By Paul Goble
Russians and non-Russians are both overwhelmingly against Moscow’s plans to raise the pension age; but, not surprisingly, they divide on Putin’s plan to end the obligatory study of non-Russian languages in the republics while continuing to impose the obligatory study of Russian.
But what may come as a surprise to some, Russian opposition to the current arrangements extends all the way from the Russian nationalist and imperialist camps to those who identify as liberals and democrats, albeit for different reasons, making cooperation between the latter and those in the republics far more difficult.
That is the conclusion that arises from reading two interviews Ramazan Alpaut, a journalist for Radio Svoboda’s IdelReal portal, has just conducted with Valery Korovin of the International Eurasian Movement on the right and Nikolay Rybakov, the deputy head of the Yabloko party on the left, on the language issue (idelreal.org/a/29355012.html).
Valery Korovin, a follower of Aleksandr Dugin who is the vice president of the International Eurasian Movement, insists that “in Russia, there is no discrimination base on language.” All languages are permitted and can be used “without any limitations.” They eve enjoy “support from the government.”
The language “problem” exists, he says, only because “this theme is being artificially politicized.” Ethnic groups are “artificially seeking the attributes of political nations” via the existence of “’national republics.’” These are nothing more than “potential nation states with all the attributes except sovereignty.”
The elites of these republics seek to promote “linguistic unification” of their populations as another step toward acquiring such sovereignty and thus independence from the Russian Federation, Korovin says. But if that is their goal, Alpaut interjects, they have not been that successful, as figures from Tatarstan show.
There, only 3.5 percent of ethnic Russians in Tatarstan know Russian; and the share doing so is above 50 percent – it is 65.7 percent – only for one group, the Bashkirs, who are linguistically quite close to the Tatars. Despite that, Korovin argues that the politicization of language represents “a direct threat to the integrity of Russian statehood.”
According to him, Russia today is “’too much a federation,’” and that if that isn’t changed, soon demands will arise first for a confederation and then independence. Thus, Russian must be mandatory and the non-Russian languages must be reduced to the status of electives in order to preserve the state.
Yabloko’s Rybakov also supports making the study of non-Russian languages voluntary but for other reasons. He says his party supports federalism but “above all in the economy” rather than in ethnic and cultural spheres. And with regard to language issues, “we as liberals support the principle of voluntariness and must trust parents to make the decisions.”
In his view, Rybakov says, “the republics must have political mechanisms to guarantee the stable development of their culture, with the federal center providing the regions with the financial possibilities for the study of national languages.” That position is close to the current Putin proposal; but it ignores among other things non-Russians outside their republics.
And the Yabloko leader also echoes some of the Kremlin’s line on this issue when he says that “republic elites must work to raise the prestige of local languages” because “if people do not see prospects in them, no system of obligatory study will be effective,” Rybakov continues.