Sunday, November 26, 2017

Emerging Language ‘Compromise’ Reflects Kremlin’s Fear of Dividing Children by Nationality

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 25 – A statement by Mikhail Babich, presidential plenipotentiary for the Volga Region, is being read by many as “a compromise” between Moscow and Kazan between Vladimir Putin’s insistence that the study of any non-Russian language must be voluntary and Kazan’s that the study of Tatar in Tatarstan must be compulsory.

            But if a compromise is emerging – and many in Kazan don’t think that it is ( – it is one in which Kazan has made the greater concessions and Moscow has acted only because some Tatars have managed to convince it that Putin’s plan would have dangerously “unpredictable” consequences.

            Kazan political analyst Sergey Sergeyev tells Kommersant that “apparently, the leadership of Tatarstan has been able to convince federal officials that teaching Tatar as a voluntary subject could lead to an unpredictable effect: children in the schools will begin to be divided by nationality” (

                That could undercut precisely what Putin appears to have been calling for, the creation of a common “civic” Russian nation and even lead to deeper ethnic differences than those that now exist regardless of what language the children involved were taught.

            But Sergeyev is clear that Moscow has not moved as far as many appear to think. He notes that Babich has only spoken about “the possibility” that Tatar can be taught as a required subject for two hours a week, not the certainty that it will be.  Indeed, the game remains open and the Tatars are clearly on the defensive.

            Up until recently, the Kazan political analyst notes, the authorities of Tatarstan had insisted on the study of Russian and Tatar in equal amounts as required by the republic’s law and as implied by the Russian constitution. “Now no one is talking about any parity of languages anymore.” 

                One interesting bit of fallout from Babich’s remarks, however, is this: his words are being read by some in the regions as meaning that Russian will no longer be called anyone’s “native” language because that would offend non-Russians. But stripping it of that term will anger Russians and so the fight will go on from the Russian side as well (

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