Monday, September 4, 2017

Requiring Study of Non-Russian Languages in Republics Doesn’t ‘By Itself’ Violate Pupils’ Rights, Vasilyeva Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 2 – Speaking to the All-Russian Parents Assembly at the end of last week, Russian Education Minister Olga Vasilyeva said that requiring pupils in the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation to study non-Russian languages doesn’t “by itself” violate the rights of the pupils or their parents.

            The standard, she said, is that such study must not take time away from the study of Russian, the state language of the country, or represent an obstacle to taking examinations to enter higher education institutions ( and

            Meeting that standard may not be achievable: if the number of hours of Russian instruction is maintained at all-Russian levels, the only way to have enough hours for instruction in the non-Russian languages would be to cut reduce the time spent studying other subjects and thus making it more difficult for pupils to score well on the entrance examinations.

            But Vasilyeva’s words nonetheless represent a clear departure from the way in which many Russians have read Vladimir Putin’s declaration about Russian-language instruction and appear to reflect the desire of some in Moscow to calm anger among non-Russians about his attack on their languages.

            Indeed, the education minister went out of her way to be both reasonable and reassuring to the non-Russians: “We have a multi-national and multi-confessional country,” she said. “It seems to me that it is not entirely correct if you are born and live on the territory of Bashkortostan or Tatarstan and do not know the language” of the titular nationality.

            The education minister is clearly facing pressure from both sides in this debate. On the one hand, some Russian speakers are demanding a tough line against any study of the non-Russian languages by Russians who don’t want to, believing that is what Putin has promised (

            But on the other, many non-Russians have protested against efforts to make the study of their languages entirely voluntary, viewing that as a direct threat to their national futures (, and

            For the former, Vasiliyeva’s words will likely be viewed as a betrayal; for the latter, a concession to their interests and rights.  In any case, the declaration of the education minister ensures that the debate about non-Russian languages and the requirements that residents in the republics study them is likely to intensify in the weeks ahead.

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