of the radical outfits. Bloggers such as Nay Phone Latt have written extensively on this subject.
However, the Mabatha and the 969 Movement are quick to discard the peaceful voices as “echoes of treachery”. When the government’s discriminatory policies against the Rohingya were criticized by women activists, the Mabatha terrorists termed the activists as “traitors”.
Buddha preached that salvation could be attained only if one were to free himself or herself from worldly desires. Universal brotherhood of humankind was the underlying principle of Buddhism in its pristine form.
Unfortunately, modern-day extremist monks of Myanmar are more concerned with ethnic cleansing. Their critics are summarily silenced by the government of Myanmar, and this has left the Rohingya people at the mercy of the terrorist-members of the Mabatha and the 969 Movement.
This is where the international community needs to step in. The Dalai Lama, for instance, should be requested to help spread the true message of Buddhism among the Burmese masses and specifically criticize the extremists for defaming Buddhism.
The actions of the fundamentalists is causing great tension and turmoil in Myanmar (not to mention the fact that it is putting the lives and property of the Rohingya people at stake). If Myanmar actually intends to progress towards true democracy and prosperity, it will have to eliminate the terror groups like the Mabatha and the 969 Movement, and attempt to safeguard the interests of its religious minorities. True development seems impossible as long as terrorists are dominating the Burmese politics and society.
The murder trial in Nikopol, a town in eastern Ukraine, was entangled in bureaucratic delays that were clearly angering a father of one of the victims.
By the time a hearing opened on Nov. 30, the judge had already delayed the case 20 times over a year and a half. Two weeks earlier, the father, Ruslan Tapayev, had posted on Facebook that “the criminals who committed the crime should be punished. Otherwise, society will plunge into chaos.”
When the 21st hearing led to yet another postponement, the distraught man decided to take justice into his own hands. He pulled the pins from two hand grenades, then threw one at the three defendants and held the second, killing himself.
“It blew the windows out, and there was a fire, screaming and panic,” said Anzhelika Bahrova, a judge who just moments before had stepped out of the courtroom. “It is not easy to forget. Still, everything here reminds me of that blast.” One of the defendants was killed, and a dozen others were wounded.
After nearly four years of war with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, the spread of weapons stolen from the army has led to an increase in gun violence unusual for a European country. It has also led to something new and more disturbing: Hand grenades are turning up in a variety of crimes, including domestic violence and bank robbery.
The Ukrainian police reported seizing about 2,500 hand grenades this year, compared with 100 in 2013.
“This is the consequence of the enormous and uncontrolled circulation of military weapons on the territory of Ukraine after the beginning of hostilities,” said Anna Maliar, a criminologist. “In the past, people also had aggressive quarrels, but there was no access to grenades or other weapons. Now, it is very easy to purchase weapons from people who visit the war zone.”
The police are seizing an ever-growing number of explosive devices, even in areas far from the fighting, Small Arms Survey, a group that monitors the distribution of weapons globally, said in a report released in the spring.
Arms experts say it is no surprise that more and more grenades are leaking from the war zone. Hand grenades are easy to hide and hard to keep a good accounting of in combat situations.
“A grenade is consumable: It means that a soldier can claim that it exploded, but easily hide it instead,” said Bohdan Petrenko, the deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute of Research of Extremism in Kiev. The soldier can then sell it on the black market for about $15, a tidy sum in a country with per capita household income in 2016 of $1,135.66.
As a result, hand grenades have become an increasingly familiar aspect of Ukrainian life. In one of the earliest and deadliest attacks, a hand grenade thrown into a crowd of protesters in Kiev in 2015 killed four police officers and injured 141 people.
More recently, a Ukrainian serviceman killed himself by detonating a grenade after a quarrel with his girlfriend. An unemployed man threatened a gas station attendant with a hand grenade and then drove off without paying the bill.
Most hand grenade crimes take place in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, a frequently lawless area where the Ukrainian Army is fighting Russia-backed separatists.
One factor making grenades hard to track is the sheer number of people who have permits to enter the zone of military action, called the counterterrorist operation area. More than 10,300 people have died there since 2014, many of them civilians.
