Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What Killing a Non-Russian Language Looks Like Now

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 7 – Vladimir Putin’s statement – and it was only a statement and not a decree or a law, as many commentators appear to have forgotten – that no one should be forced to study a language not his or her own from birth except for Russian which all residents of the Russian Federation must know regardless is taking on ever more vicious dimensions.

            The ways in which Russian parents in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and the Komi republic have used Putin’s words to pull their children out of non-Russian classes and the ways in which prosecutors in Tatarstan have gone looking for any Russians ostensibly being forced to study Tatar have received widespread attention, even as they have sparked opposition.

            But as usual in these circumstances, the worst abuses are taking place out of the glare of publicity in smaller non-Russian republics where the authorities really have a chance to kill off education in non-Russian languages and possibly accelerate the demise of the titular nationalities as well.

            One such place is the Republic of Altay, a 200,000-strong Turkic republic which has an ethnicRussian majority and which Moscow has routinely imposed rulers who do not speak any language but Russian and whose population is increasingly discouraged about the future of their language and their people.

            A brief report in a local newspaper shows the insidious way in which officials there are now implementing Putin’s words in ways that will only hasten the death of the Altai language, a pattern that may presage what will happen first in other neglected republics and then in larger and more prominent ones.

            According to the paper, prosecutors and United Russia Party activists are conducting checks about the voluntary study of the Altai language “only in Altai villages” where there are still schools in that language, not in the cities where there are almost none, and not in areas where ethnic Russians form a large majority (listock.ru/glavnaya/respublika-altaj/7609-chto-ishchet-prokuratura-v-altajskom-yazyke).

                But as Listok puts it, “no one is beating the drums about the fact that the Altais are ever more often losing their native language” or asking what will happen “if an entire people gives up on its native language.” And yet it would seem that if that is occurring “something is not quite right in the government’s policies.”

            Altais are ever more often losing their language and quite often officials put up a show to suggest that this is not the case. “In order to create the appearance of parity of power,” Moscow installs “mankurts,” Altais who do not know their language or culture, in positions of authority. Such people don’t’ defend their people; they do just the reverse in order to be promoted.

            If things go on as they are, the paper suggests, the Altai language and with it the Altai people will die out, apparently what the mankurts and Moscow want. But certainly not what the Altais have been promised or on reflection want for themselves. 

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