Monday, March 29, 2021

Bondarenko Wants Russian to be the State Languages and All Others Republic or Not to be Labelled ‘Official’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 27 – Dmitry Bondarenko triggered an explosion of anger in the non-Russian republics in February when he proposed making Russian the only state language in the country and stripping the languages of the republics of that status, labelling them only “official” languages (

            Now, the senior official of the Federal Center for Education Law, has gone further and said that all languages in the Russian Federation other than Russian should have the same status as “official” or “regional” languages, with those of the republics in no way privileged over those of nations without such structures (

            In his view that will raise the status of languages spoken by nations that do not have a state formation; but from the point of view of those which do, his proposal represents yet another Moscow attack on the prerogatives of the republics and the rights of their peoples. As a result, it is certain to spark even greater controversy.

            Bondarenko stresses in the course of an interview with Kazan’s Business-Gazeta that his primary concern is to fill legal lacunae rather than to define practice. At present, there are no clear definitions of “state language” or “official” ones, and therefore the debate about what to do takes place exclusively in terms of what people believe is their respective status.

            He argues that all 277 languages and dialects of the Russian Federation should be “official,” with Russian alone being the state language. That will ensure support for both all of the non-Russian languages rather than discrimination against or neglect of many of them and also for Russian which often has been neglected as one needing protection as well.

            The Moscow legal specialist notes that many of the numerically smaller national languages need greater support than they are getting – none of those still without an alphabet have received one since 1990 – and that identifying them as having the same status as republic languages will help them survive.

            But republic nations are unlikely to see things that way; and Bondarenko concedes, “from a political point of view, it may be premature to raise this question.” But he insists that they will benefit as well from clear legal definitions, although at least now many may choose to fight for having their primary republic language remain a “state” one.

            The Moscow scholar says that legal consistency requires that there be only one state language and that foreign experts can’t understand how Russia can have 34 such languages. That is vastly more than any other country has and is a source of confusion as well as of conflicts among their speakers. It is up to Russian law givers to end this problem.

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