Wednesday, June 24, 2009

NAT: Russia's Dying Languages

EU Pledges $3.8M to Save Russia's Languages
23 June 2009 By Nikolaus von Twickel, The Moscow Times

The European Union and the Council of Europe announced Monday a $3.8 million program to preserve minority languages in Russia and convince the government to ratify the European Minority Language Charter.

Andreas Siegel, the Council of Europe's director for strategic planning, said protecting minority languages was key to keeping peace and protecting human rights.

"This is a lesson Europe has learned very well," Siegel told reporters.

He called the Minority Language Charter unique in that it was the only international contract that committed participants to protect smaller languages.

The charter, which fosters both the encouragement of languages' usage and prohibitions on restrictions against them, was signed by Moscow in 2001 but has not been ratified.

Officials of the Regional Development Ministry, which oversees ethnic minority issues, would not give a concrete outlook on when the charter might be ratified. But Siegel said the fact that the ministry had agreed to set up the program was a good start.

The program, planned to run until the end of 2011, will include local civic organizations to foster smaller languages in the republics of Dagestan and Mordova as well as the Altai region.

Dagestani Nationalities Minister Garun Kurbanov said he hoped to see textbooks introduced for some yet-unwritten languages in his North Caucasus republic.

"We would like to see some of the languages of the Andi and Tsez groups developing a writing tradition," he told The Moscow Times on the sidelines of Monday's presentation.

Dagestan officially boasts 28 indigenous languages, more than any other of Russia's ethnic republics. Only 14 of them have written standards.

The head of the nationalities committee of Mordova, Alexander Luzgin, expressed hope toward creating a single Mordvin language out of Erzya and Moksha, the two literary standards used in the Volga republic.

"This would help unify national identity among our scattered people," he said.

The plan has the Mordova leadership's support, but the opposition Kasparov.ru web site has warned that abolishing two literal standards established over generations might reduce the language's use even further.

The Mordvins, a Finnic group numbering about 1 million people, make up barely a third of their titular republic's population. Two-thirds of all Mordvins are believed to live outside Mordova.

Russia boasts about 160 indigenous groups with many more languages. Alexander Zhuravsky, head of the Regional Development Ministry's department for interethnic relations, said this was one of the reasons why ratifying the Minority Language Charter was taking so long.

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