Saturday, November 23, 2019

Moscow Intensifies Efforts to Russianize Non-Russians and Destroy Republics, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 20 – Russian complaints that officials in non-Russian republics are pushing parents to send their children to schools in the titular languages of these federal subjects have sparked calls in Moscow to strip republics of their powers and run schools directly as well as to change the definition of “native language” to disadvantage non-Russians,

            The problem came to a head last week at the Federal Institute for the Development of Education following complaints by teachers in Bashkortostan that were entirely supported by Olga Artemenko, head of the Center for Nationality Problems of Education (

            Artemenko’s intemperate attacks on the republics were so extreme that Tatar teachers and activists have demanded that she be investigated for extremism ( and have led Caucasus specialist Abraham Shmulyevich to conclude that “Russification is the Kremlin’s goal” (

            Ramazan Alpaut of the Idel Real portal surveys various non-Russian specialists on what Artemenko’s attacks mean (  Marat Latfullin of the Democratic Congress of Peoples of Russia says that Artemenko has always sought to make the study of non-Russian languages voluntary and ultimately eliminate them.

            Her approach, he continues, is much like that in Soviet times but with important differences that work against the non-Russians: “The main one is that there are no national language schools since the language of instruction is defined not by municipalities as was the case earlier but by parents.” And the state doesn’t provide free textbooks and teachers.

            Artemenko and those associated with her are playing games with the term “native language” to confuse people about what languages are “native.” But this is only “a distraction,” he says, “since all the conditions for ending the study of the languages of the non-Russian peoples have already been created.”

            “The preparation of teachers for nationality schools has ceased even in Tatarstan, the preparation of teachers of native languages is conducted only in republics and at a minimum level for show, one that does not meet the needs of the peoples. And textbooks also have been deprived of legitimacy,” Latfullin says.

            Dmitry Semyonov of Open Russia says that Artemenko’s outburst is an opening salvo in the Kremlin plan to come up with an even more restrictive language law.  That law will be another step toward “taking native languages off the list of obligatory subjects.” Many felt that is what the current law was designed to do, but Putin, playing “the good tsar,” denied this.

            Now, however it is clear that what many feared has been true all along, Semyonov says.

            Vladimir Tishin, an orientalist, argues that “the introduction of the subject ‘native language’ is more far-reaching than many think. It is designed to create a single standard across all non-Russian republics and Russian regions as well and thus leave both without the flexibility they currently have. It is another step toward centralization and homogenization.

            The only thing that may save the situation of the non-Russians for a time, Tishin continues, is that Artemenko’s words suggest that the whole plan is poorly thought out and may not be effectively applied.

            Ruslan Aysin, a Tatar who follows the nationality question generally, says that Artemenko is a front person for higher ups who are unhappy that any non-Russian languages are surviving in schools.  During a visit to Kazan, she said openly that “national schools are a factor of ethnic mobilization” and thus unacceptable (cf.

            Valery Khatazhukhov of the Kabardino-Balkar Human Rights Defense Center says that Artemenko’s remarks should dispel any illusions people have as to what Moscow wants. “The republics must be destroyed” and they will have no purpose if they can’t support the languages of their titular nations.   

            And Irina Prokhorova, a literature specialist, speaks for all of them. “Russia is a multi-national and multi-confessional country and at the level of rhetoric we appear to recognize the multiplicity of cultural models but in practice we continue to follow a system of centralization and the unification of socio-cultural life.”

            That has serious consequences for everyone: “By suppressing the initiatives of local communities, we promote the cultural and then the economic stagnation of the country.”

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