1. Russia

Window on Eurasia — New Series: Census Results Likely to Lead to More Reductions in Non-Russian Language Instruction

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Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 2 – Among the reasons non-Russians are worried about the upcoming census is that their numbers may decline outside of their republics and the leaders of other federal subjects will use those declines to justify further cuts in the number of schools where such languages are offered and the number of hours of instruction in these languages.

            A roundtable in Orenburg this week shows that they have genuine cause for concern (

            Orenburg is an especially sensitive place as far as Bashkirs are concerned. Until 1925, the republic had a common border with Kazakhstan; but Moscow carved out an ethnic Russian oblast – Orenburg – in order to block Bashkortostan and other Idel-Ural republics from having an external border.

            That was the ostensible basis for Moscow’s denial of union republic status to the six republics of the Middle Volga, but in the last several years, the issue has resurfaced with activists in that region and further afield calling for Bashkortostan to recover “the Orenburg corridor” and thus open the way to independence (,

            These efforts have not yet taken off, but people in the Middle Volga continue to focus on the size of the Bashkir and closely related Tatar communities in this potential bridge region. The two now number roughly ten percent of the oblast’s population, according to the most recent census; and officials have been cutting back on the amount of instruction in their languages.

            If the 2021 census shows a further decline, it seems reasonable to expect that more cutbacks in Bashkir as well as Tatar language instruction will follow and even increase.

            At the roundtable, Bashkir deputy education minister Alfiya Galeyeva said that the situation is dire: Only 249 children are receiving any Bashkir-language instruction in only nine schools in Orenburg. She said Bashkirs in Orenburg have told her they are worried that school consolidation, known in Russia, as optimization, will worsen their situation.

            Despite her concerns and those of the people with whom she spoke, Aleksey Pakhomov, the Orenburg oblast education minister, insisted that what is going on is the result of “natural demographic shifts.” When the numbers of children speaking a language decline, there will be less demand for instruction in it.

            “According to our data,” the Russian official said, “the optimization of schools and the closing of them in small population centers with pupils transferred to larger educational institutions is a natural process, in the course of which, the number of children studying Bashkir will contract.”

            It may be “natural” from his perspective, but it is worrisome to Bashkir parents. And they have good reason to believe that if the upcoming census shows their numbers to have declined and the size of the population centers where they live to have declined as well, there will be even less Bashkir education in Orenburg than ever before. 


Window on Eurasia — New Series