Vienna, February 22 – Inspired by the UN’s declaration of February 21 as International Native Language Day, some 100 scholars and activists met over the weekend in Chuvashia and demanded that Moscow reverse course and restore the non-Russian language component in the schools of the republics in the Russian Federation.
Three aspects of this meeting are worth noting. First, it is another indication of the way in which activists within the Russian Federation are affected by the actions of international organizations. Second, it is a measure of just how sensitive language issues are for the more than 35 million people in the Russian Federation who do not speak Russian as a native language.
And third, and perhaps most important, it is a sign that increasingly various non-Russian groups are prepared to work together on common issues rather than pursue more narrowly circumscribed national goals, a trend that if it continues could challenge in Moscow more seriously than any one group has been able to do up to now.
On Saturday, for what organizers said was “the first time in the history of the non-Russian peoples of Russia,” a forum took place which attracted representatives of public organizations involved in the preservation and development of the native languages of the indigenous peoples” of the country (tatar-centr.blogspot.com/2010/02/21.html).
Reports about the meeting are still scanty, but some idea about both the range of speakers and their feelings is conveyed by the following selected list of speakers, their positions, and their topics. Fandas Safiullin of Tatarstan spoke on “Federal Law No. 309 as a Threat to the Native Non-Russian Languages and Unity of the Peoples of the Russian Federation.
Ektor Alos, a Chuvash who is a member of the International Committee of Ethnic Freedom, discussed “Certain Conclusions from the European Experience of Normalizing National Languages.” Fayruza Garipova, a linguist at the Bashkir Academy of Sciences, talked about “The Linguistic Behavior of Non-Russians under Conditions of Two State Languages.”
Ivan Manuyev, a Buryat pensioner who is a member of the Congress of the Buryat People, discussed “The Nationality Question and the Linguistic Rights of Nations.” And Yangurchi Adzhiyev, a Nogay expert from Daghestan, spoke on “The Problems of the Study of the Native Language of the Nogays of Russia.”
In his report, an abbreviated version of which has been published, Safiullin spoke with passion about the threat to non-Russian languages and the need to invoke international norms to defend them against Moscow’s policies, especially as the Russian government has become increasingly nationalistic.
He began by recalling the unfortunate statement of a Duma official nine years ago that “We should not be glad that we have a multi-national state. This is our misfortune.” From that attitude came the controversial December 2007 law which eliminated or severely restricted the national regional and national language components from non-Russian schools.
Such restrictions, Safiullin continued, resemble those that the Nazis planned to introduce in the territories they occupied in order to destroy those nations the German regime felt had no place under the sun. Now, the Russian government is doing much the same thing, and non-Russians must speak out as a group against these measures.
They must demand that Moscow change its current policies because they are “unworthy of a civilized state” and “a form of discrimination of citizens on the basis of national and linguistic categories,” he said. And she added that non-Russians must have the right to “educate our children and grandchildren in their native language from the first school bell onwards.”
“The language of each people is no less native than the language of those who strive to establish in a multinational country their own language diktat,” he said. Indeed, “a native language is the spirit and living history of the people, its centuries old culture, the basis of its historical uniqueness and future development.”
In addition to adopting messages to this effect to Russian leaders, the participants agreed to hold another forum of the group in Bashkortostan and to work to ensure that the ties such forums are forging among various non-Russian groups will increase in order to allow them to put more pressure on Moscow to change course.