Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Putin’s Language Policy Spreading Chaos and Anger in Non-Russian Republics

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 20 – Just as has been the case with his actions regarding foreign countries, Vladimir Putin’s new policy on languages is generating chaos in the schools of Tatarstan and other non-Russian republics, helping him to avoid being held responsible for a situation he created and allowing him to move far further than his original words suggested.

            Indeed, Ilshat Sayedov, a political scientist, argues in Novaya gazeta today, the main goal of Putin and the Russian activists who support him is “not an increase in the number of hours of Russian for their children but a ban on the required study of Tatar” by everyone, including Tatar pupils whose parents want them to study it (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/11/20/74610-tatary-podchinyayutsya-no-ne-povinuyutsya).

            If Putin is able to do that, he will please many Russian nationalists who don’t believe that anyone except they should have the right to study his or her language; but he is already triggering a nationalist backlash among not only activists in the republics but also among the ostensibly loyal and obedient republic leaderships.

            Ever since Putin announced in Ufa last summer that no one should have to study any language other than Russian except on a voluntarily basis, Moscow has sent mixed signals as to just what that means. The Russian education ministry has called for compromise, but Putin’s press secretary has taken a hard line.

            And that line has led prosecutors to investigate non-Russian schools where they have found exactly what they expected to find and have called for school directors to end the requirement that all pupils study the national language of the republic they live in and to shift teachers of those languages to other subjects.

            Because this is being done in the middle of the school year, the result has been chaos, the kind of chaos many are now blaming on the schools and the republics rather than on the man responsible, Vladimir Putin, whose superficially reasonable words – everything should be voluntary – conceal a broad attack on non-Russian languages and non-Russian republics.

            But there is something even worse taking place, the journalist says. “The most horrible thing is that children are beginning to be divided into Tatars and Russians” in Tatarstan and between the titular nationality in other republics and ethnic Russians. That promises no good for anyone.

            “No other action could so divide society and set the nationally oriented strata in the republics against the federation and often against the local authorities as well,” Sayedov says. “Many patriotically inclined Tatars, for example, only now have understood that ‘the Russian world’ is not for them and that no one in this ‘world’ needs them.”

            A backlash is setting in, the political analyst continues, with some Tatars furious at being treated as “second class citizens” now calling for the schools in their republic to conduct instruction only in Tatar, something that might weaken their language and people as well but that underscores how angry the chaos Putin has provoked and his obvious intentions have left them.

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