Staunton, June 2 – Sixty-seven leading Tuvin intellectuals have signed an open letter protesting plans to reduce their national language to the status of “a second foreign language,” the latest indication of how far some regional officials are prepared to go to meet Vladimir Putin’s plan to boost the study of Russian and how explosive such moves may become.
Their letter, posted today on the Tuva.asia portal, says that the proposal to reduce Tuvin to the status of a second foreign language was made at a meeting of the All-Russian Popular Front in Tuva on May 25 at which various members of the Tuvan government and education ministry took part (tuva.asia/news/tuva/7984-otkrytoe-pismo.html).
Speakers at that meeting, the authors of the open letter say, invoked Vladimir Putin’s call for “the restoration of a common educational space” in the Russian Federation by ensuring the study of non-Russian languages will not reduce either the study of the Russian language or that of any other subjects.
Participants at the May 25 meeting went beyond Putin’s words, the signatories say, by suggesting that “the study of Tuvan in part is taking place at the expense of Russian, with part of the hours devoted to this subject being given to the native language,” something that the Peoples Front group said must end.
The best way forward, the May 25 meeting suggested, is to have Tuvin reduced to the status of a foreign language in the republic and thus be in competition not with Russian but with other foreign languages like English or Chinese. That is a clear violation of the Russian Constitution and Russian law, the open letter says.
But what is most worrisome, the authors say, is the participation of Tuvan officials in the May 25 meeting “logically raises the question: is this the state policy of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Tuva regarding Tuvan, the language of the indigenous titular nation of the republic … or [only] the personal opinion of the roundtable participants?”
Any decision “on such a delicate question,” they continue, should not be taken without serious research, competent analysis, and discussion among experts, all the more so that what the May 25 meeting is proposing constitutes a direct violation of the existing Federal State Education Standards document.
So far, the authors add, the impression has been crated that “in the bowels of the Ministry of Education of the Republic are being ignored the provisions of the Law on Education” which requires that curricula reflect “regional social-economic, ecological, demographic, ethno-cultural and other characteristics of the subjects of the Russian Federation.”
The authors concede that Russian language competence among Tuvans is not what it should be, but they argue that the study of the theoretical foundations of that language can be carried out in another because “the goal of such study is not practical mastery but the study of language as a complex system.” International experience confirms that.
The open letter argues that “any language is the chief factor of ethnic identification, and Tuvin is no exception. It is the pride of the Tuvin people, ensures the maintenance and development of their spiritual culture: shamanism exists in it, and it is used by the followers of Buddhism. It has a rich folklore,” and “it is well-known throughout the entire world.”
“We do not have the right to put under threat the disappearance of the Tuvin language” but must do everything to preserve it and its more than 1500 year history, the authors say. And thus, “it is impermissible to allow the study of Tuvin in schools as a second foreign language” as the participants of the May 25 meeting have suggested.
The authors present six demands: First, they ask that the Tuvan government reject this proposal. Second, they demand that the Peoples Front acknowledge that it was mistaken in its proposals. Third, they call for republic parliamentary hearings on the status of Tuvin in the republic.
Fourth, they call for the development of a program for the support of Tuvan through 2021. Fifth, they ask that the education ministry review the activities of those of its employees who took part in the May 25 meeting with an eye to correcting their mistakes. And sixth, they demand that Tuvin parents not be forced to shift their children to non-Tuvan languages.