Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Putin’s Language Law May Lead to Mobilization of Parents along Ethnic Lines

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 22 – Vladimir Putin may rue the day he called for making the study of non-Russian languages voluntary while keeping the study of Russian obligatory if non-Russians take up an idea now circulating in Sakha to mobilize parents to register their children in non-Russian classes and force Moscow to pay for them.

            According to Sakha educator Natalya Sitnikova, “if parents display their patriotism and select for their children the study of native languages, then the state will support their creation” and that will mean that “the positions of native languages will only be strengthened” now that “free choice has been established in law” (

            The Putin language law specifies that “federal state educational standards guarantee the possibility of receiving education in native languages from among the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation,” she continues. In the past, this was only a rule issued by the Russian education ministry which could be changed. Now, it is a matter of law.

            That means it can’t be changed without action by the Duma.  Consequently, Sitnikova says, “parents and the legal representatives of children must write declarations about the choice of this or that language of instruction and what native language from among the languages of the Russian Federation they would like to study on entering school.

            What this means, she continues, is that “now much depends on parents and whether they will choose their native language for study. In this case, the parents must display their patriotism” because “this is a big responsibility before their people for the preservation of their native language.”

            Fedot Tumusov, a Duma deputy from Sakha, earlier suggested that non-Russians shouldn’t be upset by the new law because they will be able to “’render it harmless.’” What Sitnikova says is an indication of how some non-Russians plan to do just that, encouraging other non-Russians to take a stand and demand that their children study non-Russian languages.

            If that notion takes off, it would mean that non-Russians would mobilize to demand that the state live up to its own law and provide schools and educational materials in their native languages, something Putin and those around him aren’t likely to be willing to do.  But now in contrast to the past, the non-Russians have the law on their side and can use it.

            Indeed, this is a classic example of the principle that if you are given lemons, make lemonade.  But if the non-Russians do mobilize in this way, that “lemonade” will be bitter for Putin either because non-Russians will have a new basis for coming together or because they will now see that the Kremlin has no plans to live according to its own laws.

            Either outcome will leave the non-Russians far more mobilized than they would have been if no such law had been proposed or adopted. 

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