Staunton, July 24 – A major reason that Moscow has been able to bulldoze many non-Russians with regard to their national languages is that many who learned these tongues in their childhood have accepted at least in part the attitudes of many Russians that these are peasant languages spoken only in the kitchen and not a serious vehicle like Russian.
Unless such attitudes are changed and changed soon – and it is likely they can be changed only by the efforts of those who are part of these language communities rather than by any outsider – the future of languages spoken by relatively small nations or by those who live among Russian speakers is likely to be bleak.
One individual who is trying to change such attitudes is Aleksandr Blinov, head of the Chuvash Khavad (“vital energy”) initiative group which for ten years has organized a self-supporting summer camp for those interested in Chuvash from both the local community, across Russia and even from Western Europe (idelreal.org/a/30070912.html).
For too long, Blinov says, people criticized the authorities for not doing enough to promote Chuvash but did not take action on their own. Now, his group is taking action, promoting greater respect and interest of the language even among those who had accepted Russian claims that the path to the world is only through Russian, not Chuvash.
“Chuvash is an attractive language,” the activist says, “no less interesting than Japanese or Chinese which young people are now attracted to. The self-consciousness of the importance of one’s native language exerts a positive influence on the psychological integrity of the individual.”
Moreover, “someone who is ashamed of his roots at the subconscious level restricts himself and generates within himself internal confusion. By studying his native language, an individual frees himself. He sees that Chuvash culture is unique and one must be proud of this. These aren’t my words: I hear them from many people who pass through our language camp.”
Chuvash can be a bridge between the individual and the wider world, Blinov says. No one needs to rely exclusively on Russian for that. And that becomes clear when non-Chuvash learn the language and interact with Chuvash and with each other. Failure to reach out, he says, is “chauvinism and nationalism.”
Blinov says that he can’t point to any statistics but is convinced that his summer camps, the children’s textbooks his group has prepared, and the parent-teacher bodies it has organized have all played a role in increasing respect for and interest in Chuvash and thus in its survival and flourishing.
“By choosing [our native language],” he says, “we choose freedom … when you understand that this is a language your ancestors spoke, you ant to preserve it because your language has its own potential. In normal circumstances, no one will turn away from his native language” – and that is true for more and more Chuvash.
The IdelReal journalists who interviewed Blinov also spoke with other participants in the camp, including both local Chuvash and non-Chuvash from across Russia and Europe, who are interested in Chuvash. While this is of course a self-selected group, they were unanimous in supporting Blinov’s arguments.