The tone of the meeting was set by Academician Indus Tagirov who said that ever since Muscovy conquered Kazan in 1552, “the task of russifying the non-Russian peoples has been the chief goal of the state; and it has never been changed, not in Soviet times or now.” Sometimes the government has been explicit; sometimes now; but it goals remain the same.
The Tatars of the Middle Volga have never blindly submitted, he continued; instead, they have led the resistance. Today, regardless of what answer the Tatars give, “protest attitudes will only grow.” But because the Putin regime is so blatant, it has “awoken us – and not only the Tatars but also the Udmurts, the Bashkirs and other peoples as well.”
Historian Murat Lotfullin said that everyone must recognize that what Putin is trying to do is far more serious than he admits: By killing off non-Russian language instruction in the middle school years, the Kremlin leader has effectively prevented the republics from training teachers in universities. And that means there won’t be any instructors.
If there are no teachers for these languages in the future, he continued, then Moscow will say there can’t be any instruction in them even if parents request it. That is suggested by the draft bill’s references to “limitations” that may prevent instruction in one or another language. Apparently a very small thing but something with a long shadow.
Rashit Shakirzyanov, the editor of the Tatar journal Science and Language, said this threat means that Tatars must take the lead in creating a Tatar-language university while there is still time. There are enough teachers and resources to do so now, he suggested; but there may not be enough in a few years’ time.
Alfrid Bustanov, a professor at St. Petersburg’s European University, and Alsu Gilmutdinova, a specialist on publications, both agreed, with the latter arguing that the promotion of bilingualism is becoming ever more important not only for Tatars but also for ethnic Russians as well.
“More than 60 percent of people in the world know a minimum of two languages,” she said. In Russia, the figure is much lower – about 15 percent – and most of that reflects Russian language knowledge among non-Russians. Very few Russian speakers have bothered to learn a second language, especially one spoken by a people within Russian borders.
Finally, political scientist Ruslan Aysin called for including more Tatar literary works in translation in the Russian speaking programs. “They study Shakespeare” in translation; “why can’t they study our writers as well.”