Thursday, September 4, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Campaign for Chuvash Language Now Being Copied by Udmurts

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 4 – A campaign by Chuvash language supporters to get businesses and other institutions to put up signs saying “Here We Speak Chuvash” is spreading across that Christian Turkic republic in the Middle Volga and has now inspired activists in the nearby Finno-Ugric Republic of Udmurtia to do the same.


            Last spring, members of the Iryeklyekh Society for National-Cultural Rebirth began to hand out stickers to those organizations where Chuvash and not just Russian is spoken. Several dozen companies have now asked for them, with the “Respublika” newspaper becoming this week the latest to do so (


            Among the movement’s breakthrough moments was the decision in July by the Chuvash publishing agency to put such signs on all of the kiosks where its production is sold and the launch of an online library of translations into Chuvash, including one of Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” (


            The success the Chuvash activists have had in this regard has prompted the Udmurtlyk and Shundy organizations to launch a similar program in Udmurtia, a program that not only copies what the Chuvash have done but goes even further in dividing those organizations where the titular language is spoken and respected from all others (


            Not only are they distributing stickers saying “We speak Udmurt” to firms where people know the language, but they are also handing out ones saying “We support the use of the Udmurt Language” where there are none but where there is guidance available in Udmurt for those who need and want it.


            And the Udmurt activists say they plan to introduce a prize for those institutions which promote the use of the national language, something they say will encourage others to follow by making Udmurt knowledge part of their brands.


            While these are relatively small efforts in relatively small republics, they are important for two reasons. On the one hand, they reflect a renewed effort by people in them to encourage the use of the national language rather than Russian and thus promote national consciousness in much the same way activists in the union republics did at the end of Soviet times.


            And on the other, and again as at the end of Soviet times, what activists are doing in one republic is now being copied in another, a pattern that suggests what is now happening in two Middle Volga republics which few beyond their borders pay much attention to may soon spread to other, larger places which will pose a greater threat to Moscow’s control.

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