LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Academician Valery Tishkov are people of very different caliber and scholarly attainment, Indus Tagirov says; but they share a common commitment to a future Russia that will be mono-ethnic and mono-linguistic rather than a country displaying ethnic and linguistic diversity.
If Zhirinovsky and his bombast can be dismissed for the hyperbolic phenomena that they are, the Tatar academician says, Tishkov must be approached in a more serious way – and his arguments answered if the non-Russian peoples and languages of the country are to have a good future.
In a lengthy essay for Kazan’s Business-Gazeta, Tagirov does just that in responding to Tishkov’s reaction to the suicide of Udmurt scholar Albert Razin. (On Tishkov’s article itself, see
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Unlike Zhirinovsky, Tishkov is “an intelligent man;” but like the LDPR leader, he is a supporter of “a mono-national” future for the Russian state. He could not fail to regret Razin’s suicide, but at the same time, he could not acknowledge that the situation in Russia that he has helped create justify such an extreme action.
Tagirov notes that he worked with Tishkov in the early 1990s on the preparation of the treaty between Russia and Tatarstan. As an old acquaintance, the Tatar historian continues, he knows the Moscow academician to be “a talented scholar and a welcome conversational partner.”
But, the Tatar academician continues, “we are opponents on the national question, although at the same time we are agreed on the issue of preserving Russia as an integral state – while imagining what that integral nature should be differently.”
Tishkov sees Russia as a state which will not have non-Russian languages while Tagirov sees it as one which will “create favorable conditions for their preservation. He considers that a people does not die with the loss of language while I like Razin and many others am certain that the loss of language is the last step of the nation before its departure from this life.”
The Moscow academician “does not conceive the loss of language as a tragedy” and in support of his view gives the example of emigres as a case where this is “a natural process.” But that is a false argument, Tagirov says. “Emigres are not a nation but only certain individuals who are forced to move.”
People who live in their own historical homeland, he continues, view “the departure from life of their language as an irretrievable loss.”
Tishkov also points to language changes in the Americas but ignores differences in time and place to argue that what has happened in those places in the past can and should take place in Russia now and in the future.
Razin understood these differences. He understood that “if to the defense of their languages their speakers do not rise up, they are condemned.” It is “possible” that by his actions “the Udmurts now will have greater chances for self-preservation” – and also possible that his example will affect others as well.
In supporting his position about languages, Tishkov also gives the examples of Armenians, Jews, Ukrainians and Germans who live in Russia, maintain their identity but do not speak their national languages. But these are “not the peoples themselves but their representatives. Their peoples in their own countries preserve their own languages.”
That is a very different situation than most of the non-Russian peoples inside the borders of the Russian Federation who do not have a nation state abroad they can look to, Tagirov suggests.
The Tatar scholar notes that Tishkov says he “highly rates” the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages; but Tagirov asks why if that is so did Tishkov not press for Russia to ratify and implement it when he was Russian minister for nationality affairs. He could have but didn’t.
Even Finland, which has few national and linguistic minorities, has signed and ratified it; and “the Finns have never unlike some of your colleagues have never lived according to the principle, ‘Finland for the Finns.’” There are two state languages, Finnish and Swedish; and minorities living there, including Tatars, have their languages supported.
According to Tagirov, Tishkov “does not recognize the loss of language and then of the ethnos [which speaks it] as a tragedy. But how would you act if your people were to be confronted by the fact of the disappearance of its own language? Of course, you as an individual of a somewhat different caliber than Razin might not have acted as he did.” But you would have felt something and felt the need to act in some way on the basis of that.
It is very much to be regretted that neither Tishkov nor others in the Russian establishment have reflected on those possibilities and on the fact that in Russia today, “there are now 25 languages on the brink of disappearing where there remain two or five speakers. And there are another 20 languages which are approaching that limit.”
“For a specific individual, this means the loss of himself as a Russian, Udmurt or Tatar; in a word, his transformation into a thing without birth, without a tribe, into an Ivan who does not remember his own birth.”
Tishkov asserts that “in the country 99.4 percent of the population knows Russian and speaks it,” Tagirov says. “Where does such precision come from? You write,” he addresses the Moscow scholar, that “for a good half of the non-Russian population,” Russia is the language they learned first in their childhood. “ Again, where does such exactitude come from?
“’With us,’ you write, ‘by tradition that one’s native language is the language of one’s nationality and that this is incorrect.’” One is compelled to ask, “why is this incorrect: Only because an individual speaks the language of another nation. Solzhenitsyn’s children may have spoken English but they always considered themselves Russian.
And you will remember, Tagirov continues, that “in Konstantin Simonov’s novel The Living and the Dead, the mortally wounded General Serpilin, who doesn’t know Tatar, begins t rave in it when he is dying.”
“One must not forget that besides languages, a people has a spirit, an internal world where its language is hidden and forms part of its people. And this feeling never leaves it … An individual in his soul always remains who he was at birth. His native language like many aspects of national character remains in his blood.”
Tishkov also insists that Russian forms a significant part of the world’s cultural heritage forgetting that other languages do as well both directly and as translators. Few know that Tajik writer Sadritdin Ayni said he knew Pushkin not directly from the Russian but from Tukay’s Tatar translations.
Tishkov also asserts that a child who has mastered Russian can enroll at Moscow State while one who knows only Tatar, Chuvash or Udmurt cannot go further than Kazan, Cheboksary or Izhevsk. “They are going, Valery Aleksandrvich, and entering not only Moscow State but also other and in many cases more prestigious higher educational institutions.”
Such people can do so, Tagirov says, not only because they are polylingual but also because they know Russian “better than many Russians.” And their language is known by many far beyond the borders of their republics and its current situation increasingly of concern to foreign governments.
“In Finland and Estonia, interest and concern are growing about the state of their linguistic relatives in Russia. It is indicative that their governments expressed sympathy on Razin’s death and a readiness to the preservation of Udmurt because the death of this outstanding individual has brought the Finn-Ugric peoples closer together.”
“Times are changing, Valery Aleksandrvich; and we cannt knw what awaits us tmrrw. But we can say one thing for sure: nothing on this earth is eternal. And empires, and there were many of them in the past have disappeared. Therefore, one must not imagine Russia only according to a single dimension.”
“It was an enormous empire,” Tagirov reminds, “but today the only thing remaining of that is present-day Russia.” Consequently, one must take action not only to ensure its territorial integrity but for its flourishing as well” so that people within and without will be attracted to Russia rather than alienated or driven from it.
Source: Window on Eurasia