By Paul Goble
Encouraged by Vladimir Putin’s drive to end obligatory instruction in non-Russian languages in the republics, Russian nationalist activists in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Buryatia are now pressing for the abolition of the non-Russian republics whose existence, they say, acts to “proliferate nationalism.”
Their call takes the form of an open letter to the Duma which is considering a law banning any required study of non-Russian languages as well as to the Russian ministry of education. They present themselves as speaking for themselves and their fellow Russians in the republics, but there is a more ominous possibility.
What their call may represent is the opening salvo in a Kremlin campaign to do away with the republics, something Putin has indicated he favors, by highlighting support within the republics for that idea and thus setting the stage for referendums on the matter as the Russian constitution and laws require.
If that is the case, it will be not only language over which Russians and non-Russians will be fighting in the coming months but also the existence of the non-Russian republics which form a key element of what is left of federalism in Russia and whose abolition would open the way to an even more centralized unitary state.
The authors of the appeal include Mikhail Shcheglov, head of the Society of Russian Culture of Tatarstan, Eduard Nosov of the Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Russian-Speaking Parents and Students in Tatarstan, Viktor Afanasyev of the Union of Ethnic Russians of Bashkortostan, and I. Gneusheva of the Movement for the Voluntary Study of Buryat.
Not surprisingly, they focus on arguments in favor of making the study of non-Russian languages entirely voluntary while keeping Russian and Russian literature as compulsory (idelreal.org/a/противники-обязательных-уроков-родного-языка-из-казани-уфы-и-улан-удэ-предложили-ликвидировать-национальные-республики-россии/29214866.html).
But in the key passage, these Russian nationalists call for Moscow to take up the issue of the liquidation of the non-Russian republics within Russia: Non-Russians shouldn’t have more rights than the ethnic Russian majority does, and the latter has no special status at all. Hence, the non-Russians must lose their status so everyone will be equal.