Staunton, June 8 – After promising that the draft language law would not be taken up by the full Duma until the fall session, a commitment that opponents of the measure hoped to use to push for changes in the legislation, Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Duma education committee, announced today that the measure will be voted on instead in 11 days.
That announcement (tass.ru/obschestvo/5274669) reverses what he said only a few days ago (nazaccent.ru/content/27226-gosduma-perenesla-rassmotrenie-zakonoproekta-o-dobrovolnom.html) and appears to reflect a double calculation on the part of the Presidential Administration which is pushing this measure for Putin.
On the one hand, it is certain to have caught the bill’s opponents among non-Russians flatfooted. They will have less time to organize and respond and now face the prospect that the measure will sale through the whole Duma before the end of this month without any significant change.
And on the other, this timing also means that the measure will go into effect this fall at the start of the next school year rather than in mid-year or even a year later as many opponents of the measure hoped, a speeding up in the timetable that suggests Putin plans to introduce other, still more radical changes in nationality policy in the near future.
In reporting on this development and on the discussions that preceded it, Ramazan Alpaut of Radio Svoboda’s portal raised the question bluntly in a post entitled “Has Moscow outsmarted the language activists?” (idelreal.org/a/29277782.html). In the short term, that would certainly appear to be the case.
Moscow’s much-ballyhooed changes in the original draft in fact “change nothing,” ever more non-Russian activists say; and thus they are confronted with a situation in which they were played by the regime, likely reflecting the Kremlin’s desire that there not be any protests about language issues during the World Cup.
But if the Kremlin has won this battle, it may have lost the war. Non-Russians can now clearly see that Putin and the Russian government have no interest in compromise and, more to the point, can’t be trusted to keep their word from one day to the next on when an important piece of legislation will come up for a vote.
Such perceptions will lead to the radicalization of opinion not only among those who were completely opposed to the measure from the start, mostly nationalist activists to begin with, but also and more significantly among those, many of them officials in the republics, who sought a compromise and now have been betrayed.
Both groups will be more suspicious of anything Moscow says as a result; and that will make it harder for Putin’s regime to make the other changes that seem certain to follow. Non-Russians, both civilian activists and officials, are likely to view any such change from the outset as a direct threat to their future.
That is the kind of loss of trust that contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union a generation ago. It is entirely possible however unlikely it may seem to many now that it will have the same impact on a Putin government not only too clever by half but transparently duplicitous as well.