Non-Russians Should Study Russian More; Russians Should Study Foreign Languages Less, Russian Culture Minister Says

July 7, 2014
Culture Minister Medinsky. Photo by Evgeny Asmolov/ITAR-TASS

Staunton, July 6 – In a declaration that may play to the current nationalist upsurge among Russians and appears to enjoy the backing of Vladimir Putin but seriously threatens their country’s future in two ways, Russia’s minister of culture says that non-Russians should study Russian more and Russians should study foreign languages less.

Speaking to the Presidential Council on ethnic relations last week, Vladimir Medinsky urged the ministry of education to promote Russian by reducing the number of hours “not only of foreign languages but also of regional languages of Russia,” a strange and disturbing term for the languages of the non-Russian nations.

The minister’s appeal followed Putin’s statement that this year’s test results on Russian language knowledge did not present “a pretty picture” and that steps need to be taken to ensure better knowledge of Russian by all citizens of the Russian Federation, an anodyne formulation few can object to but that entails some serious negative consequences.

On the one hand, increasing instruction in Russian among non-Russians will come at the price of cutting instruction in their own languages, a price that will further inflame nationalism among many groups, such as the Volga Tatar, Buryats and Chuvash, especially given the cutbacks they have already had to endure.

And on the other, reducing foreign-language instruction among Russians will simultaneously reduce the access of Russians to information available in the first instance in foreign languages and anger many Russians who want to travel or live abroad and view knowledge of foreign languages as key to their plans.

More seriously, some in both groups are likely to see this as a return to the policies of Stalin’s times that hurts them and oppose it even if they have been supporters of the policies of Vladimir Putin up to this point and have not been directly affected by his authoritarian policies until now.