By Paul Goble
When Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov said last week that education officials in Moscow were willing to allow for two hours a week of compulsory Tatar instruction in his republic’s schools, he and many others felt that Moscow and Kazan were inching toward a compromise.
But now an anonymous Russian government source, in words confirmed by Putin’s press secretary, says that no compromise with Tatarstan or any other republic is possible on the issue of making the study of all non-Russian languages entirely voluntary (rbc.ru/politics/15/11/2017/5a0b1ab59a7947409bf6e965?from=main).
“Everything will be in correspondence with the law – national languages are to be studied on a voluntary basis. This is the rule for all national republics, and there won’t be any exceptions for anyone,” the source told RBC. Later when the news agency queried Dmitry Peskov, he confirmed that.
A major reason Minnikhanov thought he had achieved some progress was that Olga Vasilyeva, Russia’s education minister, said that each case of the forcible study of a language should be considered separately and that “it is incorrect if you are born anlive in Bashkortostan or Tatarstan and don’t know the language” (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/11/15/269241/).
But now the Kremlin appears to have walked away from that more open position and adopted a hard line, something that is certain to anger and alienate many in Tatarstan and the other non-Russian republics even if it pleases some Russian parents who think their children’s studying any language but Russia is a waste of time.
Abbas Gallyamov, a Bashkortostan political analyst, says that most Russian parents had considered the required study of non-Russian languages as “a necessary evil” and not “a serious political problem” until Vladimir Putin raised the stakes with his declaration on language at Ufa in July.
After Putin’s intervention, however, both Russians and non-Russians came to view it differently, the former as a test of whether Moscow will impose the same rules everywhere in the country and the latter as an indication about the future of their nations. As a result, protests by both sides are likely to increase.
Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Petersburg Politics Foundation, says that new tensions may not have an impact on the presidential election this time; but they will on elections after that. Both sides can see that this language move is a signal the Kremlin plans to be far more interventionist on all issues in the republics than ever before.
The real test of Putin’s new approach, however, isn’t going to come in Tatarstan but in Chechnya where the Kremlin leader has allowed Ramzan Kadyrov unprecedented opportunities to conduct an independent policy. If Putin doesn’t or can’t change that, then this campaign is likely to be viewed as a failure – and that will have consequences sooner as well as later.