Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Must Teach Russian to Non-Russian Draftees, Duma Deputies Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 11 – Reflecting the increasing share of non-Russians among draftees in the Russian army and the declining percentage of them who know the Russian language, Duma deputies are now calling for the Russian military to begin providing Russian-language training for soldiers in these groups.

            Yesterday, “Izvestiya” reported that members of the Duma education committee have concluded that the military must introduce course in the Russian language for draftees and said it would soon send a draft measure about that to the Ministry of Defense for its review (izvestia.ru/news/551689).

                Education committee staff told the Moscow daily that there has been a significant decline in the level of education among draftees in recent years and that many of the draftees, almost certainly those who come from the North Caucasus and other non-Russian regions of the country, do not speak Russian well enough to function as soldiers and sailors.

            If the Russian military is to be effective, these staffers added, those in its ranks need to know enough Russian to follow orders and to explain them to others. If that is not the case, it undermines the possibility of good order in the ranks.

            Apparently the situation has deteriorated to the point that parliamentarians think they have to do something: “The minimum for us,” they said, “is to teach those who do not speak Russian well to understand it; the maximum is to use Russian” as a means of promoting social cohesion within the ranks.

            “In Soviet times,” the paper noted, “the ABCs of Russian were taught in political enlightenment lessons for residents of the union republics.” The politruks used school textbooks, “but this took place in an unsystematic way and without testing.” 

            “Izvestiya” asked the defense ministry for a comment but was turned down, although it reported that Vasily Smirnov, the deputy head of the general staff had recently complained in an interview about the difficulties of working with those draftees who lacked what he called “sufficient education.”

            Vadim Rudnyev, a Moscow linguistics expert, told the paper that he thinks that the Duma proposal is a good one. The Soldiers’ Mothers Committee NGO did as well, as did parliamentarians surveyed on this issue by Regions.ru (regions.ru/news/2462593/), even though some of them argued that the schools not the military should address the issue first.

            But the idea of teaching Russian in the ranks is opposed by some.  Igor Zotov, a member of the Duma defense committee, said that he remembered such lessons from his time in the Soviet army but that “now” he does not see “any need” for them given that “the majority enter with elementary knowledge of the language.”

            And some military commanders, like Boris Podoprigov, the former head of the Unified Group of Forces in the North Caucasus are opposed as well, fearful that Russian language training would take time away from military instruction, something that is already at a premium given the dramatically shortened time in service for draftees.

                But the problem of lack of Russian language knowledge among draft-age young in the Russian Federation is not going away anytime soon. Indeed, the situation is getting worse from Moscow’s point of view. Regnum.ru reports, for example, that “almost a third of the graduates of schools in Chechnya do not know Russian” (regnum.ru/news/cultura/1669979.html).

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