Staunton, February 25 – Between 2002 and 2010, the number of schools offering non-Russian language instruction has declined by more than 65 percent, and the number of pupils studying in these languages has declined by nearly 80 percent, according to Olga Artemenko, a senior scholar at the Education Ministry’s Federal Institute for the Development of Education.
That decline, which she says reflects school consolidation, shifting of students to Russian-language schools, and lack of support for non-Russian education generally, is the sharpest in modern times and threatens the survival of many of Russia’s more than 230 ethno-national groups.
This trend is especially striking at a time when Moscow is demanding that neighboring countries keep Russian-language schools open for their minorities and even make Russian a second state language, a call that is just as perverse under the circumstances as Moscow’s demand that other countries federalize at a time when it is destroying federalism.
Language developments depend both on broad economic trends and on the language policy of the government, Artemenko says. In the past, the Russian government has been supportive of minority languages as a result of which many languages which would have died elsewhere have survived and even flourished there. But now that is changing.
On the one hand, the government increasingly makes its decisions on the basis of cost calculations rather than the value of languages. And on the other, it now requires all non-Russian language textbooks to be approved in Moscow. Only three languages have even some of their textbooks approved: Tatar, Sakha and Khakass. The others don’t.
In many federal subjects, work on new textbooks for Moscow’s approval is finishing up, but in Dagestan and Karachayevo-Cherkesia, it hasn’t even begun, at least in part because of the linguistic complexity of the former – Dagestan has 32 languages which enjoy state status – and political sensitivities in the case of the latter – KChR is one of two bi-national republics.
Many people in Moscow and elsewhere assume that young people today would rather study English, German, and Chinese than their native Buryat or Mokshan. “But in fact this is not entirely so,” Artemenko says, and she cites the findings of a survey she conducted last year among students in the 10th and 11th grades in non-Russian areas.
Fifteen percent of those studying Finno-Ugric languages, 33 percent of those studying Turkic languages, 20 percent of those studying Dagestani languages, and 40 percent of those studying Chechen and Ingush languages said that they intended to organize their careers in such a way that they would use their native language and not some others.
Artemenko also points out that students show great interest in the study of their ethnic group and the places where its members live, and consequently, she says, “in order that the languages not disappear or degrade to kitchen level, there should be created, at a minimum, conditions for those who want to use these languages in their lives.”
The need for that is growing not decreasing, she says, because in recent years, the representatives of non-Russian language groups have increased by five million people, and if their needs are not taken into account, there will be “an outbreak of inter-ethnic tension,” just as there will be if Russian speakers have problems in schools in non-Russian republics.
And that requires, the scholar says, a state language policy which would promote “social and economic stability, the development of dialogue, and the all-Russian unity of all the peoples of Russia.”