Monday, February 20, 2017

Non-Russian Languages Threatened by Russia’s ‘Homegrown Globalism’ – Russification

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 20 – Languages which have relatively small numbers of speakers are threatened around the world by the forces of globalization, but in Russia, this threat is greater than many other places because of what one Chuvash commentator calls that country’s “homegrown globalism” – Russification.

            Ersubay Yangarov, the Chuvash correspondent for Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir Service, interviewed a group of Chuvash philologists, journalists, and teachers about the current state and future prospects of the Chuvash language in the Chuvash Republic and in the Russian Federation as a whole (

            While some expressed some optimism about the future, most are alarmed by state of Chuvash now. In the words of one journalist, “Russification is proceeding on the sly. Now, we struggle with cosmopolitan globalism but completely forget about our domestic homegrown form – Russification.”

            In the Chuvash Republic, Chuvash form 68 percent of the population, but only 274 primary schools use Chuvash and then only as a secondary language. “There is not a single school [now] in the republic which uses Chuvash for all subjects,” Yangarov points out. His interlocutors say the situation is the same for other republics and even worse for diasporas.

            Unlike even in Soviet times, now, “Chuvash has ceased to be studies in teacher training schools and technicums even though in them study primarily children from Chuvash villages,” and in urban kindergartens and schools no Chuvash classes are held at all, meaning that the language is increasingly being frozen out of the growing urban population.

            One of the clearest indications of that is that in classes five through nine, only one hour a week is devoted to the study of the Chuvash language, even though officials then count such schools as dual language institutions.  And in the republic’s university, the Chuvash philology faculty has been closed. As a result, there won’t be new teachers of Chuvash.

            Chuvash media are also in trouble, the participants in this discussion say.  On the one hand, people are turning away from the print media to the Internet. And on the other, in the words of one, “that relative ‘freedom’” in regional media outlets is “even lower than in the USSR,” given that officials see any interesting stories as potential attacks on themselves.

            And that is a problem because in Chuvashia as in most non-Russian areas, there are no private print media in the national language. That means the government controls them, and all involved know what the limits are as far as covering local stories that people are interested in but that officials don’t like.

            One longtime Chuvash journalist adds that “the picture is the same for all national newspaper – in Tatarstan, in Bashkortostan and in Mari El,” for example. And the many non-Russians who live beyond the borders of their titular republics face an even more dire situation relative to their native languages in the schools and in media.

            The participants make two final observations which are worthy of note. First, while many Chuvash parents choose to push their children into a Russian-language environment in the hope that this will help them get ahead, non-Russians from elsewhere who come to Chuvashia pick up the native language even more rapidly and completely than many Chuvash children.

            And second, they say, the situation with regard to non-Russian schools is much worse now under Putin than it was in Soviet times.  There were some 1200 Chuvash schools beyond the borders of the Chuvash ASSR before 1991; now there are only 300 and none of them uses Chuvash for all subjects.

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