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Russian legislation concerning minority languages

Concerning the European Covenants

European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages

In 2001, the Russian Federation has signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, but has not ratified it since1). This means in practice that the intention to comply to the charter is indicated, but that Russia is not bound by the Charter, and that there is no reporting on the execution of the Charter.

On March 16, 2022, the Committee of Ministers decided that the Russian Federation would no longer be a member of the Council of Europe with immediate effect. This means that the signed and ratified treaties of the Council of Europe no longer apply.

Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

In 1996, the Russian Federation signed the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and in 1998, the Framework Convention was ratified.

Russia states in the first report that “more than 170 peoples” live within the country2). For the Framework Convention, Russia does not pinpointed specific minorities, but has grouped minorities as such:

  • Indigenous peoples: established nations or nations living in the territory of Russia for an extensive period of time
  • Ethnic groups of a relatively more recent origin whose “mother” ethnoses live outside the Russian Federation
  • Groups that do not have state entities at all (Assyrians, Karaites, Kurds and Gipsies)3)

On March 16, 2022, the Committee of Ministers decided that the Russian Federation would no longer be a member of the Council of Europe with immediate effect. This means that the signed and ratified treaties of the Council of Europe no longer apply.

Legislation concerning minority languages

Short history

During the Tsarist period (1721-1917), despite a level of autonomy, conditions for minority languages were difficult and some faced extreme restrictions. Revolutionaries had different ideas on minorities however before and after the Russian Revolution (1917-1923) the USSR (1922-1991), despite having a centralized governance, implemented the revolutionary ideas of more autonomy and right to education in own languages for certain minorities. In contradiction of these supported nation-building processes, other minorities were forced to relocate before and during the WWII, and became significantly weakened or eliminated as a people 4) 5). After WWII, the emphasis on Russian continued and minority languages became subjects rather than languages of instruction. Afterwards, the ideal of united Soviet people with a common language was dominant, and Russian became the standard language of instruction, with a decrease from 47 languages of instruction in 1960 to 17 languages in 1982. In the last decade of the USSR, ethnic autonomies sought more or full sovereignity (parade of sovereignties), and after the fall of the USSR, laws on language were often the first to be drawn up by such autonomies. The emphasis on language after the USSR also shows in the Law on the Languages of the Peoples of the Russian Federation (1991) and the Constitution of the Russian Federation of 1993.
Minority Language Rights in the Russian Federation: The End of a Long Tradition? 6).

The Constitution of the Russian Federation 1993

Languages are covered by the Russian Constitution under Chapter 3, Federal Structure, Article 68:

  1. The Russian language shall be a state language on the whole territory of the Russian Federation.
  2. The Republics shall have the right to establish their own state languages. In the bodies of state authority and local self-government, state institutions of the Republics they shall be used together with the state language of the Russian Federation.
  3. The Russian Federation shall guarantee to all of its peoples the right to preserve their native language and to create conditions for its study and development.

Russia recognizes 22* ethnic republics, which can appeal to this Art 68 section 2 and 3: Republic of Adygea, Altai Republic, Republic of Bashkortostan, Republic of Buryatia, Chechen Republic, Chuvash Republic, Republic of Crimea, Republic of Dagestan, Republic of Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkar Republic, Republic of Kalmykia, Karachay-Cherkess Republic, Republic of Karelia, Republic of Khakassia, Komi Republic, Mari El Republic, Republic of Mordovia, Republic of North Ossetia–Alania, Sakha Republic, Republic of Tatarstan, Tuva Republic, and Udmurt Republic.

Native languages are also covered in the Constitution under Chapter 2, Rights and Freedoms of Man and Citizen, Article 26:

  1. Everyone shall have the right to determine and indicate his nationality. No one may be forced to determine and indicate his or her nationality.
  2. Everyone shall have the right to use his or her native language, to a free choice of the language of communication, upbringing, education and creative work.

*this includes the Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014. The majority (100) of the UN state members does not recognize the Crimea as part of Russia (11 member states do) 7)

Further national legislation

The framework for Russian legislation concerning education is based on a three-tier curriculum, with a mandatory federal part, a national-regional part mandated by the federal subjects, and a variable part which can be filled in by individual schools8). However, the influence on national-regional tier is under pressure, since the Amendment 2007.

The possibility on education in native languages is further clarified in the Law on the Languages of the Peoples of the Russian Federation (1991, amended in 1998 and 20029)). Article 9 (2) of this law states that everybody can receive basic general education in the native language, and has the possibility to choose the language of instruction, within the limits of the education system10). Russian federal law on minority language remains rather ambiguous with the final part of that sentence.

What is more, this one example that shows the difficulty to determine current minority language rights. That is because new regulations seem to contradict earlier legislation without these laws being amended 11). However, additions as in the example above illustrate a growing amount of barriers for teaching minority languages in school 12).

Legislation concerning Script

In 2002 the Russian Duma ruled that all languages in Russia are to be written Cyrillic script13). This was after Tatarstan attempted to adopt Latinista script for the Tatar language in 200114).

