Cultural war against the Russian language

From Bishkek to Aktau, a series of incidents against Russian speakers prompted the nationalists in Moscow to cry for revenge. The fear is that a scenario similar to that of Donbass could happen again.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – For several days, a controversy has continued between Russians and their former brothers in Central Asia, especially in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, over linguistic and cultural expression. The ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia are indeed still very dependent on the Russian language, imposed by the Soviets, and try in various ways to free themselves from it in order to re-establish their national languages.

With the approach of the Russian parliamentary elections and other electoral meetings in Asian countries, the controversy takes an increasingly sharp propagandist turn, with reciprocal accusations of aggressive nationalism.

In mid-July, at a sporting event in the Ysyk-Köl region of Kyrgyzstan, a group of nine-year-old children beat up a boy their age, who returned home bruised. The parents spoke about it on social networks, accusing that it was because of “ideological racism”: the child would have been beaten “because he was a Christian”, as insisted by the priest and the parishioners of the only Russian Orthodox church in the village, since he was the only Russian child in the sports camp.

The case caused a wide scandal, so much so that the parents of the child were called by the presidential administration in BiÅ¡kek, to clarify the incident. Eventually, the child was even invited to Moscow by Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev), who called him a “defender of the faith” and guaranteed the family the help they needed to move to live and work in Russia.

The story of the beaten boy became entwined with another scandal, when at the beginning of August in a shopping center in BiÅ¡kek a customer threw a computer at the saleswoman, guilty of answering her in Russian and not in Kyrgyz (a variant of Turkish). The girl did not denounce her attacker, but the story was taken up by the chairman of the Russian Duma, Vjačeslav Volodin, who adopted a parliamentary resolution to clarify the incident through diplomatic channels and defend the Russian-speaking girl. “based on the fact that the Russian language in Kyrgyzstan has the status of an official language, as written in the country’s constitution. Russian deputies are proposing reaction measures, such as a ban on entry into Russia” to those that offend people who speak our language “.

The two stories of “insulting Russian language and culture” were echoed by politician Vladimir Žirinovsky, leader of the liberal-nationalists, who proclaimed himself “defender of all Russians in Asian countries”. The histrionic and elderly leader demanded the recall of the Russian ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and also staged a protest in front of the Kyrgyz embassy in Moscow. Several Kyrgyz politicians protested in turn, claiming that there was no national anti-Russian problem in their country.

On August 11, a video of a Russian woman in the city of Aktau forced to apologize for loudly insulting Kazakhs in a shopping mall circulated on social media in Kazakhstan. Other videos released at the same time as the premiere show people in Kazakh stores demanding that owners and employees speak to them exclusively in Kazakh, another variation of Turkish. Most of the videos appeared on the YouTube channel Til maydan (“Language Camp”) of blogger Kuat Akhmetov, a self-proclaimed “language watchman” who has been active in an anti-Russian campaign for some years. On the evening of August 12 against Akhmetov a decree was issued by Moscow prohibiting him from entering the Russian Federation for the next 50 years.

On Russian social networks and television channels, a vast campaign to defend the Russians in Central Asia against the “Kazakh nationalists who beat up the Slavs” has started. The late apology of the first vice-president of the presidential administration of Kazakhstan, Dauren Abaev, who condemned the events as an expression of “nationalist obscurantism”, have served no purpose.

The Central Asian republics are still heavily dependent on Russia for economic and commercial factors, and despite the massive return of Russian citizens to their original homeland, many ethnic Russians remain in these countries. Their defense by the Moscow authorities, underline many commentators, risks creating a “Donbass scenario” in these countries too, like the problems that have existed for years in Ukraine.

Sylvester L. Goldfarb