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Bashkir President Sends Mixed Signals Over Native Language


UFA, Russia -- Employees of Bashkortostan's TV and Radio (BST) have appealed to republican President Rustem Khamitov to stop the layoff of journalists writing in Bashkir and the reduction of broadcasts in that language, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reports.

In an open letter to Khamitov on February 18, the journalists criticized new BST head Guzel Ibragimova for launching those changes after her appointment a few months ago.

Meeting with the journalists on February 22, Khamitov affirmed his support for Ibragimova. He said broadcasts in Bashkir are old-fashioned, and must become more innovative in order to attract viewers and listeners. He also said programming in Bashkir should account for 60 percent of the total air time.

In an earlier interview, Khamitov came out in defense of the Bashkir language, affirming that "it will always be studied on the territory of the republic." At the same time, he said no one will be forced to learn it. Two years ago the study of Bashkir in schools was made obligatory, triggering protests from the Tatar and Russian population.

Bashkirs account for only 22 percent of the republic's total population. Russians (39 percent) are the largest ethnic group, followed by Tatars (28 percent). Bashkir and Russian are both designated state languages in the Republic of Bashkortostan's constitution.

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