Monday, May 11, 2020

Mono-Ethnic Villages and Rural Districts, ‘Last Bastions’ of National Cultures, Under Increasing Threat, Gyylman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – The numerically small mono-national villages and districts consisting of ethnic groups different than those surrounding them, “the last bastion” of the languages and cultures of their peoples,” are increasingly under threat and with them the languages and cultures of the nations they represent, Nail Gyylman says.

            In a continuation of his examination of the Russification and assimilation of Karelians in Tver Oblast (, the independent scholar surveys the threats to these communities and the ways in which they could be defended (

            And Gyylman focuses particular attention on something often neglected: Because Russian villages emptied earlier, Putin’s municipal reforms, which allow for combining localities into one, are hitting these non-Russian villages and districts far harder. Indeed, that may be one of the reasons behind this policy change. 

            Ethnic villages and districts are emptying out of population because of the absence of work and investment in them. As a result, many places that only a generation ago had enough people to support a vibrant ethnic and linguistic life are losing those possibilities, especially in the Middle Volga region.

            “In contrast to the central oblasts of the Russian Federation,” Gyylman continues, “in the rural districts of the Middle Volga republics, the villages and towns are larger, the rural settlements are bigger, and the share of the population formed by the district center is smaller,”  which means that their impact on the district is smaller as well.

            That makes Putin’s municipal reforms especially harmful for such villages and districts because as a result of the fusion of several rural districts into one, the people lose the rural administrations, schools and other public structures which provide employment and typically are still conducted in the local language rather than Russian.

            The first leads to an acceleration of outmigration; the second in combination with it to Russification and assimilation, Gyylman concludes.

            The liquidation of rural settlements and the creation of municipal districts as the Putin reform calls for hit predominantly ethnic Russian rural areas as well, he notes. “But since both in Russian oblasts of the center, west and north of the Russian Federation, the villages long ago emptied, the greatest harm these reforms can inflict is in [non-Russian] republics and districts.”

            There, “the liquidation of rural settlements can finally destroy the remnants of national language and cultural milieu of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation.” In the Volga and Ural republics, all the regimes except in Udmurtia are working hard to fight this development because they can see the handwriting on the wall.

            If they are not successful in resisting this Muscovite pressure, Gyylman says, there is a great risk that the loss of these bastions of ethnic and linguistic culture will threaten the survival of whole nations and their languages in the coming decades.

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