Saturday, December 22, 2018

Putin’s Language Policies ‘a Bomb Under the Russian Federation,’ Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 21 – Vladimir Putin’s promotion of Russian at the expense of other languages not only copies the policies of other countries he has criticized for doing the same thing with the languages of their titular nationalities but puts “a bomb under the federation” just as Soviet language policy did in the years leading up to 1991, experts say.

            Everyone knows how that ended, but the powers that be appear oblivious to the consequences of attacking the languages of the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation now, consequences that could have exactly the same effect of blowing the country apart ( and

            The Rosbalt Political Club of experts met this week to discuss Putin’s law eliminating required instruction in the titular languages of the non-Russian republics while keeping the study of Russian there obligatory and to consider the implications of legislation that only now is being implemented. Rosbalt’s Aleksandr Zhelenin reports on their arguments.

                “At the very beginning of the discussion,” he points out, “it was noted that the Russian authorities with this law are in large measure following the path that the authorities of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union did. And that this led to two collapses of the state in the 20th century, in 1917 and in 1991.”

                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.

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