Thousands of people can be in the area at any given time, including residents, volunteers who bring supplies to the troops and members of paramilitary groups. “Civilians, especially women, are usually checked less,” said Mr. Petrenko, the researcher.
Firearms have flowed from the war zone as well, but because Ukraine lacks a central registry, it is hard to know how many. Moreover, gun ownership is widely supported in Ukraine. In 2015, it took only six days for a petition calling for a law for easy, legal, firearms possession to collect 36,000 signatures.
After the antigovernment uprising in 2014, several members of Parliament proposed legalizing firearms to eliminate black-market trading. They have suggested easing regulations to allow civilians to legally possess firearms for self-defense, rather than only for hunting, as is the case now.
But even if firearms were made more widely available, civilians would still not be allowed to possess hand grenades.
That makes a lot of sense, said Ms. Maliar, the criminologist, who said the war and economic hardship had put a lot of people on a short fuse. “Social tension increases in the society,” she said. “Law enforcement is not efficient, and people don’t trust the police.”
Many people, she added, think it is easier to take matters into their own hands.
Bohdan Petrenko, UNIAN
In the context of whether Russia will follow the orders of the UN International Court of Justice, a number of interesting details should be noted.
First, recent polls show the share of Russian citizens who choose not to care that Russia violated international law by occupying Crimea increased from 71% to 78% over the past year. Therefore, international law in Russia will be taken into account only when it suits their interests. The problem is not in Russia’s compliance with international standards but its ability to return to the civilized world. And it is what will determine Russia’s position regarding the orders of the International Court of Justice.
Second, both the restoration of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people and the promotion of Ukrainian language in Crimea are matters more of an ideological than legal nature for the Russians. In fact, even by admitting the fact that the Ukrainian language is being restricted in Russian-controlled territories drives Russia into a trap that it built for Ukraine when it constantly raised the question of the “violations of the rights of Russian-speakers.” However, Russia can just formally report that the Ukrainian language is not restricted. It may even hold a festival or some competition on the Ukrainian language in Crimea. But nothing more will be done…
After all, increasing the number of teaching hours in Ukrainian, not to mention the increasing number of Ukrainian classes means recognizing Moscow’s language expansion across the peninsula. So probably we should expect formal measures to “support” the Ukrainian language as well as rallies of Crimean parents “against the forcible imposition of the Ukrainian language,” reports on 99% of children refusing to study the language of “junta”, and “statistical data” claiming that the Ukrainian language is native only to 0.5% of the peninsula’s population, etc.
As for the restoration of the Mejlis, it can actually be revived, but also with certain hybrid modifications. This means that the Mejlis can be “restored” but, say, with different members. Potentially, even its name may be altered. For example, “the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people of Russia.” Of course, such organization will have nothing to do with the real Mejlis…
Another question is what consequences Russia will face if it chooses not comply with the ICJ orders, especially given its veto power in the UN Security Council and the recognition by Russia’s Constitutional Court of the norm that international treaties are of secondary importance compared to the Russian Constitution. Given the Kremlin’s manipulation capabilities, this decision by the ICJ might as well bring no repercussions for Russia whatsoever. But we shouldn’t consider naïve Ukraine’s tactics to put legal pressure on the aggressor. Kyiv’s goal is to create a negative perception of Russia worldwide. And any violation of international norms by the Kremlin will play in line with this strategy. Now we should prepare for the fact that Russia starts formally fulfilling the court’s requirements. The only question is how Ukraine should prove to the world the gap between the Kremlin’s statistical reporting and the realities regarding the decision of the International Court Council on Crimea.
