Staunton, September 17 – Earlier this month, the Turkmenistan government announced that it would close Russian-language schools and end Russian-language classes within this decade, but Ashgabat has speeded up the process by using the coronavirus pandemic it says it does not have as an excuse to close many of them now.
Because there is great demand for Russian instruction in the most closed off country on the former Soviet space – many people there are unemployed and face hunger and would like to become immigrant workers in the Russian Federation – Turkmens have been bribing their way into such schools and classes, sometimes paying as much as 2,000 US dollars.
As a result, many of the classes have far more pupils than sanitary norms allow; and now Ashgabat says that to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it is necessary to close these classes. That has sparked protests, Russian and independent Turkmen outlets say (ng.ru/cis/2020-09-17/1_7967_turkmenistan.html and turkmen.news/news/turkmenistan-vlasti-oprovergayut-zakrytie-russkih-klassov-a-roditeli-ishhut-repetitorov/).
The Russian government two days ago complained but so far has not received a response (mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4339569). In addition to the small protests, Turkmens are now actively hiring tutors for their children so that the latter can continue to study Russian.
Some parents say that Ashgabat’s actions effectively drive he study of Russian underground, beyond the control of the state. Many governments worry about underground Islamic training schools, but the Turkmen authorities, given their authoritarianism, likely see such Russian classes as channels for the importation of equally dangerous ideas.
As the rulers of Turkmenistan have made clear in the past, they view any outside influence from Russia or anywhere else as threatening. They have severely restricted Turkmens from working or studying abroad, and their current moves against the study of Russian are consistent with that approach.