Sunday, July 3, 2022

Chuvash, Fifth Most Widely Spoken Indigenous Language in Russia, Losing Out Even in Rural Areas

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 13 – Chuvash, the state language of the Chuvash Republic and the fifth most widely spoken indigenous language in the Russian Federation, no longer plays a significant role in urban areas or in the government and is rapidly losing its rural base as fewer pupils study it and ever more local media has become bilingual or even gone over to Russian entirely.

            As a result, Chuvash activist Aleksandr Blinov says, the state of the Chuvash language is anything but encouraging, although some activists are trying to replace what the state is no longer doing, cultural figures are promoting the language, and some migrants to the republic are choosing to speak the language (

            The statistics he provides in support of his negative assessment are truly disturbing to anyone concerned about the survival of this Turkic language. In the 2021/22 school year, 94 percent of the young people in Chuvashia studied in Russian; only six percent studied in Chuvash. And the situation in preschool structures is even worse as far as Chuvash is concerned.

            Moreover, those who do want to study Chuvash have few opportunities. In rural schools, they are now offered only three hours a week in Chuvash; in urban schools, only one hour. “There are almost no schools in the cities with Chuvash as the language of instruction.” And parents who want their children to study Chuvash are under pressure to change their requests.

            Despite Chuvash being alongside with Russian the state language of the republic, all official business is done “exclusively in Russian,” Blinov says. The media in Chuvashia is increasingly either in Russian or in bilingual publications at the local level which used to have Chuvash-only newspapers.

            There is no longer any sector in which those who don’t know Chuvash face difficulties, and that means that those who do speak Chuvash are not in a position to insist that others learn their language or even to believe that it is useful for them to continue to speak the language or encourage their children to learn it.

            According to the activist, there are only three positive aspects to this situation. First, many people moving to Chuvashia choose to learn Chuvash and thus are becoming what local people call “the new speakers.” Second, there is numerous group of activists who are promoting the language.

            And third – and this is by far the most important – intellectual, artistic and music groups are promoting Chuvash in their productions and performances, raising the status of the language even as the government does almost everything it can to reduce Chuvash to a language of the past and thus Chuvash identity to a narrowly cultural one.


Rights Activists in Putin’s Russia Increasingly Resemble Soviet-Era Dissidents, Orlov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 12 – Given the rising tide of repression in Russia today, human rights activists now increasingly resemble Soviet-era dissidents in terms of their activities; but they do enjoy the enormous advantage of being able to move abroad far more freely and to use the Internet to coordinate work of their colleagues even when their organizations are banned.

            Oleg Orlov, a leader of the Memorial Human Rights organization that the Russian authorities liquidated on April 5, says that in addition, the ability of those working in the human rights field to keep a step ahead of the Russian legal system is no small advantage (

            The old Memorial is no more, but the people who were part of it are still around, some in emigration and some inside Russia; and they are in the process of forming a new organization, the Memorial Center for Human Rights, a group the authorities have not banned although it is entirely possible that they will.

            “The new structure, formed without the establishment of a legal status, will document and publicize information about violations of the rights of Russians and help political prisoners and other victims of repression,” he says, precisely what the now-banned Memorial had been doing. And it will work via the Internet with √©migr√© leaders as well as those inside Russia.

            All this recalls the situation dissidents in Soviet times faced, Orlov continues. But “Soviet dissidents have many fewer opportunities that we have now.” Like them, we rely on publicity; but unlike them, we  can continue to work within the legal field that Russia tries to suggest it has. The country isn’t a legal state, but there are legal possibilities – and activists can use them.

            Many human rights activists are pessimistic, but they shouldn’t be, Orlov says. “The struggle of the Soviet rights activist sin the 1960s, 1970s and even the beginning of the 1980s seemed absolutely meaningless and hopeless. But in the end, it led to victory.” Something similar is again possible.

            “In Russia today,” he concludes, “we must follow the path of Soviet dissidents,” using all their tactics and taking advantage of all the new possibilities the current situation offers.


Introduction of Chinese Courses in Russian Far East Already Subject of an Anecdote

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 13 – The announcement that Russian schools in the Far East will introduce required courses in Chinese ( has attracted widespread attention and expressions of concern. Symbolic of that is the appearance of an anecdote about this.

            According to a story now circulating in Russia, “in Blagoveshchensk, all schools will begin teaching Chinese as a required course given that over the past four months, the demand there for workers who speak Chinese has doubled. This is how it always happens in Russia: while we are advancing in Ukraine, China is even more successfully stepping on our rear.”

            This is one of the new Russian anecdotes Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova has collected and published ( Among the best of the rest are the following:

·       The Russian emperor says he has no objection to the introduction of democracy in his country as long as things are arranged so that he remains in charge. Everything else, he says, is “just details.”

