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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.
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:
You can read the latest report (2016) here.
During the Tsarist period (1721-1917), despite a level of automy, 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) the USSR (1922-1991), despite having a centralized governance, implemented the revolutionary ideas of more automony and right to education in own languages. After WWII however, the emphasis on Russian grew 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, 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.
Summary of Minority Language Rights in the Russian Federation: The End of a Long Tradition? 4).
Languages are covered by the Russian Constitution under Chapter 3, Federal Structure, Article 68:
There are 22* ethnic republics within Russia, 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:
*this includes the Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014. A majority of the UN state members does not recognize the Crimea as part of Russia5)
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 20026)). 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 system7). 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 8). However, additions as in the example above illustrate a growing amount of barriers for teaching minority languages in school 9).
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 12). 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 13). 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 14).
In 2013, the 2012 law “On education in the Russian Federation“ replaced the “On Education” law of 1992, which centralized, standardized and reduced ethnic elements15). 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. 16). 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” 17)
In July 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that ethnic Russians were being forced to learn minority languages in regions with sizable minority populations. 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. 18)
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 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 literature20) 21)
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