Monday, October 23, 2017

Putin’s Promotion of Russian about Far More than Language, Gulfanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 23 – Both the thematics Vladimir Putin has used and the timing of his barrage about not forcing anyone to study a non-Russian language that isn’t his or her own show that all this is “not a narrow issue” about language but rather a broader one about the survival of non-Russian republics and non-Russian nations in Russia, Rim Gulfanov says.

            On the one hand, Putin’s statement in Ufa came on the heels of the Kremlin’s refusal to extend the power-sharing agreement it had had with Kazan, the director of Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir Service points out and thus sent the clearest message yet that Moscow is not going to respect the laws and constitutions of non-Russian republics if they differ from Russia’s (

            And on the other, Putin and his advisors obviously feel that attacking the republics and non-Russian nations on the trumped up issue of voluntariness in the study of non-Russian languages – non-Russians in contrast have no choice but to study Russian – will play well with Russian nationalists and be viewed as reasonable by others in Russia and in the West.

            If Putin succeeds in imposing his will – and it is his will rather than Russian law or the Russian constitution which requires what he is requiring – the distinctive legal position of the non-Russian republics and their languages will be undermined; and thus the basis of their survival will be threatened.

            This stratagem may not work out as Putin and his advisors hope, however. In many cases around the world, residents of colonies who have been forced to give up their historical national language and adopt the language of their oppressors have become more, not less nationalist than they were before – and when eventually able, revive the languages the imperialists denied them.

            The case of the Irish is the classical one: the Irish did not become nationalists until they were forced to stop using Gaelic, but after gaining their independence from Britain, they have promoted the revival of Gaelic while not giving up on English. In short, language change in empires may work against the imperialists.

            Oleg Panfilov, a professor at Tbilisi’s Ilya University, echoes these views. He argues that Putin tried to build “a big empire of ‘the Russian world,’” but that didn’t work out. And consequently, he is seeking to achieve the russianization and russification of the peoples within his own country by force (

            “But  if one believes the sad predictions about the future of Russia,” the scholar says, “then the cause of the disintegration of the enormous empire will be the nationality question because neither Sakha nor Lezgins are going to become Russians” whatever language they are forced to speak.

            They are too dissimilar anthropologically, and now Putin has given them an additional reason to hold tight to their native languages and republics: “the xenophobia of ‘the indigenous Russians’ who disparagingly and offensively relate to the representatives of peoples who were at some point conquered by Russia.”

            In short and in this way as in so many others, Putin’s policies which so many see as successes are creating their own nemesis – and the nation in whose name they are being conducted will ultimately pay the price as a result.

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