 ·       Russians think that if Kremlin leaders walked among them, they would immediately see how bad things are and take measures. But in fact, those leaders know exactly how bad things are and don’t care. Instead, their aides carry with them everything they need, including special toilets concealed in suitcases.

·       The name the Russian company is using now that it has taken over McDonald’s in Russia was stolen from a Portuguese company which makes dog food. A criminal case has been opened against the firm but it isn’t quite clear why: did the company not do due diligence or did it too it too well.

·       Now that McDonalds has reopened under a new name, many expect dealerships handling Western luxury cars to do the same and to offer Ladas instead of Land Rovers and Bentleys.

·       The letter Z has become so widely used that Russians say they live in the year Z0ZZ.

·       Under Putin, Russians no longer have to worry about stepping on Soviet rakes, the term they use for tripping over their own shortcomings. Instead, they must worry about stepping on tsarist rakes.

 ·       According to a post on a singles site, an unmarried man with 20 kilos of buckwheat, 16 kilos of rice and 120 cans of stew wants to meet up with a woman with sugar, flour, and pasta so that they can live together. Intimacy is possible but not required. 

Not Only are Fewer Tatars Studying Their Native Language but Schools Now Offers Them Fewer Hours to Learn It Well, Gyylman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 13 – No one disputes that the number of people who know and use Tatar is declining rapidly, but in the absence of census data, no one can say precisely how much of a decline there has been; and even with materials from the census, no one can be precisely sure how accurate declarations of Tatar language knowledge and use are, Nail Gyylman says.

            What can be tracked with more accuracy is the state of Tatar language use in schools and the media, the Tatar analyst and activist says. And there the situation is extremely dire. Overall, he says, one can say that “Tatarstan remains a leader among the republics in terms of the use of the language of the republic” (

            But that is only because of the position it had already at the end of Soviet times. Now, Gyylman continues, it must be acknowledged that “the Tatar language is also among the leaders in terms of the loss of its positions” in all these places, “the result of the educational and language policies of the federal center and its own mistakes.”

            Over the last decade, he says, “successfully begun projects for creating a national higher educational school were destroyed. And now Tatar and other languages of the Russian Federation are step by step being driven out even from the main middle schools.” And elsewhere the situation is if anything worse.

            All successes at the local and rural level and in popular culture can’t make up for the losses in the area of education and most importantly “the destruction of the language milieu.” Symbolic of this decline, Gyylman argues, is in book publishing, a field which was “the pride of the Tatars at the start of the 20th century.”

            “The print runs of books in Tatar in 2021 were only ten percent as large as they were in 1993 and only about 25 percent of what they were under the tsar in 1913.” Moreover, “the total tirage of books issued in Tatar over the last five years was 20 percent less than the size of the print runs of Bashkir-language books over the same period.

            In his latest article, Gyylman documents not only the decline in the number of pupils studying Tatar but also the decline in the number of hours of Tatar-language instruction available even to them. The first reflects the shift away from the language, and the second equally disturbing the loss of the chance to learn the language well even by those who want to.

            Overwhelmingly, he finds, those are people in the smaller urban centers and rural areas. And what that means is that Tatar is rapidly degrading and becoming what many Russians and some Tatars have said for a long time, a peasant language that can’t possibly serve those who live in cities and want a modern life. 


Andropov was the Stolypin of Late Soviet Times, Romanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 12 – Because he served as head of the KGB so long and was leader of the Soviet Union for such a short time, because he surrounded himself with reformist intellectuals and promoted leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev, and because he both repressed many dissidents but protected others, the most contradictory theories abound about Yury Andropov.

            Most of these theories are wild exaggerations, ranging from those who argue that he wanted to restore Stalinism to those who say he was secretly engaged in a plot to destroy socialism and disintegrate the Soviet Union, Boris Romanov, an editor of the journal Democracy and Socialism in the 21st Century says (

            Instead, having examined those who promote the one conspiracy theory or the other, Romanov argues that Andropov was committed to reforming the system rather than destroying it and that he was intellectually curious enough to consider various means to do that but lacked both the power and the time to carry things through.

            In that, the editor says, he was much like Petr Stolypin, Nicholas II’s prime minister who launched reforms to save the imperial system rather than destroy it and who, because of assassination, did not live long enough to carry out the policies he favored that would have left the empire in far better shape.

            The analogy between Andropov and Stolypin, Romanov says, is suggested by Antonio Gramsci’s observation that when an old order is dying but a new one is not ready to replace it, “many malignant symptoms manifest themselves.” Both Stolypin and Andropov tried to “rid state and society” of these things by both reform and repression. But both failed.


Kazan Officials have Liquidated VTOTs to Show Moscow How Loyal They Are, Zakiyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 12 – On June 10, the Supreme Court of Tatarstan liquidated the All-Tatarstan Social Center which Moscow had earlier declared an extremist organization. According to Farit Zakiyev, its president who is now in emigration, it was Kazan rather than Moscow which took this second decision.

