Commentator and activist Maksim Shevchenko said that Putin’s law will in fact “lead to the destruction of national self-consciousness. An individual has the right to feel himself a Russian, a Ukrainian, a Chechen or a Tatar, and when he is forced not to feel the way that he does, this is called repression.”
According to him, the struggle for language rights is “part of the struggle for freedom and democratic principles” and as such is “in the interests of the ethnic Russian people.” Consequently, “all Russian patriots should support our Tatar, Sakha, Chechen and other brothers in their struggle not to be assimilated into that uncertain community which the ruling elites of Russia are trying to put in place of the nationalities.”
Ruslan Aysin, head of Tatarstan’s TatPolit firm, says that “formally” Putin’s law doesn’t end instruction in the non-Russian languages but it will ultimately have that effect: If schools don’t offer the language, universities won’t train teachers, and there won’t be anyone to teach. Moreover, with language training in the universities, the non-Russian nations will suffer.
The Tatar expert adds that the reduction in non-Russian languages has been going on for “a long time.” Moscow’s requirement that school-leaving tests be in Russia and the elimination of the national component in all schools all set the stage for this next move against the non-Russian languages.
And Aysin pointedly notes that Russian officials “regularly raise questions about instruction in Russian in the Baltic countries and in Ukraine” without acknowledging that they are doing “exactly” the same thing.” He says, Zhelenin reports, that “this is called a policy of double standards,” precisely what Moscow is always complaining about.
Beslan Uspanov, a journalist from the North Caucasus, says that Putin’s policies have as yet had little additional impact in his region because in some republics, like Chechnya and Ingushetia, representatives of the titular nationality form a significant majority, while in others, the members of the titular nationality are in a minority.
Unfortunately, the current situation in which pupils receive native language instruction for only an hour or two a week does little to save the languages, given the dominance of the Russian-language media and the obvious advantages to some in learning that language well rather than retaining their own.
And Platon Shamayev, a Sakha lawyer, says that the situation with regard to non-Russian languages is especially worrisome because many children, although members of the titular nationality, come to school without a basic knowledge of their national languages. Without special help, they may lose them altogether.
According to Zhelenin, those taking part in the meeting “recalled that the disintegration of the Soviet Union began in large measure as a result of problems involving native language instruction in the national republics.” Earlier these languages had enjoyed some support but by the 1990s, they were losing it.
“How all that ended is quite well known,” he concludes.