O. Kutsenko, Professor of Sociology, Head of Social Structure and Social Relations Department, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (Ukraine)
L. Berlyand, Professor of Mathematics, Department of Mathematics, Penn State University, University Park, PA (USA)
A. Gorbachyk, Doctor of Mathematics, Dean of Sociology Faculty, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (Ukraine)
The modeling of the terrorists activities emerging in the West, which is based on network analysis and psychological approach, has recently become popular as a starting point for greater theoretical and methodological recognition of the dynamic structural properties of terrorist groups [Horgan 2004; Borum 2004; Dalgaard-Nielsen 2008, 2010; Sageman 2004, 2007; Hoffman2010; Mullins andDolnik 2010 etc.]. However, applications of this approach to empirical studies and monitoring are complicated essentially due to latent state of the radical networks and groups, which become apparent only through the terrorist actions (or other political violence), and their close functioning. The fact that accessibility of the group’s (network’s) representatives in empirical studies is very limited sets a limitation over research and practical use of this theoretical and methodological approach. By contrast with this approach, we are going to attack the problem from other angle. We propose to explore the utility of the Agent-Cultural sociological model of radicalization (ACSMR) of social milieus of Muslim migrants in the West through statistical (multi-level and log-linear regression, path analysis) and mathematical (using differential equations) modeling and empirical validation of the model. The ACSMR model is developed by O. Kutsenko, V. Sherstoboev in collaboration with L. Berlyand in several research projects during 2004-20111 to monitor and predict the development over time of social milieus of highly religious immigrants towards support of terrorism and other political violence [Berlyand, Kutsenko 2005; Kutsenko 2010; Sherstoboyev 2012]. The model is applicable not only to monitoring of general situation with intolerance in a country but also to defining of social milieus, which potentially can support the politically justified violence.
The model is grounded on conceptual interpretation of radicalization developed within the research finding by M. Sageman [Sageman 2004]. This interpretation distinguishes the four phases (stages) in critical changing in individual beliefs, feelings and behaviors: from the moral outrage as an initial trigger spreading in a social milieu (the phenomenon of the ‘morality play’) up to fusing between the global and the local, and finally an individual joining a terrorist cell, which becomes a ‘surrogate family’ [Sageman 2004, 2008; see also: Horgan 2009, 2008; McCauley 2008; Silber and Bhatt 2008; Slootman and Tillie 2008; Kühle, Lene and Lindekilde 2010;Kydd 2011]. As the basic indicators (dependent variables) of radicalization of social milieus our model uses the propagation in the milieu of beliefs and attitudes at supporting and approving violent ways of upsetting the existing political and social order in a society (at local, national, regional or global levels) based on the cultural justification (political, ideological, religious, moral) of the violent ways. We conceptualize the radicalization as a non-linear networked social process of self-organization in large-scale social milieus on the bases of critical transition in beliefs and attitudes, which lead to a formationof radically-oriented social networks or even radical group organizations. Two factors, namely: a social milieu (‘nutrient medium’ in physical sense) and information\cultural transmissions (from a moral authority, via mass-media and Internet) forming a learned behaviour, – play the key role as a possible catalyst of the radicalization process.
It is well-known that the rich spectrum of networked internal processes and their interactions result in multiple complexities. For a reduction of this complexity we propose to study the compactly supported factors and the critical conditions for transition of the social milieu to the radical state. On the background of the theoretical achievements both the so-called ‘cultural turn’ in sociological methodology [Alexander 1999; Harrison & Hantington 2001, etc.] and the agency and structural theoretical synthesis in explanatory sociological models (P.Burdieu; M.Archer; G.Therburn, etc.) we develop a sociological explanatory model of radicalization of social milieu of Islamic migrants, which can be verified on cross-cultural empirical data. One of the basic concepts in this explanatory model is ‘cultural kinetics’ [Moody and White 2003; White 2011]. The concept describes a transmission of cultural patterns and relationships as learned behaviour (e.g. of migrants) via interpersonal interactions within a large-scale community (or social network) that happen even under the strong pressure from the side of the control social institutes (e.g. of ‘accepting society’). By using this concept so it is able to study networked social processes, emergent phenomena in large networked communities, and formation and transmission of cultural patterns and social structure as learned behavior. The cultural patterns emerge out of the lives of ordinary persons, which interact and are networked within a certain social milieu, and produce these patterns in the course of their everyday life. The cultural patterns are continually updated with respect to the field of interdependencies between the environment, interpersonal relationships, bundles of behaviours/affects/cognitions, and access to resources and information through groups. These interdependencies form structures (‘shared’ culture, parts of which may be distributed differentially), which may change relatively slowly, but may also change abruptly as they reach critical transition thresholds. The study of complex systems demonstrates that it is a mistake to regard structures as fixed, immobile or recurrent in exactly repetitive form. Rather, these structures tend to be ‘vibrant’ within ‘oscillatory’ fields of motion. Studies of large-network phenomenon show important properties of self organization, including those of redundancy and resilience, in networks of low density that are central to understanding the emergence and functioning of processes of social and political influence and social organization.
