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 Workshop on Interaction Between Authorities and NGO's of Altai Krai to Ensure Cultural and Linguistic Rights of National Minorities


A workshop on "Interaction Between Regional and Local Authorities and Non-Governmental Organizations to Ensure Cultural and Linguistic Rights of National Minorities in Altai Krai" was held on 24-26 March in Barnaul under the auspices and with direct participation of the Council of Europe. The deputy director of the International Relations Department of the Ministry of Regional Development of the Russian Federation Alexei P. Zenko and the representative of the Secretariat of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (the Council of Europe) Jörg Horn presided over the workshop. Numerous representatives of non-governmental organizations, communities and associations of national minorities living in Altai Krai took part in the workshop as well as professional experts of the European Union, leaders and coordinators of various structures and international specialized institutions, regional-level officials and media representatives. And as we know there are 120 ethnic groups on the territory of Altai Krai. Presentation of the Joint Program "National Minorities in Russia: Development of Language, Culture, Media and Civil Society", presentation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages; report and discussion of state policy on preservation of cultures and languages of national minorities and presentation of Altai Krai non-governmental organizations’ experience took most of the workshop’s time.

It must be admitted that except for presentation of the project of the regional target program "Revival and Development of Kumandin Culture in Altai Krai" presented by the head of the Department of Philosophy of Biysk State Pedagogical University A.M. Bespalov all the seminar presentations were well received.
As for the program presented by A.M. Bespalov its dominant component in the form of academic interest in Kumandin as in an object of scientific research, including genetic one, bewildered the majority of representatives of Kumandin community and was repulsed.
In the course of the workshop representatives of Kumandin communities addressed their questions to A.P. Zenko. Those questions basically concerned the field of existing federal legislation on guarantees of the rights of indigenous peoples, often the declarative nature of its provisions and the failure to implement the Government orders in the field.
At the end of the workshop, on the third day, participants broke into two groups and continued their work in "round tables". The first working group considered questions of the condition and prospect of Kumandin language. It is necessary to highlight the fact that except for two participants of the workshop - Elizaveta I. Tukmacheva (philologist, specialist in Turkic languages at the age of well over 70) and the chairman of the community "Airychak" Nikolai K. Bekeshev from Nizhnyaya Neninka, Solton District (he is over 60) - none of the audience spoke Kumandin as their native language. For the reader may not want to accuse the author’s bias one should pay attention to the fact that today many national minority communities of Altai Krai have their own national and cultural centers with Sunday schools or classes for the study of their languages, customs, traditions, history and culture. At the same time representatives of all national minorities feel support of national autonomies or states, each of which is the historical homeland of one or another people. Kumandins being the descendants of indigenous autochthonous (autochthonous peoples are peoples who originally came into existence and evolved in the territory) people have nothing of the kind. Therefore the status of Kumandin people should be logically somewhat different, special. But this is logically...
The Russian Federation signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages as far back as in 2002 but has not ratified it yet. Combined actions with the European and the Council of Europe in this direction indicate all for a willingness to join the Charter. Perhaps this process will continue for some period of time, but sooner or later it will lead to a positive outcome. However it may be too late for Kumandin language.
And indeed the chairperson of the Kumandin village council of Shatobal (Solton District) N.I. Kuchukova took part in the workshop but there was nobody from Biysk, Solton and Krasnogorskoye Districts’ administrations.
When Elizaveta I. Tukmacheva began translating of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Kumandin at the instance of the President of the inter-regional public organization "L’auravetl’an Information and Education Network of Indigenous Peoples" Gulvayra K. Shermatova she faced both technical and literary problems. Kumandin language has never been a literary language, it has not been in the process of development and improvement. That is why it simply does not contain many and many modern concepts. Kumandin language has been used only in everyday informal speech for many centuries. Although once an alphabet of Kumandin language has been designed, but Kumandin writing has still remained in germ. And by the current 2010 only older generation speak fluent spoken Kumandin. Even most of the 50-40-year-old Kumandins understand the language of their ancestors only in part at the best.
The process of assimilation with the titular ethnic group, scientific and technological advance, inadequate national policies of previous decades that intensified internal migration have led to destruction of Kumandin community and the number of the far too small-numbered people reached the critical point. One can quite reasonably oppose the author that the process is irreversible as it is objective. However if judge by the increasing activity of the international community in adopting legal acts aimed at preservation of indigenous peoples it is far from true. I wonder whether today Kumandins will want to study the language of their ancestors profoundly. No matter how many charters there are but it all depends on the internal need in the end. To raise this need we must first and foremost interest one and all in this. It is time to gather stones. Therefore I appeal today to all our Kumandins with the proposal to think about ways out of this situation. Let us develop our own program together and present it at top level.
Call the author of this material by phone: +7 (385-35) 22-1-09 or +7-905-983-64-45.
We will meet and discuss it.
Viktor Asyamov,
Executive director of “Istok”,
Director of Krasnogorskoye Center of LIENIP

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