Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 222

Russian president Boris Yeltsin has proposed to Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev that a bilateral document be drafted that would "secure the rights of the Russian language as such on the entire territory of Kazakhstan," Russian presidential spokesman Sergey Yastrzhembsky announced yesterday. The proposal was a response to the November 22 passage by the Kazakhstani Majlis’ of the Law on Languages.

That law enshrines the Kazakh language as the state language. Article 22 obligates Kazakhstan’s executive branch to draw up a list of managerial, administrative, and service-sector posts whose holders are to be required to possess a working knowledge of the Kazakh language. The article gives non-Kazakh speakers holding such posts — in practice mostly Russians — until January 2006 to learn the native language to the extent necessary for discharging their duties, and to pass a language test. The law introduces the Kazakh language on a par with the Russian as the language of command in the armed forces, police, and security services. It further stipulates that television and radio stations, irrespective of their form of ownership, are to allocate at least as much airtime for Kazakh-language programs as they do for programs in other languages — in practice meaning Russian.

Most ethnic Russian deputies and their supporters in Moscow resisted the law and particularly Article 22 by claiming that institution of a state language amounts to discrimination against "Russian-speakers." The ten-year time frame for the language test mollified some opponents. The law now goes to the Senate.

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