Monday, June 21, 2021

Moscow Wants to Make Study of Non-Russian Languages So Voluntary No One Will Study Them, Khakuasheva Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – Since the start of the expansion of Muscovy outside its original borders and its occupation of other nations, language policy has been at the core of nationality policy because if people can be encouraged or forced to give up their language, they almost always sooner or later will give up their nationality, Madian Khakuasheva says.

            The Circassian scholar says that the terminology of the center has changed but the overarching goal has remained the same – the total assimilation of all non-Russians into the ethnic Russian nation – and everyone should recognize that any deviation from this postpones but doesn’t change that goal (

            The latest twist in this sad story, the senior researcher at the Kabardino-Balkar Institute for Research on the Humanities says, is provided by Iosif Diskin, chairman of the Russian Social Chamber’s Commission on Inter-Ethnic and Inter-Confessional Relations (

            After insisting that ethnic Russians must study in the Russian language, Diskin adds that “the right to study languages of the subjects must be guaranteed. No one is casting doubt on this. But this is a right and not an obligation” and every pupil or more precisely the parents of every pupil has the right to decide what his native language is.

            “Let us stop on the term, ‘voluntary choice of native language,’” Khakuasheva says. Anyone who has a clear mind will recognize that people don’t choose their native language; it is something given by birth. Yes, it can be taken away – and Diskin clearly hopes that will happen with the non-Russians – but this mustn’t happen by the sleight of hand that it is voluntary.

            To cover what he is pushing, Diskin does three things. First, he keeps insisting that the right to the study of non-Russian languages will remain, even if no one exercises that right either because no resources are provided for it or because parents and their children will “voluntarily” choose Russian as more career-enhancing.

            Second, Diskin argues that the promotion of non-Russian languages in the non-Russian republics since the end of Soviet times has been the work of non-Russia “autocracies” which have imposed non-Russian languages on their populations to keep themselves in power rather than winning support by offering the members of these nations what they want.

            And third, he invokes Vladimir Putin’s argument that ethnic and linguistic questions must be “de-politicized.” Not only does that ignore that language is political and the political is about language in Russia, but it allows him and his regime to insist that anyone who points that out or tries to act in support of these languages is engaging in “provocations.”

            Non-Russians in particular but Russians as well should remember that “beginning with Catherine the Great, language was one of the central political questions since it served as the chief goal of the colonial policy of tsarist Russia, the assimilation of the inorodtsy. In the North Caucasus, it began in the 18th century.”

            “During the times of the Soviet empire, there was the idea of total ethnic unification, in the course of which as a result of voluntary instruction in schools in native languages was subjected to powerful degradation.”  Now, in the more “vegetarian” post-Soviet times, the very same policy is being implemented with only a different verbal sauce.

            The authorities have eliminated the nationality line in the passport and at the same time they have as Diskin makes all too clear promoted the nonsensical notion of “Russian as ‘the native language’ of non-Russians,” exactly what Russian imperialists of tsarist times and Soviet imperialists after them dreamed of but in fact didn’t say as such.

            What makes this outrageous is that a large number of non-Russian languages in the Caucasus are on the brink of disappearing, according to UNESCO; but the Russian state is not only promoting that but allowing Russian nationalist and neo-fascist groups to organize and operate more or less freely, clearly signaling what the regime really wants.

            Those who want non-Russian languages to fade away are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the terms they use to promote that end, as Diskin’s words show. But if one considers carefully what they are seeking, their ends are no different than the most reactionary imperialist of the last decades of the Russian Empire.


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