Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Window on Eurasia: How Moscow is -- Again -- Radicalizing the Chechens

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 24 – Moscow’s current failure to support native language institutions in Chechnya and especially to provide educational opportunities for young Chechens repeats the mistakes of the late Soviet period and may very well lead to the same unfortunate result.
Yesterday, officials and educators in Chechnya marked that republic’s third “Day of the Chechen Language,” an occasion on which people across that north Caucasus republic reflected upon the sad state of the Chechen tongue and the lack of educational opportunities there not only now but in the past.
In a commentary posted on the “Caucasus Times” web page today, Grozniy writerAdam Sadayev reviewed Moscow’s language and educational policies there over the past half century and the ways in which both have radicalized Chechen public opinion (http://www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=12450).
Sadayev’s argument draws almost entirely from Musa Ovkhadov’s study, “National-Language Policy and the Development of Chechen-Russian Bilingualism” (in Russian; Moscow, 2000) which draws extensively on censuses during the Soviet period as well as on earlier academic studies of the issue.
Although as Ovkhadov points out, the Soviet authorities in the 1920s were responsible for the development of Chechen as a literary language and opened numerous schools to promote its use, Moscow officials turned against both the language and the schools even before the deportation of the Chechens in 1944 and especially afterwards.
When the Chechens were able to return to their homeland in the late 1950s, the Soviet authorities did virtually nothing to help them recover from the devastation visited upon them in Central Asia –a strikingly different approach than the ones Moscow adopted toward the other “punished peoples.”
As a result of “a special approach to the Chechens,” Ovkhadov said, they had the smallest percentage of specialists with higher or secondary special education of any nation in the USSR, with only 19.1 such graduates per 1,000 people in 1957 compared to higher figures for the other deported nationalities and the all-union average of 326.3.
Moreover, Sadayev notes, Moscow’s discrimination against the Chechens was pointedly ethnic. In 1959, for example, the average number of residents of Chechnya over the age of 10 with a university education was 21 per 1,000 but among ethnic Chechens there, that figure was only 10.
And while the Soviet government regularly proclaimed that communism had “liquidated illiteracy already in the 1930s” throughout the USSR, in fact, Ovkhadov reports, even in the 1960s, seven out of ten Chechens did not yet know how to read or write.
This situation did not materially improve at the end of Soviet times, he says. In 1989, there were on average for all nationalities in the USSR some 113 people over the age of 15 with higher educations while among the Chechens, that figure was “only 45” – significantly lower than the figures for the other deported nations.
One of the ways in which Moscow restricted the access of Chechens to more schooling was its policy of eliminating most Chechen-language schools. As a result, young Chechens who hoped to get even a secondary education had to learn Russian first, something at least some of them were not inclined to do.
But this form of discrimination against the Chechens both linguistically and in terms of educational opportunities, Sadayev argues, was so obvious that it led many young Chechens to become nationalists – even as they were cut off from the culture of their parents and grandparents.
However, even then, he suggests, Moscow could have avoided the problems of the 1990s had it been willing to “guarantee the Chechens the chance to enjoy their rights to education … [and] the development of language and culture” promised by the Soviet constitution and given to most other peoples in the USSR.
Unfortunately, Sadayev says, Moscow did not make that choice, and the results for both Chechens and Russians have been unfortunate. But what is worse, he suggests, is that Moscow is now continuing -- or more precisely resuming -- its earlier language and education policies in Chechnya.
The Russian government both directly and through its agents in Chechnya is again restricting the use of the Chechen language, violating the explicit pledges of the constitution and reducing the educational opportunities for young Chechens many of whom have not had access to any training during the violence of the last 15 years.
Obviously, Sadayev concludes, some officials in Moscow must believe this approach will have the effect of tying the Chechens more closely to the Russian Federation, but as he and Ovkhadov make clear, such an approach is far more likely to have just the opposite effect.

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