Staunton, May 24 – In domestic affairs as in foreign ones, Vladimir Putin advances confidently until he is confronted by a unified opposition. That has just happened in the case of his proposed law keeping Russian a compulsory subject in schools while making all non-Russian languages, including those of the non-Russian republics, voluntary and thus at risk.
The Presidential Administration has just concluded a conference at which it was announced that the language of the draft measure enshrining Putin’s Ufa declaration of last summer will be revised in order to reflect the views of both supporters and opponents (inkazan.ru/news/society/24-05-2018/zakonoproekt-o-rodnyh-yazykah-dorabotayut-po-prosbe-respublik).
That represents a significant but far from final victory for the non-Russian republics. At the very least, it puts off the adoption of a law that would have further weakened their position in the political system. But it also highlights the way in which their unity can stop Moscow in its tracks and gives them more time to fight this measure.
The Kremlin meeting included representatives of the Presidential Administration’s nationality policy department, its section for internal politics, representatives of United Russia, the head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, as well as representatives from Tatarstan, Chechnya, Daghestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria.
Aleksandr Sidyakin, a Duma deputy from Tatarstan, told Kazan news outlets that his “worse fears had not been confirmed.” Instead, officials of the Presidential Adminisstration had expressed a willingness to negotiate with Kazan and the other non-Russian capitals about the measure – including its key provision making the study of non-Russian languages voluntary.
“We are concerned,” he continued, “that Tatar would pass from the obligatory part of the curriculum into the voluntary,” and the discussion in Moscow raises the possibility that this will not happen.
Indeed, he said, the measure will now be revised “so that at the time of its first reading in the State Duma there will not be any matters of dispute.” If that is so and if the non-Russians maintain their united position in opposition to Putin’s notion, then Moscow will have to sacrifice something that Putin declared was his policy.
To underscore that Kazan remains united against making the study of Tatar a voluntary subject, today, all 77 deputies of the State Council of Tatarstan who were present in the hall “voted against” what Putin has been pushing (inkazan.ru/news/politics/24-05-2018/gossovet-rt-otklonil-federalnye-popravki-o-natsionalnyh-yazykah).
This is not only the largest victory, albeit again not a final one, the non-Russians have won in Putin’s time; but it is a model of how the non-Russians can and must work against the Russianizing and Russifying policies that have been the hallmark of Putin’s administration.
But at the same time, it represents the kind of retreat which Russian nationalists and imperialists will find hard to accept; and they are certain to launch some kind of counter attack in the coming days, although if Putin has truly decided that it is the better part of wisdom to retreat, they are more likely to remain angry than be victorious.