Saturday, November 18, 2017

Putin Uniting the Non-Russians Against Moscow on the Language Issue

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 18 – Having unified Ukraine by annexing Crimea and united NATO by his aggressive stance there and elsewhere, Vladimir Putin has now achieved another outcome that does not promise him or his regime well: he has united the non-Russians of his country against him on the issue of school programs in their national languages.

            In many ways, this third Putin achievement could prove to be the most dangerous of all because Russian policy throughout history has been based the divide-and-rule principle of setting one non-Russian group against another in order to allow the Russian center to dominate all of them.

            If the non-Russians are able to come together on this issue, such a united front will make it far more difficult for the Kremlin to do what it has always done: moving against one non-Russian nation confident that other non-Russians will not come to its defense but rather try to make the best side deal they can with the center.

            As so often now, the Internet is playing a key role in this process. An 1200-word open letter to Putin has appeared online calling on the Kremlin leader to reverse his position and guarantee the obligatory teaching of non-Russian languages in the republics of Russia (

            “We consider the system that exists in most national republics requiring the study of all state languages (both Russian and non-Russian) is correct, harmonious and corresponds to the needs of constructing healthy society of inter-nation concord, in which the rights of all indigenous peoples are defended and their interests taken into consideration,” the authors say.

            They point out that the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation provide “the indisputable basis of natural Russian diversity,” a pattern that is enshrined in the law “on the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation” and that must be respected by the Russian government.

            “The exclusion of national languages from the system of education will lead to the violation of the process of the transmission and support of literary languages, something that also will lead to a reduction of the number of those knowing the literary language of their people.” And that in turn will lead to the deterioration of cultural creativity and scholarly activity.

            The letter argues that “the study of a non-Russian national language is the best key to the establishment of equal relations and interrelationships of cultures with each other. When all study the language of one people but that people does not study the language of others,” this leads to a dangerous imbalance.

            On the one hand, the subordinate groups, in this case, the non-Russians have additional burdens placed on them as well as additional restrictions in their activities. And on the other, the dominant one, in this case, the Russians, no longer has “the obligation to know the language of other groups” and will also suffer as a result.

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