Wednesday, May 27, 2020

West Using Saami Language as Weapon Against Russia, Derkul Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 26 – According to a Russian analyst, Western countries are using the language fewer than 300 people in the Russian Federation speak as “a weapon against Russia,” an example of the paranoia that infects so many Russian commentators who see all actions by other countries as being in the first instance about undermining their country.

            In an article for the Rhythm of Eurasia portal, Olga Derkul says that Russia’s Western “’partners’” routinely seek to push Russia out of the Arctic by promoting separatism and nationalism among Russia’s numerically small peoples of the North (

            But these countries are so dastardly, she continues, that they deploy language as a weapon and gives as an example of this what Scandinavian countries are doing with regard to the Saami, a nation which numbered only 1771 in the last Russian census and 88 percent of whose members declare Russian to be their native language.

            According to Derkul, the Saami language includes nine different dialects; and even its most important form in the Rsusian North, the Kildin dialect, is not a literary language. Russian scholars have tried to create a literary language since the 1930s but have fought among themselves as to what it should look like.

            And when the Russian government’s primary institution involved in these efforts folded in 1997, no single alphabet for the Kildin dialect had been agreed to.  Today, that dialect is studied in a single village and there only one hour a week. (There ia a one-hour-a-week course for students at the Northern National College as well.)

            All would have been well, Derkul says, with the Saami in the North of Russia had not foreign agents from Norway, Finland, Estonia “and other Western countries” intervened and sent agents and money to the Saami of Russia to try to convince them that they needed to subscribe to a single trans-border Saami language that would cause them to have a “trans-border identity.’”

            That effort took off in 1993 with the signing by the foreign minsters of Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland of an agreement to work together to promote “a Barents Euro-Arctic region.” Promoting a common Saami language was a central part of this program, Derkul says.

            Saamis from the Russian Federation were given scholarships to study in Scandinavian universities, and Saamis from Scandinavian countries visited the Russian Federation to promote their version of the Saami language, one that would in the name of national unity obliterate the dialectal differences that had always been part of the Saami scene.

            The problem of course is not in language per se, although the actions of the Scandinavians do threaten to lead to the disappearance of the Kildin dialect of Russia’s Saami people.  Rather it is the use of language to build ties and develop lines of attack on Moscow’s nationality policy in order to pry loose yet another part of the Russian Federation.

            All of this, Derkul says, has its origins in the policies outlined by the United States in its 1959 law on “Captive nations.”  And consequently, she continues, it is important to recognize that even programs for the study of a non-Russian language are intended to promote dissatisfaction with Moscow and ultimately secession.

            Derkul does not seem to recognize that the argument on which is article is based collapses of its own weight. On the one hand, the Scandinavian countries actively support Saami language and identity, while on the other, Moscow seems content to watch the language and ultimately the people disappear from the face of the earth.

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