Friday, May 28, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Survival of Numerically Small Peoples in Russia ‘Depends Almost Entirely’ on the Internet, Expert Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 28 – Because the survival of the numerically small Finno-Ugric peoples in the Russian Federation “depends almost entirely” on the use of their languages on the Internet, an Estonian expert says, activists, businesses, and officials must create both a demand for the use of these language and a supply of opportunities for members of these communities to do so.
In an interview taken before the III Interior-Regional Conference on “The Functioning of Finno-Ugric Languages on the Internet” held in Syktyvkar, Andrey Tentyukov, an Estonia-based expert and a leader of the International Organization of Finno-Ugric Journalists, talks about why this is so (
“The Internet,” he pointed out, “because of its particular features, allows a language to fulfill all its tasks more reliably, more rapidly and in a more qualitative way, including the development and transfer of information by significantly easing the process of its classification and search” as compared to printed materials.
Indeed, he said, “the presence of the language in the Internet is the basic indicator of its vitality. If it is online, the language is alive. If the language is alive, then the people is alive. If the people is alive, then the territory of the people is alive. And if the territory is alive, then the country where this people and this territory are located is alive.”
For that to be true, Tentyukov continued, “it is necessary to create both supply” – that is, the existence of Internet sites in particular languages – and “demand for the use of the language on the Internet.” Activists can help, but “in Russia, the situation has historically emerged that the government sets the tone and example to others, including business and society.”
What has happened in Estonia with regard to the Internet, a country which is one of the most “online” in the world, he argued, shows what is possible for numerically small peoples and even for those nations inside the borders of the Russian Federation that are much smaller than the Estonian.
On the one hand, “the Internetization” of these peoples can promote the development of national identity through the development of national languages. And on the other, this process can guarantee that each of these peoples will be linked not only to each other and the three independent Finno-Ugric states but to the entire world.
Indeed, for all of these peoples, Tentyukov continued, the use of the Internet now plays the same or even a greater role than “at one time played the acquisition of printed books, automobiles, airplanes, and space travel” in the survival and development of much larger nations around the world.
“A significant part of the life of a contemporary individual,” he said, “is one way or another connected with the Internet. Anyone who as a result of various causes is limited to television, radio and printed works will find it ever more difficult to preserve and develop his language.”
And Tentyukov concluded that “the preservation and development of the Finno-Ugric and Samoyed peoples under conditions of globalization depends on the use by them of the Internet and its services to just the same degree as the development of the Russian people depends on its use of the Internet.”
At the conference itself, participants pointed to some successes – the development of an Internet portal for the various Finno-Ugric languages ( – as well as problems. Among the latter, some of those taking part said were the differing approaches of the major search engines.
They called for boycotting the Russian search engine Yandex because that Moscow-based operation does not allow searches in their own national languages and for using Google instead because that US-based search service gives them the opportunity to do so, something that supports language development (
The Finno-Ugric nationalities are not the only numerically small peoples within the borders of the Russian Federation whose survival almost certainly depends on their ability to make use of the Internet, and a large number of these peoples have launched websites, chat rooms, twitter, and social networks.
But an example that may be especially powerful was announced this week in the North Caucasus. There, Adygey TV announced its availability online, a development that will not only support the language but also help to unite the various peoples into which the Soviets divided them (

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