Staunton, April 25 – After Moscow imposed criminal penalties for describing Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine as a war, both Russian speakers and non-Russians began to use non-Russian languages to make their protests, although the motivations behind this action were very different.
Russian speakers opposed to the war have done so because they don’t think the security services will be able to keep track of what is being said or put on posters in languages other than Russian. Indeed, it is unlikely the FSB even has the right fonts installed on its computers to do so (newstatesman.com/world/europe/2022/04/censored-in-russian-anti-war-activists-turn-to-indigenous-languages).
Most of the Russian speakers who are doing so are non-Russians who know a second language, but some are Russians who are picking up on this tactic so as to preserve their personal security while protesting the war. But non-Russians who are protesting this war have other reasons as well.
Many of them see the often brutally expressed Russian nationalism behind Putin’s attack on Ukraine and Ukrainians as an extension of his attacks on their languages and the hostility to their nations he has either sponsored or failed to oppose among ethnic Russians toward non-Russians who are citizens as well.
As a result, Gasan Guseynov, a former HSE scholar who was forced into emigration for his views, says, when non-Russians protest the war in their own languages, they are protesting not only the war in Ukraine but the war they see Moscow waging against themselves (rfi.fr/ru/россия/20220425-на-языках-народов-россии-это-больше-чем-война).
This is leading to the radicalization of many non-Russians, especially those who live in smaller communities and thus are likely to have known those who are now being returned in coffins from Ukraine. But despite this radicalization, most non-Russian activists are not confident they will be heard in Moscow or supported by the West.
They well remember the many times Moscow has ignored them, and they also remember that the world failed to respond to Moscow’s destruction of Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s. “But already,” Guseynov says, “the moral victory of Ukraine over Putin’s Russia is sparking hope” for greater autonomy or even independence from Moscow.