Sunday, April 14, 2019

41 Years Ago Today, Georgians Forced Moscow to Back Down on Language Issue

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 14 – Today, Georgia celebrated Mother Language Day on the anniversary of the April 14, 1978, demonstration in which 100,000 Georgians took to the streets to protest against Moscow’s plan to drop the paragraph in the Georgian SSR Constitution defining Georgian as the republic’s state language.

            To the amazement of many, Moscow backed down and allowed the Georgian language to remain constitutionally the republic language of that republic.  This mass demonstration represented a major step on Georgia’s ultimately successful efforts to recover its independence, something Tbilisi achieved less than 14 years later (

            Many in Moscow almost certainly would have preferred the use of force against the Georgians, but the size of the demonstration and the involvement in it of people from all walks of life apparently convinced the Soviet leadership that a crackdown would have proved counterproductive, probably sparking serious violence.

            The parallels with the situation for both non-Russians whose languages are under attack by Moscow and the central Russian government which wants to avoid sparking the kind of violence that crushing any massive expressions of dissent are obvious and carry with them their own lessons.

            For non-Russians within the current borders of the Russian Federation, massive demonstrations may be the most effective tool to defend their national languages; for Moscow, any quick moves on the language front can spark large and unpredictable protests whose fallout may be far more threatening to the center than allowing people the continued use of languages.

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