Feliks Kulov for one, apparently. The russified Kyrgyz politician, a leading opposition figure, is one of eight presidential aspirants to have been barred from entering the race because they can not express themselves in the country’s native language. Seven other aspirants, including the incumbent President Askar Akaev, have passed the legally required language test and have been registered as candidates for the October balloting. Of those barred, seven sat and failed the exam. Kulov, however, refused to take the exam and denounced the language requirement as an exercise in Kyrgyz anti-Russian nationalism.
The exam is administered by a panel attached to the Central Electoral Commission, and composed of language specialists, literary scholars and historians. The test includes writing a brief essay, conducting a conversation and answering oral questions about the basics of Kyrgyz literature and history.
Westerners acquainted with Kulov have known all along from Kulov himself about his ignorance of the national language. In a September 18 statement to the Bishkek media, Kulov virtually admitted to it. In that statement he cast himself as a representative of Kyrgyzstan’s “Russian-speaking population” which, he claimed, faces discrimination “in their professional careers, and whose members are being barred from state leadership posts” because they do not speak the state language. The language legislation, Kulov asserted, is “not merely an instrument for sidelining political opponents,” but one designed to discriminate against “people not belonging to the titular nation and who attended Russian schools.”
Kulov’s other thesis holds that any legislation requiring knowledge of the national language as a qualification for government posts “only divides the people, instead of unifying it…. The language exam splits society at a time when unity is needed.” Both theses go back to the antiperestroika forces’ defense in the late 1980s against efforts in the then-Soviet republics to halt russification and revive the native languages. The basic counterarguments were that the elevation of national languages to the status of state languages would “split the people” and oppress “Russian-speakers.”
On September 19, the Central Electoral Commission adopted a final decision to deny registration of Kulov’s presidential candidacy, on the grounds that he had refused to take the language exam. Kulov and some of his supporters challenged the legality of that decision. By that date, however, the courts had upheld the legality of the language exam and of the panel attached to the Central Electoral Commission. And, on September 13, the Constitutional Court ruled that both the language requirement and the exam procedure were in conformance with the constitution.
The Communist Party’s presidential aspirant, Iskhak Masaliev, is also among those who have been denied registration for failing to pass the language test. Masaliev, Kulov, a thwarted Socialist candidate and three others have announced their intention to throw their support behind one opposition candidate against Akaev in next month’s balloting (Itar-Tass, KyrgyzKabar, Bishkek Radio, September 12, 14, 18-19).
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