Staunton, May 6 – In what is simultaneously a measure of fears that the minority languages of Karelia may die out and an indication of the commitment of republic officials to prevent that, officials at Petrozavodsk State University have announced that students who take courses in Karelian and Wepsy will be paid a 3,000 ruble (US $90) supplement.
The program, announced by Anatoly Lopukha, the university’s pro-rector, in the capital newspaper Stolitsa na Onego today, will begin in the fall. He said that the institution’s academic council had decided to do so in order “to preserve the languages and culture of our native territory.”
According to the 2010 Russian census, there are 45,000 Karelians and 3,400 Wepsy in the Karelian Republic, which has a total population of just under 800,000. Many of those who identified as members of these two groups are losing their language or using it only in restricted ways such as at home or in family groups.
Under Vladimir Putin, Moscow has pushed to Russianize the country’s educational system, sometimes with the support of parents and students who believe that speaking Russian will help them get ahead and sometimes over their objections. The Karelian university move is an effort to block that trend and using the most capitalist of means – cash incentives.
If it is put in place – and Moscow officials will challenge it in the coming months – this program will likely help revive Karelian, a language closely related to Finnish, but it is not clear whether it will be able to reverse the decline in the number of Wepsy speakers. They are now so few that in the absence of even more radical measures, they could disappear.