Staunton, May 18 – The recently-founded Union of Russian Speaking Citizens of Tuva has appealed to Vladimir Putin to take measures to protect their language rights and ensure their representation in the organs of state power, given what they say is the conscious policy of the Tuvan government to violate both.
The open letter of the Rossiyane group, reported in today’s “Kommersant,” acknowledges that Russian-speaking groups in Tuva, a category that includes ethnic Russians as well as some other non-Tuvans, has declined from 37 percent at the end of Soviet times to only eight percent today (kommersant.ru/doc/2989685).
And the letter continues: “In connection with the mass departure of ethnic Russians, there has arisen a deficit in the number of qualified cadres including doctors, engineers and teachers and especially Russian language instructors [which] has led to Russian being taught as a foreign language in the majority of schools of the republic.”
As a result, Zinaida Dekhtyar, a former deputy of the Tuvan parliament and one of the authors of the appeal, told the Moscow newspaper that “a significant portion of the population of the republic has not mastered Russian” and that Tuvan sportsman who appear on Russian television often speak through a translator.
That pattern, she insisted, “is an indicator of the real state of affairs” in Tuva.
The letter to Putin also complains about what its authors say is the discriminatory policy of the Tuvan government in selecting administrative cadres: “In the republic, only one of the 17 heads of district administrations is an ethnic Russian, and only three of the 37 members of the government itself are Russians.”
Moreover, it says, “even in the organs of state power and social institutions, including the post office and the police, the habit of using the state language [Russian] is disappearing. And the authorities have slapped Russians in the face in another way by appointing an activist of the Popular Front whom many blame for “the avalanche-like outflow” of Russians in the 1990s.
The authors call on the Russian president to “take measures to guarantee in Tuva to people of all nationalities equality of rights, including appointments to positions and access to the court system.”
The Tuvan government “categorically” rejects these charges or any need for Moscow to intervene. It points out that it has supported Russian-language education in various way and worked to ensure that Russian is used in government offices and with the population. And it insists there is thus no basis for complaints about discrimination against Russian speakers.
But the ethnic situation in Tuva is clearly becoming more tense, not only because the share of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in the republic’s population has become so small but also because those Russians who remain feel threatened and also feel that Moscow will intervene on their behalf.
Viktor Molin, a Just Russia deputy in the Tuvan capital’s council, says that is demonstrated by the fact that the Russian speakers have finally decided to get organized, something they did not do earlier.
Another local Russian speaker, Sergey Konviz of the opposition newspaper “Risk” agrees. Clearly, he says, “the situation of the Russian-speaking population in the republic has reached critical mass, for even in the 1990s when the main exodus of population took place and there were inter-ethnic conflicts, such organizations did not arise.”
“Now, it is obvious that these people feel themselves quite uncomfortable” in Tuva, a historically Buddhist nation of 300,000 on the border with Mongolia that is unknown if at all for its remarkable stamps from its independent period and the interest in it of the late American physicist Richard Feynman.