Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Moscow Now Making Some Non-Russians Ashamed of Their Identities and Thus Willing to Say They’re Russians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 25 – Soviet authors presented the pre-1917 pasts of Russians and non-Russians alike as being backward and dark and celebrated the fact that the communist system had allowed both to develop. Consequently, Elena Enkka says, there was little reason for non-Russians to have a negative view about their own nations. They fit the common matrix.

            Now, the situation has changed: despite the availability of research showing that before 1917, not everything was as dark as Soviet writers suggested for the non-Russians, Russian writers today, under the influence of Kremlin, celebrate the Russians both before and after 1917 to suggest that no one should voluntarily want to remain non-Russian.

            This new pattern, the Chuvash writer argues, is creating a situation in which members of her nationality no longer want to be identified as Chuvash and thus do not encourage their children to study the language and continue to be proud of being members of the Chuvash nation (

            Such attitudes, clearly the product of state policies, are both an explanation for and exacerbate two other, more widely-known factors, Enkka continues, the sharp reduction in the number of people who designate their ethnicity as Chuvash and a reduction of the number of people who speak Chuvash.

            One measure of the latter is the declining print run of Chuvash-language grammars for children in the first year of classes. In 1991, 31,000 copies of that book were printed; in 1993, 27,000; in 2000, 16,000; in 2007, 8,000; in 2012, 4,000; and in 2015, 3,000. This decline is continuing.

            The number of children in the republic for whom Chuvash is a native language has fallen “approximately 90 percent” since the end of Soviet times, even though the number of births has fallen by less than 25 percent over the same period.  That reflects parental decisions on which language they want their children to use.

            The Chuvash republic has more than 400 schools. About half of them are in rural areas, and in the past, instruction in them was almost always in Chuvash. At worst, the children were bilingual. But such schools include fewer than 15 percent of all pupils; and the schools in urban areas are overwhelmingly in Russian, not Chuvash.

            That means, Enkka continues, that “more than 85 percent of all children do not know Chuvash. Imagine the situation, 20 years from now, when these children become adults” and have children of their own.”

            “Why do Chuvash parents not want to speak Chuvash with their children even in the villages? Why to they prefer to identify their children (for example, to census takers) as not being Chuvash? Why do Chuvash not want to be Chuvash?”  Enkka asks in despair, suggesting the shift in Moscow’s treatment of the pasts of Russians and non-Russians explains much of it.

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