Thursday, June 29, 2017

Parliamentarians Worry about Linguistic ‘Discrimination’ Against Russians in Non-Russian Republics

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 29 – Five non-Russian republics have either introduced or plan to introduce fines against officials who do not know the language of the titular nationality and cannot conduct business in it, actions that some Russian parliamentarians view as a form of discrimination against Russians and Russian speakers and others say is a threat to the territorial integrity of the country.

            But at the same time, most of the deputies and senators whom the portal surveyed for their reaction indicated that language issues are extremely sensitive and potentially explosive if they are not approached with delicacy and extreme care and warned against any attempt to apply a single cookie cutter approach to them (

            Valery Rashkin, the first deputy chairman of the Duma’s nationality affairs committee and a member of the KPRF, says that any approach to this question must be taken with extreme care. At the same time, however, he warned against “any discrimination against the Russian language and Russian cultural traditions” given that they hold the country together.

            History shows, he continued, that promoting one language at the expense of others if done incautiously “always leads to mutual distrust” and can lead to “the appearance of attempts to leave the Russian Federation.”  There must be a balance between the languages but everything must be voluntary and not by compulsion.

            Aleksey Didenko, chairman of the Duma’s federalism committee and a member of the LDPR, said that his party “considers that any use and dissemination of national languages in the subjects of the Russian Federation in which the state language is Russia must take place exclusively on a voluntary basis.”

            “No one has the right to force anyone” to use a language he or she does not voluntarily choose.  At the same time, however, Didenko continued, “today there is no need to adopt a law on the defense of the rights of Russians to the free use of Russian because corresponding legislative norms have already been adopted at the federal level.”

            Vladimir Poletayev, deputy chairman of the Federation Council Rules Committee from the Altay Republic, said that the issues involved with language use are “very delicate.” In many republics, people need to speak two or more languages but this should be achieved gradually and by encouragement rather than out of fear of punishment by the state.

            Sergey Katanandov, first deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s Federalism Committee and a member of United Russia, said that any use of fines to force officials to use this or that language was a mistake but that it was perfectly proper to encourage young people to learn languages and then use them when they grow up and take jobs.

            At the same time, Katanandov continued, it is important to remember that “precisely the Great Russian People speaking in Russian is responsible for the fact that our multi-national country with its linguistic and cultural multiplicity has been preserved.”  Ignoring that reality by promoting non-Russian languages is “dangerous for the integrity of the country.”

            And Aleksey Aleksandrov, first deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s Constitutional Law Committee and also a member of United Russia, concluded the survey by suggesting that in his view, republics could introduce administrative rules and fines to promote languages. Perhaps, he said, there ought to be a federal framework law to guide this process.

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