Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Ethnic Russians Must have Right to Refuse to Study Non-Russian Languages, Kholmogorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 15 – Arguing that republics in the Russian Federation are only “conditionally” non-Russian and that the Kremlin is finally prepared to challenge ethnocratic elites on this point, Russian nationalist Yegor Kholmogorov says that ethnic Russians and other Russian speakers must have the right to refuse to study non-Russian languages.

            Although Vladimir Putin did not go that far in his recent speech in Yoshkar-Ola, the Kremlin leader’s words have legitimated Russian nationalist demands for a wholesale attack on the status of non-Russian languages and non-Russian republics; and Kholmogorov’s words are the clearest indication of that to date (

            In an interview with Yelena Krivyakina of Komsomolskaya Pravda, he welcomes the fact that the country’s leadership is finally willing to take on non-Russian elites given that for so many years, “our powers have tried not to anger the elites of the national republics.”  Now, however, they are ready to do just that.

            According to him, any reduction in Russian language instruction, something often required in non-Russian areas, to allow for instruction in the titular languages there, is a violation of the law and the Russian constitution and Russian law, even though it is nowhere written that a citizen of Russia must know the state langage.

            “At the same time,” Kholmogorov continues, non-Russian elites point to Article 68 of the Constitution which specifies that the republics have the right to establish their own state languages. But neither there nor anywhere else is it said that it is a requirement that everyone who lives on those territories must study them.

            Russian-speaking children must not be required to learn any of these languages, although non-Russians must know Russian, the state language of the country, according to the Russian nationalist commentator.

            But Kholmogorov’s agenda is far larger than linguistic.  He argues that “our republics are only conditionally national,” that is, many have a higher percentage of Russians or at least Russian speakers than they do speakers of the titular languages.  That should be reflected in state language policy and in the way Moscow deals with these “republics.”

            Ethnic Russians and non-Russians must both study the same number of hours of Russian. If the non-Russians want to study their language, that should come out of the number of hours devoted to other subjects. Perhaps, Kholmogorov says, Russians could use a similar amount of time to study Old Church Slavonic.

            Krivyakina points out that Rafael Khakimov, the vice president of the Academy of Sciences of Tatarstan, recently observed that “if national languages aren’t taught in schools, this will threaten the liquidation of the republics and they will then be no different than oblasts,” to which Kholmogorov responds that this is all right with him.

            “Are oblasts worse than republics?” he asks rhetorically. “Or residents of oblasts second class citizens? All this policy of artificially imposing national languages is based on the presumption that Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Tyva, Sakha and other republics are separate countries.”

            And that in turn reflects ancient history: “A century ago, the Bolsheviks paid for the support [of the non-Russians] against the Whites by offering broad autonomous in completely arbitrary borders. And we are paying for this up to now.” Kholmogorov’s implication is that Moscow should stop doing so.

            Komsomolskaya Pravda appends to the interview a comment by Margarita Rusetskaya, the rector of the Pushkin Institute of the Russian Language. She says that research her colleagues have done shows that in many non-Russian areas, only five or six percent of Russian language instructors really know the language.

            “The problem,” she continues, “is that in many non-Russian republics, Russia is taught by people who are not native speakers.” And she adds that “any reduction in the number of hours of Russian language instruction is “simply impermissible … If we want a child to be integrated in all spheres of life on the entire territory of the country, he must speak Russian fluently.”

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