Staunton, July 21 – The state of Russian language knowledge in the North Caucasus is now so dire – the rector of Moscow State University says that linguistically, “we are losing the Caucasus” – that some officials are now considering a step certain to provoke a new explosion there: dispatching North Caucasus draftees to serve in other parts of Russia.
At a meeting of the Russian government’s Council on Russian Language last week, rector Viktor Sadovnichiy said that a recent study by scholars at his institution had found that in some parts of the North Caucasus residents knew Russian only poorly and in others, they did not know it at all (mk.ru/social/2015/07/17/viktor-sadovnichiy-my-teryaem-kavkaz.html).
That must be changed, he said, noting that his institution has helped create a website for Russian language teachers in Daghestan and is working to improve teacher training for people from the North Caucasus or who are willing to go there to ensure that the Russian language survives.
But other participants proposed more radical measures, an indication of the extent of the problem from Moscow’s point of view. Not unexpectedly, many suggested that the educational system needs to boost the salaries of Russian language teachers in the North Caucasus so that “qualified cadres will not leave” that region as many of them are doing now.
Others, however, “Vesti Kavkaza” reports today in an article entitled “How to Return the Russian Language to the North Caucasus,” called for a more radical solution: reviving the Soviet-era practice of sending draftees from that region to distant parts of the Russian Federation in order to cut them off from their native languages and force them to learn Russian.
As the online journal puts it, “in the USSR, this rule allowed rural young people of the Caucasus republics to be in a completely Russian-language milieu for several years, for example, in the Urals or in the Far East,” which helped them escape “the limits of local languages” (vestikavkaza.ru/news/Kak-vernut-russkiy-yazyk-na-Severnyy-Kavkaz.html).
“Today, however,” the outlet continues, “young people often remain to serve there where they were born and do not go beyond the limits of their native language milieu.”
There are three reasons that Moscow earlier made this change and could reverse it only at the risk of provoking a new explosion of anti-Moscow attitudes in the North Caucasus. First, as Russian officers frequently complained, soldiers from the North Caucasus often formed clans within the military to defend themselves against dedovshchina or to commit it.
In short, service in Russian-language-dominated units had exactly the opposite effect that many had expected: it generated nationalistic feelings among people from the North Caucasus (and other non-Russian areas) rather than serving as an integrating experience.
Second, for much of the post-Soviet period, the Russian military did not draft at all in some parts of the North Caucasus or take as many men from that region as the size of the draft-age cohort there would have allowed because of fears that those drafted would use any military skills they acquired in militant anti-Moscow units.
But pressed by the demographic collapse of the Russian nation, Moscow over the last several years has been forced to begin drafting from this region again. The price it had to pay was to agree to allow those taken to serve in their home areas, something that has reduced still further the integrative function of the military.
And third – and this may be the most explosive consequence of all – if Moscow changes this policy and does so explicitly to boost Russian-language knowledge among North Caucasians, many of the latter will see service in the Russian armed forces as a threat to their nations and seek to avoid it even more than they have in the past.
At least some of them will then be more willing to listen to those urging them not to cooperate with Moscow in any way but instead go into the forests and join nationalist or Islamist groups now fighting against Russian attempts to restore control over that long-restive region of the country.
That some in Moscow are now willing to take that risk says how much faith many there now have that promoting Russian among non-Russians will tie the country together and how dangerous a misconception that is likely to be not only in the North Caucasus but anywhere in non-Russian regions where the Putin regime might try to restore this Soviet-era practice.