Thursday, February 21, 2019

Putin’s Decision to Make Study of Non-Russian Languages Volunary One of His Worst Moves, Emil Pain Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 21 – Vladimir Putin’s decision to make the study of the titular languages of the non-Russian republics was one of the worst he has ever made, Emil Pain says, because without such government support, minority languages will decline and ultimately disappear. It was made on his own, and he must take full responsibility for it.

            In a wide-ranging 6000-word interview with Tatyana Zavalishina of Kazan’s Business-Gazeta, Pain, one of Russia’s most distinguished specialists on ethnic conflicts, says bliuntly that “world practice shows that without political defense national langauges do not survive! Neither the family nor individual efforts can save them” (

                And this threat to the survival of non-Russian languages is sparking real resistance among their speakers. Tatarstan has always had “a high degree of ethno-national self-consciousness.” But what is striking is tha tin Komi and Chuvashia, local speakers are outraged by what Putin has done, viewing it as a threat not just to their languages but to their nations.

            This is an indication that the situation is becoming worrisome, the ethno-sociologst says. One must remember that the demand in the Baltic republics to leave the Soviet Union began with language issues. That is, language is an extremely sensitive factor.” It must be protected and “any voluntarism in ethno-linguistic issues is extremely dangerous.”

            That is why, Pain says, the decision about making the study of the langauges of the titular nations of the non-Russian republics was so misguided. It was taken “personally” by Putin, he continues; and it was imposed without discussion and even before this move was approved by the Duma.

            “In Russia,” he continues, “the Russian language is the state language for the entire territory. It will be a required subject even if it is also a national language. But if Tatar is the state language on its territory, then it must be studied as a state language. Here there can’t be any question!”

            “Either you recognize the language as a state language or your refuse to recognize it as a state language. And such a situation, in which it is legally a state language but in fact has ceased to be one is at the very least strange,” the Moscow scholar says.  More than that, he strongly implies, it is extremely difficult.

            In the course of his interview, Pain made many other important observations. Among the most important are the following:

·         Except for the Russian powers that be, no other government in the post-Soviet space considers the disintegration of the USSR as “a geopolitical catastrophe.” They view is as something that gave them important new opportunities.

·         “The threat of disintegration in the Russian Federation is less than it was in the USSR. Russia although it is similar to the Soviet Unioin is at the same time essentially different. It has an ethno-political core which did not exist in the Soviet Union especially at its end.”

·         Both in the 1990s and now, Moscow focused on maintaining the territorial integrity of the country – in the first period by federalization and in the second by “strengthening the power vertical.”

·         “All subjects of the Russian Feederation to a significant extent must be grateful to Tatarstan for the word ‘subject’” given that Kazan “struggled for raising the status of subjects of all regions and in this sense achieved a great deal.”

·         Conflicts in the 1990s were primarily between the center and the periphery; now they are mostly within cities between the indigenous population and immigrants.

·         With the retreat from federalism, there has been a decline in the interest of people in taking part in government activity.   

·         Further amalgamation of regions of the Russian Federation is almost “completely excluded. No one will touch this senstivie issue in the coming years, I am certain,” Pain says.

·         Unlike in most countries where ethnic phobias and prejudices remain relatively stable with the same enemies and friends existing over many decades, in Russia, peple shift from one enemy to another because people feel in pain but “like children” cannot say why they are hurting.

·         Before deciding whether to create a ministry for nationality affairs, it is necessary to decide what it would actually do. If it remains only a central institution, it will reinforce the centralism of the Russian state and not achieve much.

·         The greatest outflow of population in percentage terms is “not from the Far East but from the North Caucasus Federal District.” This represents, “a voting with one’s feet.” Today it is the region where ethnic conflicts are the most likely to occur. 

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