Staunton, January 26 – Last summer, Vladimir Putin said that no one in the Russian Federation should be forced to study any language except Russian, a declaration that some non-Russian republic leaders appear to view as a directive for them to drop all instruction in their national languages in favor of Russian.
This month, as Aida Gerg of the Prague-based Caucasus Times reports, there have been efforts to do just that in “Kabardino-Balkaria, Daghestan and a number of other regions of the Caucasus,” efforts invariably cast as “mass initiatives for doing away with instruction in the national languages” (caucasustimes.com/ru/v-kabardino-balkariju-prishla-mankurtizacija/).
Reports that officials were ending instruction in non-Russian languages in one village of Kabardino-Balkaria led to protests by members of the two titular nationalities and then to denials by the republic education ministry that it had anything to do with this. Everything, the ministry said, was entirely voluntary.
In fact, however, the ministry says that as of this month, “pupils in the 10th and 11th classed may refuse to study their native languages in favor of a course of regional studies.” Such courses are often a waste of time, Gerd says; but some school officials are promoting them as a way to compel children to voluntarily declare they don’t want to study their languages.
In one Nalchik school, she continues, human rights activists report that “pupils in the 10th and 11th classes were forced to sign documents in the name of their parents” saying that they didn’t want to study the national languages lest they get an unsatisfactory mark and not be allowed to graduate.
That is a double violation of the law, Gerd points out. On the one hand, children have no right to sign for their parents. And on the other, teachers and behind them school administrators and officials are threatening them with failure if they don’t agree to stop studying non-Russian languages.
School officials say there is no pressure and point out that 215 of their pupils have “voluntarily” agreed to end the study of their native languages. One reason many want to do that appears to be the fact that many of them receive much lower grades in courses in these languages than they do in other subjects.
In all neighboring republics, except Chechnya, the situation is similar, the Caucasus Times reporter says. “The Ossetians, Ingush, Daghestanis, and Nogays all are experiencing difficulties with the study of their native languages.” In Chechnya, however, Chechen remains obligatory in all classes in all schools.
This pattern shows, Gerd says, that “the government views languages having official state status in particular regions as second class and thus not having the right to stand in one rank with Russian.” And it shows that only those who have really fought Moscow in recent times, like the Chechens, are likely going to be able to save their languages.
These peoples are thus becoming like the mankurts Chingiz Aitmatov described so long ago, nations whose members are reduced to slavery and who don’t remember anything of their previous lives. That is because, Gerd says, a nation without a language will soon cease to be one.