Activists in Chuvashia, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan went into the streets of the republic capitals on Saturday, December 1, with signs demanding that Moscow end its plans to drop obligatory instruction in their national languages for all students in the non-Russian republics and issuing an appeal to the European Union to intervene with the government of the Russian Federation and require it to protect the rights of minorities as Moscow has pledged to do (tatar-centr.blogspot.ru/2012/12/blog-post.html).
The demonstrations took place on the day that Russian President Vladimir Putin was scheduled to promulgate a new nationality strategy document that commits Moscow to further restricting the rights and privileges of non-Russian groups. They also were timed five days in advance of the convention of the World Tatar Congress in Kazan, which will take up this issue, and eleven days ahead of the Russian Duma’s announced plans to vote on a second reading of the law on languages (The Russian parliament passed this measure on first reading on October 17.)
Perhaps because of the harsh winter weather, the three demonstrations were small—80 in Ufa, 50 to 70 in Kazan, and a single protester in Cheboksary. Those involved ranged in age from teenagers to retirees, were peaceful and were not disrupted by the police. Passersby seemed curious and respectful, and there were no reports of any angry exchanges, an indication that the demonstrators may have far more support than their numbers might suggest
Among the slogans on the signs the demonstrators carried were: “The obligatory study of national languages does not contradict the Constitution,” “European Union: They are destroying the languages of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation,” “We will not allow the destruction of the state languages of the indigenous peoples,” “The State Duma is the gravedigger of the peoples,” “We demand an end to the closing of Tatar schools,” “Who wants to liquidate the republics?” “Efforts to make Tatar voluntary are a provocation and a crime,” “We support the State Council of Tatarstan in the struggle for the Tatar language,” and “Hello, Everybody! Welcome to the reality show, ‘The Destruction of Russia’” (tatar-centr.blogspot.com/2012/12/blog-post_1.html).
The protesters distributed a 500-word open letter to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a copy of which they said was also going to the chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation. That document, even more than the slogans, outlines both the problems the non-Russian republics now face, the anger they feel about what Moscow is doing, and their commitment to protest and to use Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe as the basis for resistance to what Moscow is currently doing (vk.com/fikerclub?w=wall-2179003_10807).
Addressing PACE as “a bulwark of democracy and the rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples,” the demonstrators said that “unfortunately, we are forced to conclude that the [Russian Federation] is continuing its attack on the constitutional rights and freedoms of the citizens of the Russian Federation and the principles of federalism enshrined in the Constitution” of that country (vk.com/fikerclub?w=wall-2179003_10807).
“This attack,” the demonstrators’ letter continues, “began already in 2002 when the peoples of the Russian Federation were deprived of the right to choose which alphabet they could use.” It persisted in 2007 when the Federal Assembly adopted “the anti-constitutional and anti-people Federal Law No. 309, which excluded from state [education] standards the study of the native languages of the non-Russians and of their national history and culture.” Then, in 2010, Moscow passed Federal Law No. 430281-5, which prohibited the republics from calling their leaders “presidents,” despite the fact that the Russian Constitution allows the republics to do exactly that. Now, the protesters say, Moscow is going after the non-Russian languages by dropping the requirement that all students in the republics study them.
As the appeal notes, “the Russian Federation is a member of the Council of Europe and is obligated to observe the demands of the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages.” That document requires countries to ensure that such groups can receive middle and higher education in their native languages. But Moscow’s policies are “directed at the destruction of the national education of the peoples of the Russian Federation,” as the law under consideration demonstrates.
“In the 1990s, it was possible to receive middle schooling in Tatar and then enter a higher educational institution.” But the new federal law on education says that “citizens of the Russian Federation have the right to receive only basic primary education (nine classes) in their native language.”
“We consider,” the appeal continues, “that the formulation ‘have the right’ is unclear and will not obligate anyone. The state must guarantee the opportunity to receive middle general education in native languages.” But that is not the only passage in the draft law that raises concerns, the protesters say. And then they make the following declaration:
“We, citizens of the Russian Federation want our country to become ‘a democratic federative legal state’ and join the family of civilized European countries. But it appears that the authors of this legislation have forgotten [about this Constitutional requirement]. They have forgotten also that according to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the republics are states that have their own state languages. And state languages must be taught as required subjects” (vk.com/fikerclub?w=wall-2179003_10807)
The current draft legislation is clearly “written for a unitary state even though we live in a federative one.” And consequently, the drafters of the appeal ask PACE to intervene to protect the constitutional rights of the peoples of the Russian Federation to have middle and higher education in their own languages, to accept the modifications in the draft proposed by the Tatarstan State Council, and to “condemn the Russian Federation for its crude violation of the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages, to introduce sanctions and to put pressure on the Russian Federation for this violation of the rights of indigenous peoples,” and if Moscow does not change course, “to raise the question about the exclusion of the Russian Federation from the Council of Europe.”