Saturday, April 14, 2018

Push to Enshrine Putin Language Policy in Law Sparks Warning from Tatarstan Officials

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 13 – An effort in the Duma to bring Russian law into line with Vladimir Putin’s policy announced last summer that the study of non-Russian languages must be voluntary even as that of Russian be compulsory has led the government of Tatarstan to declare that the measure is “puzzling” and has “the potential” to spark “conflicts” in the country.

            Liliya Galimova, a spokesperson for Kazan says that a working group in the republic government has concluded that “the exclusion of the state language from the list of obligatory subjects will lead to restrictions of the rights of citizens to study their native language” ( and

                Further, she says, Tatarstan view this as “unacceptable” and even dangerous in the context of the linguistic multiplicity of the Russian Federation.

            Razil Valeyev, the head of the education, culture, science and national languages committee of Tatarstan’s State Council, adds that “we had though that this issue had been settled but that again the question is being raised,” something that he says “will play a negative role in the unification of Russia’s peoples and the formation of a nation.”

            Valeyev’s remarks reflect the view of many that the November 2017 decision of the Russian procuracy on the study of languages was sufficient and the introduction of the new draft bill on April 10 was therefore not only unnecessary but a provocation given that Tatars and others are still protesting the decision and demanding that republic languages be compulsory.

            There are at least two reasons why this exchange between Kazan and the Russian Duma are important.  On the one hand, this reflects a frequently observed pattern in Russian governance in which Putin announces a change in policy, the judicial system enforces it, and only then is national law brought into line with Putin’s wishes.

                And on the other, this Moscow action appears to confirm what many non-Russians have feared: that Moscow plans new and harsher policies against them now that the presidential election is over, including a possible move to eliminate the non-Russian republics altogether or at least further degrade their status.

            Tatarstan’s protest, carefully presented not by the very top officials of the republic but by lower-ranking ones and cast not as a defense of Tatar alone, is a clear warning that non-Russians are afraid of what may lie ahead and that within the hierarchies as well as in the population, there are many who will protest if the Kremlin goes ahead even if their leaders don’t do so in public.

            That could set the stage not only for conflicts not only between Moscow and the republics but also within the republics, a development the center may hope it can exploit but one that could make it far more difficult for the state to control the situation. 

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