Staunton, March 7 – The Kremlin’s attacks on non-Russian languages have led to an upsurge of activism among the intelligentsias of the non-Russian republics, Madina Khakuasheva says; and these activists are gaining a new ally: republic officials who recognize that if the non-Russian languages disappear so too will the republics they serve.
The senior researcher at the Kabardino-Balkar Institute for Research on the Humanities and a leading Circassian commentator on cultural and linguistic issues, says that the emergence of this informal alliance gives hope that Moscow’s Russianization campaign can be countered more effectively than in the past (zapravakbr.ru/index.php/30-uncategorised/1643-za-rodnye-yazyki).
And while Khakuasheva does not say so in this article, her words suggest a broader development that recalls the final years of the USSR when the aspirations of the population became the aspirations of union republic officials who viewed it as the only way to maintain their power against Moscow and thus contributed to the end of the Soviet system.
She does point out that after Vladimir Putin ended the requirement that all residents of non-Russian republics study the languages of the titular nationalities there, linguistic activism among republic intelligentsias increased, with heads of schools often taking steps to counter the Russianizing influence of Moscow that has led many parents to enroll their children in Russian classes for pragmatic reasons.
Such parents do so, she says, because they want a better future for their children and know that Russian is more likely to open the way for their offspring to achieve their career goals, but the educators recognize that the loss of language will have broader effects and they, along with others, know that language policy is “part of a common ‘big’ policy” involving far more than meets the eye.
Educators and other intellectuals have thus been the moving spirit behind a series of online conferences about promoting non-Russian languages. These meetings have shared ideas on strategy, with ever more of the participants prepared to promote alternative educational arrangements and to emphasize the political nature of what they are doing, Khakuasheva says.
“We are direct witnesses of an unprecedented rise in linguistic activism on the part of representatives of many republics of the Russian Federation,” she continues. “For the last decade or two, they have been able to create and achieve alternative linguistic practices which have been formed spontaneously and empirically without any connection with each other.”
This represents “a genuinely democratic process in which with unexpected force” the desire of populations to save their own languages has broken out and extended the campaign from a small group of activists to the population as a whole. Now, she says, it is reaching into the halls of power at least at the republic level.
In Kabardino-Balkaria, the scholar continues, a group of language activists mete with republic head Kazbek Kokov to promote the idea of reforming the system of instruction in native languages, one that would function “in parallel” with the government one and gradually lead ot an improvement in the language situation.
Khakuasheva says that the group presented evidence of the effectiveness of such an arrangement by noting that for the past five years, North Ossetia has introduced one on the basis of a program developed by educators there. But their most effective argument, she suggests, was a political one.
“With the loss of language,” Khakuasheva continues, “we will lose the formal signs of a republic with all its state-forming structures, including in the first instance, the administration, the parliament, the place of the Head [emphasis supplied], and so on. In place of the republic would then be a gubernia in which there would be no financing for the national component.”
Kokov was impressed enough with that argument that after the activists met with him, they were able to meet with officials in his education ministry and present a concept paper which calls for the establishment of a methodological center for the Circassian language, a center for all native languages in the KBR, linguistic “nests” for preschoolers, and summer language camps.
Those proposals have now been accepted by the republic government, a sign that support for non-Russian languages has broadened to include republic officials who now recognize that their own political fate depends more than they may have thought in the past on the fate of the non-Russian languages of their populations.
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