Monday, March 1, 2021

Study of Non-Russian Languages has Collapsed Since Putin Made Them Voluntary Subjects

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 28 – In the four years since Vladimir Putin insisted that children in the non-Russian republics should not have to study the state languages of those federal subjects, the percentage of children studying these languages has collapse, according to education specialists in several of them

            Svetlana Petrova, vice rector of the Chuvash Republic Institute of Education says that prior to Putin’s order, 100 percent of the children in the republic studied Chuvash and thus could at some level interact with the indigenous nationality in its own language. Now, only 55 percent do (

            Her figures were contained in a report she delivered to a Kazan roundtable organized by the Russian Social Chamber’s nationalities commission and the Social Chamber of Tatarstan. Other participants in the meeting including Valentina Klementyeva, an official of the Udmurt education ministry, suggested that study of their titular languages had also suffered significantly.

            As serious as such declines are for the future of the non-Russian languages of the autonomous republics of the Russian Federation, another development, underlined by Petrova, is perhaps even more worrisome. She says that initially Putin’s decision provoked “stormy” discussions but now everyone has come to terms with what they see as a new reality.

            Given that non-Russian children are required to study Russian, the state language of the country, they will be less likely to use their national language with their fellow students even if they are enrolled in non-Russian language classes. And over time, that will further depress the number who use these languages and the number whose children will study them.

            That is clearly what Putin and those who support his Russianizing, even Russifying policies, hope for. There is, however, one possibility that the Kremlin leader and those around him may not expect: rising nationalism among non-Russians who speak Russian well but who are nonetheless discriminated against because of their physiognomies or ethnicities.

            In Soviet times, those non-Russians who did not know Russian could not aspire to jobs that Russians could get; but when the non-Russians learned Russian well, many of them assumed they would be treated equally. When they weren’t, they reacted by becoming more nationalistic even if they did not speak the language and promoting its use among their children.

            Something similar may happen in parts of the Russian Federation. And if it does, Russian-speaking non-Russian nationalists may prove far more of a threat to Moscow’s control, just as English-speaking Irish and English-speaking Indians were a greater threat to London than their Gaelic and Hindi speaking counterparts.  

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