Staunton, July 28 – Karelia is the only non-Russian republic in the Russian Federation in which the language of the titular nationality is not the state language of the republic. In the past, Russian officials have explained this by referring to the extremely low percentage of Karels in the population; and analysts have suggested that Russia does not want them to have ties with Finland.
(On the history of this conflict and for a discussion of some of the most recent moves by Karels and their Finno-Ugric supporters to obtain state status of Karelian, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/04/karelian-not-just-language-of-villagers.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/03/karels-repeat-demand-that-their.html.)
But now Sergey Kiselyev, the republic minster for nationality and regional policy, offers another explanation, one that may be designed to put additional pressure on the Karels and certainly sends a powerful message to those who speak the titular non-Russian languages of other republics (regnum.ru/news/society/3331886.html).
He says that Karelian can’t become the state language of Karelia because the majority of its users have employed a Latin-based script since the late 1980s, something the powers that be have tolerated because it attracts Finnish tourists but that means, according to Russian law, it can’t be a state language of the republic.
Many Karels, angered that their language does not have that status, have been pressing for it. Kiselyev’s words suggest either one of two things: Petrozavodsk wants to shift the blame to Moscow for the policy or the republic leaders want to send a message to the Karels that if they hope to have their language gain in status, they will have to shift back to the Cyrillic script.
Until the time of the parade of sovereignties, most Karelians wrote in a Cyrillic-based script; but in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they overwhelmingly shifted to a Latin script format, something that made their interaction with Finns and other Finno-Ugric groups easier. But to avoid losing income from tourism, Moscow has tolerated the shift.
The republic nationalities minster says that the 2007 republic law on languages means that Karel speakers have virtually the same rights now that they would have if their language were elevated to state status. He also takes great pride in Karelian publications – which are in Latin script – and in a web page, now in beta testing, that spreads them (omamedia.ru/).