Language Issues in CEE Region

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Date: Thu, 6 Apr 2000 13:11:05 +0200 (EET)
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Subject: Language Issues in CEE Region

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Language Issues in CEE Region

Transitions Online (TOL) ( is the leading Internet
magazine covering Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the
former Soviet Union. If you aren't already a member, fill out our
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This month's "In Focus" package: Lingua Fracas Language is one of the
most fundamental instruments of power -- be it domination or
subversion. In this region the tools by which people communicate and
think are often a primary source of tension between ethnic and
political groups.

IN FOCUS: Worlds Apart
by Tim Judah

As far as the Serbian language is concerned, Pristina is a ghost town.
Storefronts, newsstands, and even the graffiti on the walls are wiped
out; speaking the tongue in the streets is to risk death. What is left
behind is the somewhat thorny question of the Albanian language, which
is bifurcated into two dialects, Tosk and Gheg. Reassessing the
standardization could mean challenging the notion of a greater Albania
and independence for Kosovo, argues Judah, the author of "The Serbs"
and "Kosovo: War and Revenge."

IN FOCUS: Q&A with Vasil Bykau: The Lynching of a Language

Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau has been hailed as the conscience of the
nation. His steadfast insistence on writing in Belarusian -- taboo
under the authoritarian pro-Russia policies of Belarusian President
Alyaksandar Lukashenka -- along with his outspoken criticism of the
current regime have forced this Nobel Prize nominee into exile. Bykau
speaks with TOL about the struggles of his native tongue. "Hope
doesn't mean much in Belarus," he says. "The 87 percent [who speak
Belarusian] doesn't mean anything as long as the ruling regime -- the
police, KGB, army -- operates in another language."

IN FOCUS: Resuscitating Russian
by Sophia Kornienko
The recent evolution of the Russian tongue has been decried by many as
soiled with foreign words and slang. Acting President Vladimir Putin
is among the embracers of traditional Russian; his newly established
Language Council will slap heavy penalties on journalists and
politicians who let so-called pollutants slip into their speech. But
Russian politicos are hardly known for speaking with the tongues of
angels. One analyst concedes that Putin himself speaks correct
Russian, "but his entire vocabulary is only about 1,500 words -- a
fifth-grader's vocabulary."

IN FOCUS: Inflections in Flux
by Donald Kenrick

Much of the international Roma community's lack of unity can be traced
to its plethora of dialects, many of which are not mutually
understandable. Efforts to establish a unified written language
through various congresses, though they have produced some results,
are largely confined to an academic minority. With the language
increasingly confined to an oral existence, and with fewer parents
bothering to teach Romani to their children, the many manifestations
of the tongue may have only one thing in common: their progress on the
road to extinction.

In an accompanying article, Matt MacLean tracks a day in the life of
Emil Cina, one of the last bastions of the written Romani language in
the Czech Republic.

IN FOCUS: Talking Turkish
by Polia Tchakarova

Partly because of Bulgaria's relatively large contingent of minorities
equal rights have tended to be at the forefront of the country's
consciousness. Part of their pro-active attitude stems from the harsh
repression of minorities -- notably ethnic Turks -- in the 1980s,
where people's names were Slavicised and thousands were forced to
leave the country. In early February, Bulgarian National Television
finally agreed to air Turkish-language programming on its channels.
Although several private programs already exist, the broadcasts will
go a long way toward officially acknowledging the needs of the ethnic
Turkish minority.

IN FOCUS: Far from Fluent
by Alisher Khamidov and Makhamadjan Khamidov

A little more than ten years ago, promoters of the Kyrgyz language
scored a stunning victory: on 23 September 1989, the Kyrgyz Soviet
Socialist Republic passed a law designating Kyrgyz the state language.
The assumption, however, that the language and other state attributes
would then develop in a rapid manner turned out to be unrealistic.
Efforts to increase usage of Kyrgyz have run up against a limited
terminology and vocabulary, the language's continuing unpopularity
among other ethnic groups, and a lack of government funding for
language promotion programs. At least language boosters seem to have
stopped their absurd attempts to coin new words for "television set,"
"telephone," "airplane," and other everyday terms.

OPINION: With a Little Help From His Friends
by Laura Belin

Vladimir Putin avoided debates against his opponents and refused to
reveal specific policy plans. He could afford to ignore the
formalities of the campaign, in part because daily newscasts included
massive, fawning coverage of all his activities. Though incumbents
invariably enjoy some perks when it comes to media exposure, coverage
of Putin went well beyond that natural advantage. Comfortable with so
much media bias during a campaign he had no real chance of losing, how
will President Putin act once the honeymoon is over?

Also in our Week in Review:

Jewish cemetery in Prague will be preserved ... Porn lives on in
Poland ... "No anti-Semitism in Hungary" ... Black times for Serbian
media ... Montenegrin businesses rack up damages ... Croatian
president moves on up .. and threatens to wield his power ...
Unemployed of Sofia, unite! ... Shopping madness in Macedonia ... More
pollution in the Tisza ... Belarus students get to play hooky ... Two
questions slashed from Ukrainian referendum ... The hot list of
Romanian-Moldovan citizens ... The Baltics buck daylight savings time
.. Regional heads in Chechnya agree to direct presidential rule ...
Georgian writers charged with embezzlement ... Kyrgyz coal workers
strike back ... Taliban broadcasts in Uzbekistan ...

A Czech nonprofit dedicated to promoting independent journalism, TOL
is based in Prague and uses a network of local correspondents to
provide unique, cross-regional analysis.

We encourage you to visit our site and become part of a dynamic new
media project dedicated to building independent journalism in Central
and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the former Soviet Union. And be
sure to also visit our partner sites:

- Central Europe Review (, the weekly
Internet journal of Central and East European politics, society, and
- The Network of Independent Journalists of Central and Eastern Europe
(NIJ), a weekly service run by the Croatian-based STINA press agency.
To subscribe to STINA's NIJ weekly service, giving you timely news of
events in the region, send an e-mail to:



"East - West Collaboration in the Development of Interactive Media"

Lake Balaton, Hungary, 6 - 9 May 2000

The primary purpose of the conference is to facilitate contact and
interaction between potential project partners in Western and Eastern
Europe. It will also provide an excellent opportunity to:

-contact companies from Western and Eastern Europe involved in
interactive media
-meet EC officials to discuss informally any forthcoming project plans
-attend clinics led by industry experts
-hear more about the EC's Information Society Technologies programs.

Official closing date for registrations is 7 April 2000 - already over
half of the conference is booked.

For more information check the conference web site:
Other enquiries? Please phone Viktoria Levai, Conference Manager, on
(36-1) 327 3014.

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