Saturday, September 23, 2017

With His Language Policy, Putin has Put a Time Bomb Under Russia, 60 Tatar Writers Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Vladimir Putin’s decision to make Russian obligatory and non-Russian languages in the republics of the country entirely voluntary has not only angered many non-Russians who view this as an insult to their dignity but opened “a Pandora’s box” and placed “a time bomb” under the country, according to 60 Tatar writers and intellectuals.

            As Kazan’s Business-Gazeta reports, the 60 Tatar intellectuals, most in their 30s or 40s, have sent an open letter to the Kremlin leader detailing their fears and appealing to Putin to reflect on the dangers ahead to Russia if he continues on his current course (

                The letter calls on Putin “not to violate the linguistic balance in the Republic of Tatarstan” and say that eliminating Tatar’s status as a required subject will make it and the people who speak it feel “second-rate and unneeded.”  More than that, his new policy will threaten more than that.

            “We are convinced,” they write, “that you are interested in the preservation of peace and concord about the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, the flourishing of tolerance and mutual respect among the peoples populating it, and the impermissibility of inter-ethnic disagreements and conflicts.”

            Your speech in Ufa and your directive that Russian officials ensure that the study of Tatar and other non-Russian languages be entirely voluntary, the 60 Tatar writers tell the Russian president, “is in our view nothing but a reckless placement of ‘a bomb’ in the very heart of Russia.”

            “We call on you not to violate the linguistic balance in the Republic of Tatarstan and to permit the ministry of education and science of the Republic of Tatarstan to carry out its responsibilities in the framework of the existing legislation of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tatarstan,” they conclude.

            The authors say they acted independently of the political authorities, but some of the signatories add that in reality, “the author of this letter is the entire Tatar people” because Tatars know that “if you want to destroy the nation, you simply have to close its school. Neither wars nor epidemics, nor natural disasters are necessary.”

            The authors have little expectation that their letter will have any impact or even receive a response. After all, many have been writing to Putin about this before. But they feel they cannot do anything but express their horror about and opposition to what the Kremlin leader is doing. It is, they say, “a cry of despair of the soul.”

            One signatory, however, said the following: “We shall see how Moscow listens to small peoples. We aren’t from somewhere else but a native people.” When Ukraine adopted a law restricting Russian, the Kremlin reacted the next day, even though Ukraine is a foreign state and most of the Russians there came from elsewhere.

            But here in the Russian Federation, we Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash, Maris, Mordvins, and Chechens are all natives. “We didn’t come from somewhere else.” And yet they tell us we don’t have the right to require our languages be studied even as the same people insist that the Baltic countries and Ukraine must require instruction in Russian.

            “I’ve been in many countries of the world,” this author says; and “Tatar is one of the Turkic languages: absolutely all Turks understand it. There are 300 million of us in the world. The Slavs also are approximately 300 million as well. Why are we being refused the right to education in our native tongue?”

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