KAZAN, Russia -- Tatar language classes are no longer mandatory in Russia's Tatarstan region, a senior official has announced.
Tatarstan Prosecutor-General Ildus Nafikov said on November 29 that children in the region's schools will study Tatar for two hours a week on an optional basis and with written parental consent.
The change is certain to alarm advocates of the Tatar language who have warned that it would violate the region's constitution, discourage learning of the language of the indigenous ethnic group, and undermine Tatarstan's cultural identity.
Nafikov's announcement contradicted a recent statement by Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, who said on November 8 that Tatar language classes would remain mandatory but be scaled back from six hours to two hours per week. Minnikhanov said at the time that the federal authorities in Moscow had agreed with the plan.
Controversy over mandatory Tatar language classes flared after Russian President Vladimir Putin said in July that people must not be forced to learn a language "that is not their mother tongue" and ordered prosecutors to determine whether that was happening.
Putin's statement and order were followed by calls from Russian-speaking parents for schools in so-called "ethnic" regions -- where indigenous, non-Russian ethnic groups are well represented -- to abandon mandatory studies of languages other than Russian.
That sparked protests in Tatarstan and in neighboring Bashkortostan and Chuvashia, where local languages are officially state languages along with Russian.