            The reason for this unfortunate decision, he suggests, is that the Tatarstan authorities wanted to show Moscow just how loyal they are by exceeding even what the center desired just as they have so often done in the past, most infamously during Stalin’s Great Terror (

            In 1937, Zakiyev recalls, Moscow gave the order for Kazan to shoot 500 people. But the servile officials in Tatarstan “shot 2,000,” most of them Tatars. That is they did even more than the center desired. Today, Moscow wants VTOTs marginalized; but Kazan to demonstrate that it is ready to overfulfill the plan liquidated it.

            Of course, neither Moscow’s desires nor Kazan’s decision can keep VTOTs and others like it from operating abroad and organizing things at home via the Internet, Zakiyev says. And that is what he says he and his group will do as they wait for the political climate at home to change.

            As for himself and his group, he wants to expand contacts with organizations and activists representing the peoples of the Middle Volga and with others in the Baltic countries, Ukraine and the Caucasus who have experience in pursuing their national goals. And he hopes to return to Kazan this fall to take part in a national commemoration.

            Zakiyev’s plans are interesting, but his comparison of the situation now with that of 1937 is more noteworthy because it explains a frightening political reality. Again as under Stalin, officials are exceeding even what Moscow wants as a means of demonstrating their loyalty and reliability, a pattern that points to truly dark days ahead.

            Not only will such officials take actions that go beyond what Moscow has initially demanded. More dangerously, their actions will become the new baseline for future actions by the center that will go far further than it initially intended as the Kremlin sees what the traffic will bear and becomes ever more repressive.

Only Six Percent of the Newspapers in the Russian Federation and Two Percent of Journals There Now in Non-Russian Languages

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 12 – “Statistics on the periodical press in non-Russian languages – changes in the number of publications, their print runs, and their share of all publications – is one of the important indicators of the development and current state of the cultures of the peoples of Russia,” Nail Gyylman says.

            And what they show not only highlights the decline of both the media and their nations brought on by Russian nationality policy but the threat to the continued existence of the non-Russian peoples there, according to a detailed analysis of the changes in these figures between 1990 and 2020 carried out by the Tatar analyst (

            Over that 30-year period, the number of newspapers in the minority languages actually increased slightly to 519, 6.6 percent of all newspapers in the country. Most of these outlets were district-level papers directed at rural residents of the older and middle-aged generation who are products of schools where instruction until recently was in those languages.

            But their total print runs were much smaller than those of Russian-language papers and amount to only about 1.5 percent of the total tirage of papers in the Russian Federation. Moreover, they are concentrated in five languages – with 60 percent of these papers and 71.5 percent of their print runs in only five languages – Tatar, Chuvash, Ossetian, Bashkir and Sakha.

            In 2020, Gyylman continues, there were 133 journals published in the non-Russian languages, about two percent of the total number of journals published in the Russian Federation. The total tirage of the non-Russian journals, however, was only 0.28 percent of the total, an indication that their print runs are very small.  

            And in the case of journals as in the case of newspapers, these are concentrated in only a few nationalities: almost 72 percent of the print rune in only three languages – Tatar, Bashkir and Sakha. There were very few journals and those which existed had very small print runs in the North Caucasus and elsewhere.

            The situation would have been even more dire had it not been for the Internet. Over the last 30 years, the number of newspapers in non-Russian languages and in Russian increased equally by about 65 percent. The number of journals in Russian doubled, while the number in non-Russian languages increased 1.7 times.

            In 1990, 33 numbers of journals were published for each resident of the RSFSR. Of this, there were five in Tatar for each Tatar, 2.9 in Bashkir for each Bashkir; and 1.7 in Chuvash for each Chuvash. The penetration of the market for all the others was microscopically small, Gyylman says.

            Over the last 30 years, the combined print run of journals in non-Russian language fell by 20.8 percent, with Tatar-language journals falling by 34.9 percent, Chuvash by 35.5 percent, Mari by 20 percent, and Bashkir by 12.2 percent. Non-Russian newspaper print runs now constitute only 1.5 percent of the total; non-Russian journals, 0.28 percent; and non-Russian books, 0.45 percent.

            The causes behind this trend include “the low level of knowledge of native languages as a result of the lack of opportunity to study it, the driving out of non-Russian languages from educational, socio-economic and political spheres, too few resources, and the absence of attention and interest by national elites,” Gyylman says.

            All of this reflects the outcome of a concerted nationality policy against non-Russian languages by Moscow and of the demographic and cultural changes of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s which began to manifest themselves only at the end of the20th century when the first generation which had grown up in cities and the majority of whom never studied and did not know well their native languages.”

            Together with economic problems, Gyylman says, “this led to a loss of interest among the younger generation of the majority of indigenous peoples to the non-Russian print media.” But the survival of some outlets shows that these are important to the future of these nations. If they come back, these nations will; if they don’t, the nations will likely cease to exist as well.