Struggle for Tatar language: Soviet dissidents' method, Putin's quote book and negotiations behind closed doors

Understanding the position of the Tatarstan leadership on the language issue according to information provided by its official representative

Struggle for Tatar language: Soviet dissidents' method, Putin's quote book and negotiations behind closed doors Photo: Maksim Platonov

A briefing of official representative of the Kazan Kremlin Lilia Galimova, held in the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Tatarstan, was dedicated to the eventful programme of Rustam Minnikhanov at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. The correspondent station of Realnoe Vremya at SPIEF 2018 is keeping readers informed of the events. But as soon as it came to answering journalists' questions, most of the conversation was reduced to the language issue, exacerbated by the ''Arshinova's bill'', which significantly reduces the status of the languages of the peoples of Russia in the education system. As Galimova's words reflect the point of view of the President of Tatarstan and his administration, it is worth to dwell on this part of the briefing.

''Observe your constitution!''

The stance of the president and the top leadership of the Republic of Tatarstan has been clearly stated: they are against the proposed amendments to the federal law ''On education". Several methods have been chosen to defend their position. It is curious that they all belong to different, even mutually exclusive, political cultures. But in an environment where international policy is executed using ''hybrid'' methods, this is not surprising.

The first way to protect the Kazan Kremlin in matters of language policy was developed by the son of Sergey Yesenin — well-known human rights activist Alexander Yesenin-Volpin, then it was taken up by Soviet dissidents. ''Observe your constitution!'' they responded to all actions of the authorities, which by form and essence contradicted the lofty words of the ''Stalin constitution'' in 1936 and ''Brezhnev constitution'' in 1977. In practical application, this principle helped political prisoners to pursue their goals through invoking state regulations.

''This is not only the problem of Tatarstan. The issue has been widely discussed at various platforms and in various regions of the Russian Federation. Unfortunately, in this civilized way to negotiate, there appear some activists, political experts who begin to destabilize these topics, manipulating with articles of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which, apparently, they have never read and never seen. Because if they opened the Constitution, they wouldn't even be making such arguments. For such lazy people I can read out the moments on which it is necessary to rely in part of defending our rights, understanding that the republics of the Russian Federation have the right to establish the state languages, which are used in public authorities, in local governments, in public institutions, along with the state language of the Russian Federation — Russian. It is provided by the 2nd part of the article 68 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. Also, all people are guaranteed the right to preserve their native ethnic language and create conditions for its study and development,'' said Galimova.

As soon as it came to answering journalists' questions, most of the conversation was reduced to the language issue, exacerbated by the ''Arshinova's bill''. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Lilia Galimova devoted further excursion into the legislation to the articles of the federal laws ''On languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation'', ''On education'', based on the Constitution, as well as to the well-known decision of the constitutional court of the Russian Federation, which designated that in order to ensure the use of the Tatar language in all spheres of official relations, Tatarstan legislators have the right to provide its study as a state language of the republic in obtaining basic general education.

''Based on what I have just stated, the establishment of voluntary basis for study of state languages in the Russian Federation, as provided by the draft bill, is contrary to the above mentioned norms of the Constitution of the Russian Federation,'' Galimova summarized.

Formally, Putin's word is not a law yet, but a weighty argument

The second group of arguments voiced by Galimova comes from a completely different legal culture than strict adherence to the letter of the law according to Yesenin-Volpin. Russia remains a country of ''manual control'', it seems that there is no escape from this. By the recognition of the deputy head of the press service of the President of the Republic of Tatarstan, she was well prepared for the meeting with journalists and chose quotes from Vladimir Putin's speeches on the national issue.

''Those who say ''Russia is for Russians'', you know, it is difficult to resist not to give characteristics to these people. They are either dishonest people who do not understand what they are saying, and then they are just fools or provocateurs because Russia is a multi-ethnic country,'' the president of Russia said during Hot Line with President of Russia in 2003.

''For each people, the issue of preserving the native ethnic language is a question of preserving its identity and traditions. The comprehensive work on the study and support of the languages of the peoples of Russia, of course, should be continued,'' he said in 2015 at a joint meeting of the Council on interethnic relations and the Council on the Russian language.

There is no doubt that Putin himself is a supporter of cautious approach to the national question, for which he is regularly reproached by Russian nationalists. Photo: kremlin.ru

The Internet has already developed a special genre, when people cut videos with quotes of politicians over the past years and provide them with information about the ratio of words to figures and facts. There is no doubt that Putin himself is a supporter of cautious approach to the national question, for which he is regularly reproached by Russian nationalists. But isn't there an element of complacency of the republican elite in the selection of convenient quotations that do not formally have the force of law? Or is it just a diplomatic ritual to match the spirit of the time where the state is personalized? These questions can be answered only by the results of the struggle for language.

Federal standard of teaching the state languages of subjects of the Russian Federation is ripenning in the quietness of cabinets

In addition to counteracting the initiatives aimed at discrimination of languages, Tatarstan is working to develop a federal standard for teaching state languages of the subjects of the Russian Federation. Answering our question about the current status of this work, Lilia Galimova discovered a third method — the method of backstage negotiations and agreements that take place beyond public scrutiny.

''Rustam Minnikhanov at his level, the ministry of education at its level are negotiating. It is a desk work so far, where we have no common formulation which we could definitely announce. This is a painstaking work, which began not this year and is connected with finding a convenient and compromise option for everyone,'' Lilia Galimova answered to Realnoe Vremya.

She also stressed that these issues are solved by Tatarstan directly with the federal centre, without involving other national regions. This work at the state level is clearly different from the speeches of public figures from different regions and peoples, who in a short time managed to form the horizontal interaction. It is obvious that for this environment the style of work of Tatarstan state structures may seem very slow, too moderate and not public enough. But it is the ability to avoid extreme hasty decisions that allowed the republic to survive the political crises of the 1990s and the attack on federalism in the 2000s. The correctness or fallacy of the chosen path can be assessed only by results.

The schedule of Rustam Minnikhanov included a meeting with the leadership of Gagauz Republic. Photo: tatarstan.ru

While the official representative of the Tatarstan president was talking to journalists at the government house on Liberty Square, her chief was working in Saint-Petersburg. The schedule of Rustam Minnikhanov included a meeting with the leadership of Gagauz Republic. There were times when Turkic Gagauzia and Russian-speaking Transnistria opposed the attempts of official Chisinau to impose the Romanian identity. The unrecognized Transnistrian Moldavian Republic is the small homeland of Deputy of the State Duma Alena Arshinova, whose name is the first among the politicians who initiated the scandalous draft bill.

By Mark Shishkin
Tatarstan