The primary dimensions of ‘cultural kinetics’ are the horizontal plane of multiple agent/environmental interactions and the vertical plane of single agent/interior process interactions. The lag-time for results of internal processes to re-emerge into an overt behaviour far exceeds the time scale at which agents affect one another or agent/environment reactions take effect. The ‘cultural kinetics’ can be resulted in producing of threshold phenomena in the networked histories of people’s lives, that produce phase transitions or structural transformations of milieu, which may happen very rapidly.
The social milieus, characterized by the high level of support and approving of political violence, having well-developed interpersonal trust network, can potentially become the source for recruiting of violent acts performers.
Our previous study (2004-2011) reveals that the push factors (such as: economic and civic frustration, social and cultural distance and status deprivation, pinched personal dignity, conflict of personal identities, social isolationism) can form the sensitiveness of milieu to radicalization and can lead to the lost of durability and tolerance by social milieu. Thus, the pull factors perturb the milieu and catalyze the emergence of coherent large scale structures of radical attitudes and beliefs. The following principal pull factorswere identified in our study [Sherstoboyev 2012]:
- the ideological values (cultural, political, religious, moral);
- justification of the political violence;
- extensive social ties within a milieu;
- intolerant and aggressive attitudes towards outer social groups,
- authoritarian leadership (“agents of radicalization”),
- cultural / information influence.
However, the theoretical model tested on Ukrainian empirical data should be verified more thoroughly at least taking into account its the cultural sensitiveness. The empirical study of social milieus has to be oriented to the certain limited parameters of social milieus of migrants considered as a prototype of a milieu with high probability of radicalization.
According to the M. Sageman, Khosrokhavar, Hoffman and other researchers [Sageman 2004, 2007; Khosrokhavar 2006; Dalgaard-Nielsen 2008, 2010; Hoffman2010, etc.], there have been essential changes in radicalized groups in the West in ‘post-Iraq’ period after the transition phase of 9/11/01 – 3/03, i.e., the increase of number of poorly educated persons and homegrown dominance, as well as the decrease of the average age in such groups (from 25,6 to 20 in the current period). Taking into account these recent research findings about radicalization in the West and the peculiar features of its subjects in so-called post-Iraq generation, a further field study has to be focused on young migrants from Islamic states, in age of 16-30 attending Islamic religious or cultural centers in their city of residence. Personal devotion to Islam should be a crucial feature of the milieu; however, it can be combined with such religious as secular practices in everyday life.
Paying attention to the conceptual focus, the collecting of empirical data has to be conducted in cities of the Northern American and European continents with Muslim migrants’ communities. To minimize the influence of the cultural and institutional national specifics in the model the study needs comparison of national cases distinguishing in three-dimensions, namely: the national economic well-being, the immigration flows and the terrorism index. Each of the selected national cases has to have a moderate rate on the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), and strong representation of Islamic migrants in the immigrant flows, but they have to be differing on indicators of national wellbeing, political (un-)stability, the migration net flows as well as their historical preconditions.
The preliminary list of selected national cases matching the dimensions mentioned above is the following: the U.S., Austria (or German), Ireland, Portugal (or Spain), and Ukraine. Their profiles are:
To clarify the structural dimensions of the model (AGM) and estimate quantitatively its parameters, we propose to explore the following set of the data mining methods in all national cases listed above:
The main result of the proposed work will be a development of a formal model of radicalization of a migrant’s milieu and quantitative and qualitative validation of the model. This model will include a set of empirically based criteria for monitoring of radicalization of social milieus and will allow one to further justify policy-making suggestions. Combining the results of empirical study and novel theoretical modeling we expect to explain mechanisms of radicalization, or critical transition in social milieu with the clearly identified parameters that will allows early diagnostic and prevention of radicalization of social milieu.
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The paper is prepared within the NATO\CLG projects ‘Radicalization of Social Communities towards Support of Terrorism: sociological investigation and mathematical modeling’ and ‘Critical transition in social networks supporting terrorism: social empirical study and modelling by random graphs’ (2005-2013, Ref. Nо.983046)