Moscow Preparing Sweeping New Attack on Non-Russian Languages

December 3, 2014

Staunton, December 3 – Moscow is preparing a sweeping new attack on the status of non-Russian languages in the republics of the Russian Federation with its plans to amend the country’s language law in ways that contradict Russia’s nationality strategy document adopted two years ago, according to Ivan Shamayev, a deputy in the legislature of the Sakha Republic.

And it is doing so in an underhanded way that many will not see as a threat until too late, and that Moscow officials can use to reduce the use of non-Russian languages in government, in the courts, and in the media in what would be potentially radical and destructive ways.

As Shamayev notes, Tatarstan legislators have already raised the alarm about the amendments which drop requirements for the use of non-Russian languages alongside Russian, and specify instead that such languages “may be used” with the implication that they may not be as well. (He provides a point-by-point comparison of current law and the proposed changes.)

And while the Tatarstan legislators expressed the view that the proposed amendments were so extreme that they would not even be considered by the Duma, the Sakha deputy says that the measures are already on the schedule for committee hearings this month and thus appear likely to go forward.

Shamayev says that he believes that “everyone will agree with the parliamentarians of Tatarstan that the [proposed] law really will ‘in fact sharply reduce the status of the state languages of the republics … and is intended to restrict the constitutional rights” of those who speak them.

It is possible that “someone, somewhere will not understand” the problems of the non-Russians and thus “not share our concerns. But we must express our point of view” and hope that that will be sufficient to find a compromise that will protect the language rights of the non-Russian nations.

The Sakha legislator cites with approval the conclusion of Irina Khaleyeva, a linguist who is a member of the Russian Academy of Education, that “it is necessary to show ‘all possible concern and attention to the development of languages as an incarnation of ‘the home of the existence of the spirit of the people.’”

According to Shamayev, “the daily co-existence in the national republics of two languages with equal rights – the state-wide Russian and the official national – works not to weakening the role of one or both but on the contrary to the intensified cooperative effect of their mutual support and free development.”

Moreover, this coexistence of languages and the coexistence of the peoples who speak them is the only reliable “defense of the country against foreign military threats in the face of which Russia must respond as a single powerful state.” Putting languages, and hence this, at risk by making the future “indefinite” as the amendments do must be opposed.