Sunday, January 14, 2018

Language ‘Not Chief Marker of Separatism,’ Tatar Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 13 – “There is no direct correlation between separatism and the striving to knowledge of a language,” Ayrat Fayzrakhmanov says.  Separatism often arises when there is little or no chance to study a nation’s language; and it may even be reduced if the central authorities give in to demands on this score.

            In a lengthy discussion of the state of Tatar in Tatarstan, the activist and commentator says that the failure to understand this relationship gets in the way of progress for both sides and that the experiences of the Catalans, Basques, and Welsh in Europe can be useful for Tatars who want to bring their language back from the brink (

            At present, there is only a single school in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, where instruction is in Tatar, leading many to view it as a rural language and to argue that the tongue can best be preserved within the family.  But that is wrong, Fayzrakhmanov says, on two grounds.
            On the one hand, Tatars especially in the cities have been losing their native language since the 1940s; and consequently, there are many Tatar families where even the grandparent general doesn’t speak it.  And on the other, Tatar won’t survive even if it is the language of instruction in the schools unless there is a social demand for its use.

            But that is not the basis for giving up hope, the activist says. The experience of regional languages in Europe suggests that Tatara can come back just as Catalan, Basque and Welsh have. “Many say these are bad examples because Catalonia is now demanding complete independence and before this, the Land of the Basques was the main hot sport of Spain.”

            However, Tatars and Russians should recognize that “Basque separatism developed when there was no discussion about schools in the Basque language; and today when such schools exist and are developing well, we already do not hear about basque separatism.”  That means that “language is not the chief marker of separatism.”

            In Catalonia, Fayzrakhmanov continues, the creation of schools that were of high quality led to a situation in the course of a single generation where “Catalan education became more popular than schools with Spanish as the language of instruction.” There is no reason the Tatars can’t do the same – but this will happen only if instruction is in Tatar. Two or three hours a week of instruction in the language will not do the trick.

            “The European schools with regional languages of instruction do not position themselves as national schools.” They do so as centers of excellence in all fields. And because children who know two or more languages tend to do better in all fields than those who know only one, these schools and the languages in which instruction is carried out have begun to win out.

             Any other strategy, the activist says, will mean that Tatar “will begin to lose its position in the republic, and ‘Tatar patriotism’ about which Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov spoke not long ago will finally be transformed into an urban exoticism” or some kind of attraction for tourists.
            According to Fayzrakhmanov, “over the last 70 years, ‘the first world has passed from a partial ban on or ignoring local langauges to the creation of a full-scale system of education on regional languages.” The Tatars must promote the same development in Russia – and they can use the concerns of Moscow to achieve their ends.

            He cites the research of Yekaterina Artutyunova, a Moscow sociologist who specializes in ethnicity, who found that children in republics where non-Russian languages are used are more likely to identify with Russia than are Russians in Moscow and St. Petersburg who study only Russian who identify regionally or in terms of their families in stead.

            (Arutyunova’s latest article making that point is “State-Civic and Ethnic Identity of Young People: The All-Russian Context and Regional Specifics” (in Russian),” Rossiya reformiruyushchayasya: vyp. 15 (Moscow, 2017), pp. 259-272, available online at

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