Saturday, April 20, 2019

Moscow’s Claims of Solicitousness to Its Smallest Nations Not All Theyr'e Cracked Up to Be

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – The Russian government has tried to distract the attention of people around the world from its attacks on national minorities which have their own republics but which have been stripped of the right to require instruction in the language of the titular nationality by playing up stories about what it is doing for the smallest nations.

            One such story is likely to attract international attention on Monday when Russian officials present to the UN their plan to create an alphabet for the Entsy, who, numbering 227, are the smallest of the officially registered numerically small peoples of the Russian Federation (

            That extraordinary solicitousness is likely to attract sympathetic coverage, but it should not get unqualified praise. On the one hand, Moscow hasn’t created an alphabet and thus a literature and education in this language ever before -- even though the government has long recognized the Entsy and taken credit for doing so.

            And on the other, if the Entsy do get a media, it will almost certainly be bilingual in Entsy and in Russian, the policy many Russian officials say is the only way to have a non-Russian press at all but one that will likely accelerate the loss of the non-Russian languages even further  (

            In short, the languages and nations of the numerically smallest peoples of Russia are not being treated better than the others. In many ways, they are being treated even worse, subject to all the restrictions imposed on all non-Russians without the numbers that allow some of the bigger nations to resist.

            Not surprisingly, they are far from pleased as shown  by the case of the Yamal reindeer herder who has been fined for holding a meeting in the tundra but now says he will organize another one despite not having gained official approval to do so (  and

            Not surprisingly and perhaps an omen that his nation does have a future despite official Russian pressure, the reindeer herder used his very own page on Vkontakte to take these steps (

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