Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Russia’s Parties Must Address Fate of Russian Language Training in Non-Russian Republics, Activists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 5 – Many commentators have long predicted that the Duma elections will exacerbate ethnic tensions in the Russian Federation even though ethnic parties are prohibited and the FSB exercises tight control over most political speech. But so far, with the exception of some protests by Tatarstan about the status of that republic, these predictions have not come true.

            Now, however, there are indications that the elections do in fact threaten to exacerbate ethnic feelings albeit in a way few observers have attended to. That is, the upcoming vote is prompting Russian speakers in non-Russian republics to complain about Moscow’s failure to lay down the law to the latter.

            A group of Russians and Russian speakers from Bashkortostan, Buryatia, the Komi Republic, and Tatarstan have come together to lodge an appeal, as “defenders of the Russian language in the national regions of Russia” to the country’s political parties and movements” (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2016/07/04/etnolingvisticheskij_konflikt/).

            “On the eve of the elections to the Russian State Duma,” their declaration says, “we want to turn your attention to the sad situation with regard to the study of Russian which can be seen in a number of national republics of Russia” since 2000. 

            The situation in Tatarstan is the most dire, it continues, but the problem there is found in many places. It arises, the appeal says, because the republic governments are able to make their titular languages required subjects in the schools even if there is no real “non-Russian linguistic milieu” and even if parents do not want their children to spend time on these languages.

            But the reason that this situation has arisen is to be found in Moscow: shortcomings in existing federal legislation and the unwillingness of Duma deputies to take up the issue. Typically, the appeal says, the deputies return to the republics and thus to those doing the discrimination against Russian any complaints from these places.

            “Of all the regions of Russia, Crimea alone without any qualification makes the choice of language voluntary,” the appeal says. Crimean residents can study Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian if they want to; they are not forced to do so by the republic authorities. And this principles in enshrined in federal law about the peninsula.

            “In all other national regions, the local administrations are able to conduct the former policy on language by operating on the gaps in the increasingly out of date language legislation of the country,” the appeal says.  Indeed, it complains, nowhere does Russian have the status of “’a native language’” even though at least 80 percent of people in the republics speak it.

            Parties in the Duma have not been willing to raise this issue and introduce change, the appeal continues, adding that this negligent approach offends “defenders of the Russian language” who are, it stresses, “potential voters.”  The parties and their leaders should remember that.

            The appeal outlines a large number of specific changes in Russian legislation that would make the study of Russian as the state language obligatory everywhere and the study of non-Russian languages completely voluntary, a shift that would undermine the non-Russian nations and their republics.

            But the signatories of the appeal assert that “our demands are just and correspond to the Constitution which guarantees equal rights to all citizens throughout the territory of the Russian Federation.” 

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