Thursday, June 7, 2018

Putin’s Language Plans Dividing Country on Ethnic Lines, Threatening Russia’s Future

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 7 – Opposition to Vladimir Putin’s plan to make the study of all languages except Russian voluntary has sparked a level of opposition among non-Russians that “ignoring this anger would be extremely dangerous for the country because it has already split Russian society along nationality lines,” Denis Pisaryev writes in today’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

            The Moscow commentator cites five reasons for this anger, reasons that he suggests Moscow will ignore only at its peril (, a warning underscored by the outbreak of interethnic violence in the depths of the Russian Far East that could presage more elsewhere (

            First, Pisaryev says, whatever its supporters say, the draft language law will again divide children along ethnic lines in much the same way they were in Soviet times, something that sparked nationalist tensions at that time and could easily do so ago, educators in various republics say.

            Second, Ramazan Abdulatipov, the former head of Daghestan, reminds that getting young people to learn Russian while forgetting their own won’t make the pro-Moscow but rather may have exactly the opposite effect. At the end of Soviet times, he says, “those who did not know their own language and weren’t integrated into their own culture and tradition were the ones who became nationalists and extremists.”

            “Every citizen of Russia must think about the civil rights of all Russians of various naitonalities. That is the path toward stability and development. Any nationalism or efforts to infringe on the rights of anyone on the basis of nationality is anti-cultural and immoral,” in addition to being dangerous.

            Third, Pisaryev says, many non-Russians are convinced that the draft language law is intended to provoke “a mass turning away from native languages” and thus constitutes “a form of forcible assimilation of the peoples of Russia.”  Some may go along for egoistic reasons; but others will resist.

            Fourth, the new legislation allows for “pressure of the Russian language majority on the non-Russian language minority” and that in turn divides people, leading some to feel they are first class citizens while others are treated as second class.  Such feelings will lead to conflicts and even violence.

            And fifth, according to commentator Maksim Shevchenko, he like many others considers that this move against languages is “only a step toward the future redrawing of the administrative map of the country when national regions will be liquidated and Russia will cease to be a federal state.

            According to a Tatar commentator, “it seems to me that we stand at the brink of a grandiose conflict. Language contradictions are the main line of division in a multi-national state. In my view,” he says, “we have an outstanding Constitution from the point of view of the observation of the rights and interests of all ethno-linguistic communities.”

            “But the authorities instead of implementing its provisions,” Amil Sarkarov says, “are acting in the opposite direction. I am ever less inclined to believe that the current bill will enter into force, but if that all the same happens, then any prophylactic measures for preserving inter-ethnnic peace will turn out to be powerless.”

            That is because, Sarkarov says, “the line of division will become so deep” that no “bindings” will hold things together unless this “anti-constitutional law” is repealed.

            That this could lead to violent clashes between nationalities is all too real a possibility. Indeed, in a Nanay village in Khabarovsk Kray, ethnic Russians in masks have attacked members of this nationality; and its members in response have threatened to take up arms against these people if the authorities continue to do nothing to stop them.

            That this is an ethnic conflict and not simply a clash between Russian criminals and members of a numerically small people of the North who occupy valuable land is suggested by several commentaries attached to the original article. Among them, one stands out: “Don’t forget [the Nanais] are local residents, and we here are guests.”

            “In the years of the war and the construction of Komsomolsk [-na-Amure] how much they helped the Russians! And now think what hatred they have for us!” 

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