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Putin Sparks Controversy With Remarks On Russian, Minority Languages

Russian President Vladimir Putin (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin is receiving both criticism and praise online over remarks he made about the languages of ethnic minorities in the diverse country.

Visiting the Republic of Mari El on July 20, Putin suggested that ethnic Russians were being forced to learn the languages of minorities in regions that have sizable minority populations.

"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."

Many people discussing Putin's remarks online said that they contradicted the principle of federalism and would undermine efforts by many ethnic groups in Russia to revive their languages and cultures.

Many others applauded his statement, saying that Russians do not need to study Russia's other languages.

About 52 percent of Mari El's 700,000 residents are ethnic Mari, many of whom are seeking to preserve their language -- which belongs to the Uralic linguistic stem.

In Mari El and several other republics and regions with large populations of indigenous ethnic groups, local languages have the status of a state language and are taught in schools alongside Russian.

In recent years, some ethnic Russian residents of these regions have protested against mandatory classes in languages other than Russian.

In April, residents of Mari El, Tatarstan, and Chuvashia -- neighboring republics on the Volga River -- marked Language Day with a big campaign called I Speak My Mother Tongue!