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Bashkirs Rally In Defense Of Native Language


UFA, Russia -- A mass demonstration has been held in Ufa, the capital of the Russian region of Bashkortostan, to support the official status of the Bashkir language.

Protesters at the September 16 rally demanded the reinstatement of mandatory Bashkir-language classes in the republic's schools.

Organizers said some 2,000 people participated in the unsanctioned rally, which was held under close police supervision. There were no reports of arrests or disorder.

At the end of the rally, a police officer approached one of the organizers in order to write him up for his role in the unsanctioned public event. But the demonstrators prevented the officer from doing so and spirited the activist away from the scene.

The demonstration was organized by the unregistered Bashquort nationalist organization.

In the past, students in Bashkortostan's schools were required to study both Bashkir and Russia, the republic's two state languages. This year, however, parents were given the opportunity to refuse Bashkir classes for their children.

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 was "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 contradicted federal and regional laws guaranteeing that the local languages of ethnic republics are official state languages along with Russian.

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