The Movement Toward a Monolingual Nation in Russia: The Language Policy in the Circassian Republics of the Northern Caucasus by Sufian Zhemukhov & Şener Aktürk

Journal of Caucasian Studies, Vol. 1, № 1, September 2015 

Sufian Zhemukhov, Senior Research Associate, George Washington University, Washington DC

Şener Aktürk, Assistant Professor, Koç University, Istanbul

In the context of an institutionalized multi-nationalist ideology, the language policy in Russia is based on the distinction of the native language of the Russian people and the languages of all other non-Russians. Such a distinction is reflected in ‘the Constitution of the Russian Federation,’ federal and regional laws and policy practices that have given advantage to Russian over the other titular languages of the indigenous people in the Russian Federation. This article charts the grand ‘shift’ in Russian state policy toward ethnic diversity. The Soviet-era multinational Leninist/Stalinist approach summarized in the slogan "druzhba narodov" (friendship of peoples) shifted toward a more assimilationist nation-building model. Such ideology reduces the ethnic diversity into just a cultural, folkloric feature of an otherwise monolingual, monocultural nation-state. What is the purpose of this discriminatory ethnic and language policy? Our case study of Circassians, one of the ethnic groups in the North Caucasus, demonstrates that, after many decades, such a policy has only caused political and cultural damages to all sides and alienation between them. On the one hand, the assimilationist language policy continues to cause problems with the nonRussian ethnic groups adding to the major challenges that the Russian state faces today. On the other hand, non-Russian ethnic groups, though not yet assimilated into the Russian culture, have undergone significant decrease in terms of their rights to develop their languages.

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