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Bashkortostan Nationalists Plan Protest For Mandatory Bashkir Classes

Bashkhortostan's regional chief, Rustem Khamitov
Bashkhortostan's regional chief, Rustem Khamitov

UFA, Russia -- An unregistered nationalist group in Russia's Republic of Bashkortostan has announced a rally to demand the reinstatement of mandatory Bashkir-language classes at all schools in the republic.

The Bashqort organization announced on its website that its activists and supporters will protest in the center of Bashkortostan's capital, Ufa, on September 16.

The activists said they filed a formal request to conduct the rally on a central square in Ufa, but city officials instead told them to conduct the demonstration on September 24 at a location far from the city center.

The activists said they will go ahead and rally on the central square in front of the Sports Palace on September 16 without the approval of city officials.

In the past, students in Bashkortostan's schools were required to study both of the official state languages -- Bashkir and Russia.

But on the eve of the 2017-18 school year, which began September 1, parents were asked whether they wanted their children to study the Bashkir language -- the first time such an option has been offered.

Bashkhortostan's regional chief, Rustem Khamitov, said on September 14 that 75 percent elected for their children to study Bashkir.

About one-third of Bashkhortostan's 4 million residents are Bashkir, while 39 percent are ethnic Russians and 25 percent are Tatars.

The rule allowing parents to choose whether their children study Bashkir was put into place after Russian President Vladimir Putin in August ordered the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate whether children in Russia's so-called ethnic republics were being forced to study local languages.

In July, Putin said while visiting Russia's Republic of Mari El that it is "impermissible to force someone to learn a language that is not [his or her] mother tongue, as well as to cut the hours of Russian language [classes at schools] in Russia's ethnic republics."

Putin's statement and the order given to the Prosecutor-General's Office prompted calls from Russian-speaking parents to abandon mandatory studies of languages other than Russian.

On September 14, the Council of Chuvash Elders in the neighboring Republic of Chuvashia condemned Putin's move, calling it "another attack against the aboriginal languages of the Russian Federation."

On September 7, the Education Ministry of another neighboring ethnic republic, Tatarstan, declared that calls to end mandatory studies of the Tatar language in the republic contradict federal and regional laws guaranteeing that the local languages of ethnic republics are official state languages along with Russian.

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