Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Tishkov Continues His Campaign Against Non-Russian Languages and Nations who Speak Them

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 13 – In Izvestiya just days after Udmurt scholar and activist Albert Razin committed suicide to protest Moscow’s destruction of his native language, Academician Valery Tishkov dismissed Razin’s action as a personal tragedy based on a misconception and continued his efforts to undermine non-Russian languages and the nations who speak them. 

            Tishkov, former nationalities minister and director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and a close advisor to Vladimir Putin on nationality issues, said that Razin was wrong to think that a people “dies” if its language does and urged exactly the kind of actions the Udmurt scholar was protesting about (iz.ru/920557/valerii-tishkov/narod-ne-umiraet-s-iazykom).

            The ethnographer began by saying that in the Russian Federation are “registered more than 200 languages” -- a number close examination shows not to be the case (cf. windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/09/moscow-exaggerates-number-of-peoples.html) – and asserts that “99.4 percent know one language – Russian – and speak it.”

            Tishkv then says that “languages must be equal in their rights but they cannot be equal in their use, possibilities and status. In Russian has been created part f the significant wrld cultural heritage,” something that can’t be said, he implies, about the other languages used in the Russian Federation.

            And “voluntary linguistic assimilation” to it “is the norm, an inalienable human right as is the right to preserve the language f his locality. It is necessary to recognize these rights,” recognizing that thse wh knw Russian “can enroll at Moscow State University” while those who know “only Tatar, Chuvash or Udmurt “can hardly go beyond Kazan, Cheboksary or Izhevsk.”

            “The transition to a state language is a natural process,” Tishkov says. “That is how our emigres in France, Germany or America act. And no one condemns them for this. Solzhenitsyn’s children grew up in Vermont and almost forgot Russian. Because with migration, an ethnic language can be preserved no longer than a generation or two.”

            (Tishkov’s assertion would surprise many communities who have preserved their native languages far longer, but far more serious is his latest sleight of hand, referring to their languages not as “national languages as they generally have been in Russia but as “ethnic” ones, a significant and dismissive change.)

            The Putin advisor continues: “contemporary individuals are multi-lingual. There are countries where the entire population knows two or eve three languages.” Therefore, Tishkov says, his position is that “an individual may have two native languages” and that Russian citizens should be able to declare that in the 2020 census.

             Rosstat and many in Russia do not share that view even though since the 1920s, censuses have recognized that an individual’s “native language may not correspond to [his] nationality.” That reflects the misconception that the Udmurt scholar shared, that “if a language dies, it means that the people does.”

            But that isn’t true, Tishkov says. “Russian Germans, Ukrainians and Armenians are almost entirely Russian speaking. Among Jews there are few who know Yiddish or Hebrew, but they do nto cease to be Armenians [sic!] or Jews on that account.”

            Anther “myth,” the scholar says, “is that the total disappearance of languages is taking place.” UNESCO promotes this idea and has published an atlas n which all the North Caucasus languages, including Chechen” are at risk of disappearing. This “policy of linguistic nationalism or politicized romanticism, call it what you like, exist also at the international level.”

The European Charter f Reginal Languages or Languages of National Minorities makes the preservation of these languages the responsibility of the state in which they are spoken. “A desirable norm” perhaps, but hardly “an obligatory one,” Tishkov says.  But “in our country,” he continues, “all the same it would be better to study the language of a big people.”   

“In themselves, “ethnic languages of course have value for the representatives of various nationalities. But it is of an order less important let us say than that of social status, professional opportunities and the right to take part in the all-Russian process” – a dismissal of the provisions of the Russian constitution regarding nations and their languages.

The Moscow ethnographer than asserts that “almost not a single language disappeared in Russia over the entire 20th century. There has been lost only a dialect of Chukchi and perhaps Ubykh. And there are reports that it is reviving. More than that,” he continues, “of the 70 semi-literary languages in the world, 50 were created in the Soviet Union.”

“It is another matter,” Tishkov continues, “that in the competition between a state language and a minority one, the latter does not always survive.” Nn-Russian republics that required the study of the titular nationality language to save it were discriminating against others there. Now that error has been corrected, he suggests.   

Of course, he concludes, “besides Russian it would be good to study yet another language of one’s own culture. The knowledge of two, three or four languages enriches an individual. But this is not the basis for radical campaigns and actions which at times come not from the authorities but from ethno-national movements” and shouldn’t lead anyone to take his own life.

In short, although Tishkov is clever enough never to put it so bluntly, if the state and its majority language destroy the languages of smaller nations, that is all right; but if those whose languages and identities are being threatened in that way protest, that is something the state can and must oppose.

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