MINELRES: RFE/RL on Russian Controversial Cyrillic-only Bill

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Thu Nov 21 20:34:01 2002


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RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
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RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly
Vol. 2, No. 39, 20 November 2002

A Weekly Review of News and Analysis of Russian Domestic Politics

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DUMA APPROVES CONTROVERSIAL CYRILLIC-ONLY BILL. The State Duma on 15
November passed in its second and third readings an amendment to the law
on the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation, newsru.com
and other Russian news agencies reported. The amendment would mandate
that the Cyrillic alphabet serve as the basis for the written languages
of all peoples of the federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February and
6 June 2002). The use of any other alphabet would have to be approved by
a special federal law in each case, Interfax reported.

Representatives of the Republic of Tatarstan condemned the Duma's move.
Tatarstan's State Council adopted an alphabet for the Tatar language
based on Latin script in 1999, and that law went into effect in
September 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September and 19 October
2001). The new orthography is being introduced gradually, with both the
Latin and Cyrillic alphabets in use until 1 September 2011. Speaking to
Ekho Moskvy on 15 November, Nasif Mirikhanov, Tatarstan's representative
to the Russian Federation, called the amendment passed by the Duma a
"violation of human rights." Duma Deputy Fendes Safiullin (Russian
Regions), who represents a district in Tatarstan, also spoke out against
the bill. He pointed out that the Latin alphabet is used for Karelian
(related to Finnish), the titular language of the Republic of Karelia,
and no problems have arisen, ORT reported.

Boris Panteleev, a legal expert for the Moscow-based Center for
Journalism in Extreme Situations, believes that there are no legal
grounds to overturn Tatarstan's law introducing a Latin alphabet. In a
commentary released on 15 November (see
http://www.cjes.ru/archiv/rus/21103.php), Panteleev also argued that the
Cyrillic-only law violates several articles of the Russian Constitution:
Article 55, Part 2, which states that no laws should be issued that
revoke or reduce citizens' rights and freedoms; Article 68, Part 2,
which states that republics have the right to establish their own state
languages; Article 68, Part 3, which states that, "the Russian
Federation guarantees to all peoples the right to preserve their native
language and to create the conditions for its study and development";
and Article 73, which states (rather awkwardly) that "outside the
jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and the powers of the Russian
Federation on matters that fall under the joint jurisdiction of the
Russian Federation and Russian Federation subjects, Russian Federation
subjects possess full state power."

How the Federation Council votes on the Cyrillic-only bill will reveal
the clout of Tatarstan and Russia's other ethnic-based republics in the
upper chamber. LB/RC

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The "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly" is prepared by Julie A. Corwin on
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