Staunton, October 29 – Surveys show that 30 percent of ethnic Russian parents in Tatarstan now want their children to be able to speak Tatar, a figure far lower than the 70 percent who made such declarations in the 1990s, Leokadiya Drobizheva says. And that puts a challenge before Tatar officials to “make Tatar more attractive” to others.
Drobizheva, Russia’s senior ethno-sociologist and an advisor to Vladimir Putin on ethnic issues, argues in response to questions from readers of Kazan’s Business-Gazeta that learning a language other than one’s birth one should be voluntary. If it is compulsory, the effects won’t be long-lasting and may even produce hostility (business-gazeta.ru/article/362207).
The current debate needs to go on and be more open with each side being willing to acknowledge that it understands the concerns of the other rather than remaining in two separate and hostile camps, the ethno-sociologist continues. That isn’t always easy, but it is the only way forward.
Many Tatars believe that without their language, they won’t remain a nation, she continues, but “it is not entirely correct” to say that as there are “nations without a language,” although that is “not desirable, of course. Because language is the development of culture,” and for Tatars, language and culture are closely intertwined.
The current effort by Russian prosecutors to investigate how voluntary Tatar language instruction in Tatarstan currently is, Drobizheva says, was not the result of a decision of Procurator General Yury Chayka. “I am certain,” she continues, “this was not a prosecutorial decision.” It came from elsewhere and should have been coordinated with republic officials.
Drobizhev calls for “a round table” of supporters and opponents of the obligatory study of Tatar in schools. And she says that Tatars must not denounce as “a mankurt” any Tatar who decides that his children should learn Russian rather than Tatar. That decision may reflect a mixed marriage or some other set of factors.
She argues that “if possibilities are given for Russians to voluntarily study Tatar, there will be the possibility of restoring harmony in relations of Tatars and Russians. At first, many will not study it. Then, when Tatar will be taught well, they will … Make Tatar attractive! Therefore, I consider that this should be a long-term process.”
Drobizheva, who was at the Ufa meeting earlier this year where Vladimir Putin triggered the current crisis by his comments about voluntary study of non-Russian languages by Russians, points out that there was no discussion of the Kremlin leader’s words at the time. “The expert community didn’t react.”
Asked where Putin’s words came from, the ethno-sociologist notes that officials and experts who are concerned with nationality schools have frequently raised this issue. Among them, she says, is Olga Artemenko, head of the Center for Ethno-Cultural Strategy of Education at the Federal Institute for the Development of Education.
Drobizheva dismisses the notion that Sergey Kiriyenko, the first deputy chief of the Presidential Administration and former presidential plenipotentiary for the Volga Federal District, was behind Putin’s announcement. “No, no, I don’t think so!” she says. “He is a man of a sober mind. No, hardly…”
She adds that in the debate so far and in the actions taken, “mistakes are not only on the Tatarstan side,” as some think. “The federal center in this situation has also conducted itself like an elephant in a china shop. That’s the way it always it, there are two sides in the conflict, and both as a rule commit mistakes.