Brief Report on 07 October Event at the Duma, Moscow
: 18/10/2010

On the 7th October 2010 from 11a.m. to 2p.m. at the Duma in Moscow, members of the State Duma and Federal Soviet as well as representatives of financial, cultural and educational organizations gathered together to address language diversity in Russia and its present-day problems and perspectives. The audience was varied and represented by students as well as members of several language communities in Russia. After registration, where the assembly received a copy of the program, they took a seat in the small auditorium at the Duma and listened to the presentations. The schedule showed an intense and break-free program. Each speaker had 10 minutes to talk and, despite the presence of microphones throughout the auditorium, the audience was provided with no time for questions and/or interventions.
Valentin Kuptsov, President of the State Duma Committee, chaired the event. From the beginning of his talk, it was made clear that the presentations would have been administered in the presence of two guests from the European Union, i.e. Mr. Sigve Gramstad, Vice-Chair of the Experts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and Prof. Mahulena Hoffmann, Member of the Committee of Experts under the Council of Europe Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. Their presence was meant to provide another point of view on the present-day Russian language situation, supported by their long-term experiences on such issues in Europe. It was later made clear by Konstantin Kosachjov that the whole event was put together in order to discuss the ratification of the Europe Charter on behalf of the Russian Federation.

Valery Yazev, Deputy of the State Duma, explained that multilingualism represents linguistic as well as ethno-cultural wealth of the Russian Federation and that at present 230 between languages and dialects exist in Russia. Hence, he explained that Russia has developed ways to support those minority languages, and that the results of the coming census will help further appreciate what areas need being advanced in the next future. Despite his understanding for the importance of the ratification of the Europe Charter, he also explained that in Russia there already exists long-term experience towards multilingualism and its related issues. This point of view was shared by Valentin Kuptsov, who at the end of the event adopted a certain reserve towards the ratification of the Europe Charter, despite claiming his support for further cooperation with Europe. More Europe-oriented was the talk by Maksim Travnikov, Deputy of the Ministry for Regional Development of the Russian Federation, who claimed that we need to develop research and look at the multiple examples coming from the European experience. Konstantin Kosachjov, Representative of the State Duma Committee and International Issues, supplied a small historical summary of the relationship between the Europe Charter and Russia. Russia signed the Charter in 1996, but did not ratify it, he said. On the one hand, he listed a number of problems linked to that historical period; he mentioned both certain romanticism in the 1990s and also challenged the qualifications of the members of the Russian government at the time. On the other hand, Konstantin Kosachjov exhibited some reserve towards the Europe Charter, in a sense that the problems which the Charter addressed, were strictly linked to those countries that ratified it. So, that excluded Russia. He, therefore, suggested using the Charter only as filler to what already exists in the Russian context. The only presentation given in English was that of Sigve Gramstad. He explained that twenty-five (more than half of the EU members) countries in Europe had signed the Charter, twenty of which count 142 minority languages, used by more than 27milion speakers. As he explained the aims of the Charter include providing a minimum standard to all languages and applying stronger measures, depending on the situation of each language. So, according to his presentation, when a country joins the Charter there are a number of benefits that come along with it. Specifically, a minority language gains international recognition and an outside assessment of the language situation. The second guest from Europe, Prof. Mahulena Hoffmann, decided to speak Russian during her presentation, since it could be easier to understand each other, she claimed. The audience took this decision with enthusiasm. She defended the Charter from a certain criticism, which it has received in the past. She also explained how the Charter worked, i.e. from the first visits to the country, where language issues exist, to the further more practical work on the development of the language. Next, the event included presentations from representatives of Education and Culture institutions, from Moldova and Tatarstan. Vladimir Zorin, Deputy Director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, stressed the importance of identifying and fully appreciating local and regional language issues. He highlighted how important it is to cooperate with the Russian government in the first instance, before even considering ratifying the Europe Charter. We need a good support program for the language diversity in Russia, he argued at the end of his speech. In conclusion, although many specific language problems were only briefly touched upon, it was made clear that Russia decided to start from its own present-day context before considering ratifying the Europe Charter. Nevertheless, a diplomatic openness towards a confrontation with Europe was maintained throughout the event and at this stage no final decisions were taken. The decision to name the event Language diversity of the Russian Federation: problems and perspectives and the focus of the discussion on the ratification of the Europe Charter certainly poses new questions on the position that the Russian government is taking in regards to those issues. On a slightly critical note, it is a pity that there was no time for the audience to intervene and convey their point of view to the representatives of the Russian government and the European guests, i.e. the point of view of the representatives of the several language groups in Russia, for whom the event was organised. Laura Siragusa, Doctoral Candidate of the University of Aberdeen (Scotland)