Amendment 2007

In 2007, an amendment to the education law was passed that increased the degree of federal control in education. This left the federal republics with less curricular room to provide education in the local languages. In fact, teaching these languages is now solely possible through implementing it in an optional part of the curriculum 15). For a number of years, the situation was even bleaker, as the original incarnation of the law also forbade testing students in other languages of instruction than than Russian 16). Fortunately, this ban was lifted in 2011, as an amendment to the law now made it possible to conduct optional examinations in languages other than Russian 17).

Developments 2012

In 2013, the 2012 law “On education in the Russian Federation“ replaced the “On Education” law of 1992, which centralized, standardized and reduced ethnic elements18). The Law on Education of 2012 is set of core federal laws and a number of non-core laws in order to regulate education from a federal level. 19). The Law states that minority languages can be introduced according to the federal state educational standards, and “should not be to the detriment of the teaching and learning of the state language” 20)

Developments 2017

In July 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that all citizens must learn Russian, and that no Russian can be forced to learn an ethnic language, even if the language is an official langauge of the republic 21). He said it is “impermissible to force someone to learn a language that is not [his or her] mother tongue, and to cut the number of hours of Russian language [classes at schools] in Russia's ethnic republics.” In August that same year, Putin ordered federal prosecutors to check whether ethnic Russian students in the autonomous republics were being forced to learn the local languages. 22)

Modified: 23-10-2017

Developments 2018

In June 2018, the Russian State Duma passed a draft on the voluntary teaching of non-Russian languages in a first reading. The draft law declares that:

  • the teaching and learning of the state languages of republics has to be carried out on voluntary basis and not to the detriment of the state language of the Russian Federation
  • the right to receive pre-school, primary and basic secondary education in native language as well as the right to study native languages within the range of possibilities offered by the education system has to be exercised taking into account the linguistic demands of students and their parents
  • the voluntary choice of language learning is to be defined in bylaws of educational institutions, and the opinion of students and their parents is to be taken into account on the basis of the written demand of the parents.
    Excerpt from Minority language education in Russia: enforcing the voluntary teaching of non-Russian languages 23).

The law limits earlier provisions for minority education, such as lowering the amount of hours from three up to five or six hours to two hours in total, one for the language and one for literature24) 25)

Modified: 24-02-2020
Council of Europe. (2020). Chart of signatures and ratifications of Treaty 148. Retrieved March 17, 2020 from
2) , 3)
Russian Federation. (2000). Report submitted by the Russian Federation pursuant to article 25, paragraph 10F of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Retrieved from
Chetryrova, L.(2001). Educational Policy Towards Minorities in Russia: History and Modernity: the case of the Kalmyk Education. In: Ethnicity and Race: Creating Educational Opportunities Around the Globe International Advances in Education: Global Initiatives for Equity and Social Justice. Brown,E. L., and Gibbons, P. E. (Ed.). Information Age Publishing (pp. 3-25).
Frank. M. J. (2017). A Clean Sweep The Grand Alliance and Population Transfer 1941-5. In: Making Minorities History: Population Transfer in Twentieth-century Europe. Oxford University Press (pp. 227-265
6) , 11) , 18) , 21)
Bowring, B. (2018). Minority Language Rights in the Russian Federation: The End of a Long Tradition? Palgrave. Retrieved from /325625922_Minority_Language_Rights_in_the_Russian_Federation_The_End_of_a_Long_Tradition.
UN. (2014) General Assembly; Official records sixty-eighth session. Retrieved from
Васильева, Г. Н., Национально-региональный компонент в стандарте образования Удмуртской Республики: опыт и проблемы. Эмиссия, 2006. Retrieved from
9) , 10) , 12) , 13) , 15)
Bowring, B., Russian legislation in the area of minority rights. In: Protsyk, O., & Harzl, B. (Eds.), Managing ethnic diversity in Russia. London (GB): Routledge; 2012, pp. 15-36
Jaffe, A., Androutsopoulos, J., Sebba, M., and Johnson, S. (2012). Reclamation, Revalorization, and re-Tatarization via changing Tatar orthographies. In Orthography as Social Action: Scripts, Spelling, Identity and Power (pp 65-102). Walter de Gruyter.
Casen, M., Les manifestations de l'identité oudmourte à Iževsk depuis 1985. Department of Finno-Ugric Studies, INALCO Paris. MA dissertation. 2010.
Zamyatin, K., Finno-Ugric languages in Russian education: The changing legal-institutional framework and falling access to native language learning. Études Finno-Ougriennes, 2012, 44, pp. 1-57
Troshkina, T. N. (n.d.). Reform of Russian Education and the New Law on Education of 2012.
Prina, F. (2015). Interculturalism or Acculturation? The Education System. National Minorities in Putin's Russia: Diversity and Assimilation. Routledge.
Article on Radio Free Europe, September 21, 2017
23) , 24)
Zamyatin, K.. (2018, July 3). Minority language education in Russia: enforcing the voluntary teaching of non-Russian languages. International Centre for Ethnic and Linguistic Diversity Studies. Retrieved February 24, 2020, from
UNPO. (2018, August 2). Minority Languages Under Siege in Russia and Crimea. Retrieved February 24, 2020, from
general_information/russian_legislation.txt · Last modified: 2022/09/27 15:17 by ydwine

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