Friday, May 8, 2020

Russification and Assimilation of Non-Russians Lacking State Autonomies Takes Place Far Faster than among Those Who Do, Gyylman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 7 – A major reason why non-Russian nations who have autonomous republic status fear to lose it and why non-Russians without that seek to gain it is that Russification and assimilation of the latter take place “several times faster” in the latter than in the former, Nail Gyylman says.

            This is not something Moscow scholars like to discuss given that the Kremlin has made it clear that it would like to see the national republic be dissolved and routinely claims that non-Russians living outside of such entities can nonetheless retain their languages and identities via national-cultural associations and the like.

            That makes a study conducted by Nail Gyylman, who blogs for the 7x7 portal and writes frequently on nationality issues involving Turkic and Finno-Ugric groups, on rates of ethnic and linguistic survival among Karels in Karelia and Karels in Tver Oblast especially instructive and important  (

            “The current status of the Karels and the Karelilan language is the saddest example of the consequences of the policy of Russification and assimilation of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation which began in the Soviet era in the middle of the 20th century and continues in present-day Russia.”

            That reality is known to most who are concerned about ethnic problems in Russia. But they know only about the Karelians in Karelia, a nation which forms only 7.6 percent of the total population of the republic and only a third of whose members speak their native language, one that alone of the titular languages of the non-Russian republics doesn’t have official status.

            But as bad as things are for Karelians in Karelia, the situation of Karels outside of the republic, including in Tver Oblast which was once home to a large community of them is far worse, Gyylman says. Formed after Russia’s defeat in the 17th century war with Sweden, the Tver Karels have almost completely disappeared.

            According to the 1926 census, there were 140,000 Karelians in Tver Gubernia, “of whom more than 95 percent spoke Karelian.”  In the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviet supported the community with schools and administrative districts; but that policy was ended in the late 1930s, and the Tver Karelians were clearly slated for assimilation.

            From that time began “the catastrophic decline of Tver Karelia,” Gyylman says. “The destruction of national culture and the absence of prospects generated an active resettlement of the rural population, in the first instance the young from villages to major cities since the beginning of the 1950s.”

            As a result, their numbers tumbled from 119.900 in the 1939 census to 23,200 in the 1989 enumeration to only 7400 in 2010; and their share of the population in the oblast fell from 3.7 percent to 1.4 percent to 0.6 percent now. The community tried to revive itself in the 1990s by opening Karel language schools but all but one school has dropped this program.

            Between 1926 and 2010, the number of Karels in Karelia fell by a factor of 2.2 times, but the number of Karels in Tver Oblast fell over the same period by an order of magnitude greater, by 19 times, Gyylman says.

            This “assimilation is taking place as a result of the compete destruction of the institutions for the preservation of the national language and culture,” something regional officials may have taken the lead in so as to force the Karels to leave rural portions of the oblast and more to the cities.

            Gyylman sums up: “The processes of assimilation and socio-economic degradation of national districts as shown by the example of the Karels of Tver Oblast affects or can affect all the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation.” And consequently, what is happening to the Karels is something all of them should attend to.

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