Staunton, June 23 – Even though relations between Tashkent and Dushanbe have warmed in recent years, language policies in the two countries remain a serious source of potential problems with both countries closing down schools in the language of the other and using various means to force pupils to study the state language rather than their own ethnic one.
The problem is especially fraught for the ethnic Uzbeks in Tajikistan who form the second largest nationality there and who mostly live in ethnically homogeneous places along the state border. Until recently, their children studied in Uzbek language schools; but now those schools are being replaced by Tajik, English and Russian ones.
The exact dimensions of what is going on are difficult to specify because the Tajik government has put out inconsistent data about schools and language use for some time; but the trend is clear, and many Uzbeks are unhappy about what is going on (cabar.asia/ru/tadzhikistan-kolichestvo-shkol-s-uzbekskim-yazykom-obucheniya-sokrashhaetsya).
Some ethnic Uzbek parents do want their children to go to Tajik-language schools because that is the best way for them to make their way in Tajik society; but others want them to retain their national language even if they are at least up to now completely loyal citizens of Tajikistan.
Tajik officials speaking on condition of anonymity say that various tactics are used to force Uzbek parents to ask to send their children to Tajik-language schools. Textbooks and teachers aren’t provided to Uzbek schools, state testing is only in Tajik, Uzbek coursework in universities has been restricted, and most employers will hire only those who know Tajik well.
Many children are suffering as a result. When an Uzbek child has studied only in an Uzbek-language school and then that school is closed, he or she becomes effectively an illiterate in Tajik and is tracked into low-status and low-paying fields rather than being helped to acquire the Tajik language. Many such students remain unemployed, creating a nucleus for protests.
According to an Uzbek activist in Tajikistan, there are almost no Uzbek-language schools in urban or district centers.” They operate only in villages and are typically very small. Teachers are mostly products of Soviet times and are now retiring, and there is no certainty that anyone will replace them.
The problems of languages of Central Asian schools seldom gets much attention, but it is significant in two ways. On the one hand, such “nationalizing” policies are creating ethnic tensions that will lead both to outmigration and to conflict. And on the other, what a Moscow expert is saying about schools in Tajikistan has applicability in Russia’s non-Russian republics.
In those non-Russian autonomies, ever more non-Russians are being forced into Russian-language schools with almost all the same problems that Uzbeks face in Tajikistan when something analogous is being done. Focusing on this issue in Central Asia thus is a useful way of talking about it in Russia itself.