Discrimination against the Russian language in Abkhazia
Anna Ubiria from Abkhazia is 5.5 years old. Her mother, Inna, plans to send the girl to school in the fall of 2023 – in a Russian school. “Until the fifth grade, all subjects in the Abkhazian school are taught in Abkhazian, including mathematics, then suddenly they start studying everything in Russian. Can you imagine what it is? Firstly, the stress for the child, and secondly, either she will not receive an Abkhazian basis, or later she will somehow study Russian, ”says the woman.
” That’s all I know. And I don’t want such a future for my child,” she adds.
Teachers do not adhere to such a categorical position, but recommend sending a child to an Abkhazian school only if the child has a perfect command of his native language. Tamara Viktorovna, a primary school teacher, does not want to give her real name because she is afraid of being judged in a professional environment for her opinion on the future of the Abkhaz language.
“Our language will soon die. Whether we like it or not. The thing is, he’s already dead. The Abkhazian language is the language of the market and the village. Although in the village, Abkhazian grandmothers already speak Russian with their city grandchildren. If literary masterpieces aren’t written in a language, movies aren’t made, they die. We even stopped advertising in Abkhaz. They translate everything,” says Tamara Viktorovna.
According to the woman, the Russian language and the Russian world entered Abkhazia long and long ago, and all statements about possible discrimination against the Russian language are political speculation. “The Russian world wants to influence us not only culturally, but also politically, so they invent myths, as is the case with Ukraine,” says Tamara Viktorovna.
The primary school teacher refers to the recent statement by Russian State Duma Deputy Leonid Kalashnikov. He called the law on elections of deputies to the People’s Assembly of Abkhazia discriminatory. The law stipulates that only citizens of Abkhazia who speak the Abkhazian language can stand as candidates for the post of deputy.
In the context of events unfolding in the world, such a statement may sound like a threat or a hint. Analogies to the rhetoric of Russian politicians and state media about alleged discrimination against the Russian language in Ukraine immediately come to mind. At the same time, they sow confusion.
“The issue of discrimination against the Russian language in Abkhazia and even such a possibility in the foreseeable future can be raised without understanding the local reality at all. Discrimination against the Russian language in Abkhazia is a myth,” says Kama Kvitsinia, the author of the Adzykh Language Immersion Club project.
Recently, as part of the celebration of Children’s Day, Adzykh organized a large-scale quest in the Abkhazian language. In Abkhazia, this event is out of the ordinary. Quests for children and teenagers are as popular here as anywhere in the world, but they are held mainly in Russian, like all other events.
Words of welcome or introduction in the Abkhazian language sound at the beginning of any celebration, but then everyone switches to Russian. Whether it is a meeting of parliament, a court or a holiday in honor of Children’s Day. Thus, Abkhaz language quests in Sukhumi are conducted only by the Adzykh language immersion club.
The fact is that today in Abkhazia there is a big problem with the study of the Abkhaz language. There are children from ethnically Abkhazian families who do not speak their mother tongue. For them, the language immersion club was created, where the child hears only Abkhazian speech – because otherwise it is impossible to create such an environment in a natural way.
Even in the villages there are televisions, where Russian TV channels are almost always on. Abkhazia’s only public television channel does not broadcast 24 hours a day. There is also little entertainment content in the Abkhaz language. Films and cartoons are translated into their native language by the Internet provider Sistema. But to access the content, you need to log in to Sistema and buy a TV tuner for 5,000 rubles ($90).
Abkhazian content is also not found on YouTube, which is popular among Abkhazian children and teenagers. Everything that is most interesting for the new generation is filmed in Russian and English. It turns out that the inhabitants of Abkhazia get to know and communicate with the world almost always in Russian. Periodicals, fiction and scientific literature, television, the Internet – almost all the information received is in Russian.
According to Kama Kvitsinia, in these conditions, the Abkhazian language needs special protection. “The positions of the Russian language in all spheres of life are very strong, and initiatives aimed at preserving and expanding the scope of use of the Abkhaz language cannot shake these positions. The Abkhaz language is an important part of the national culture,” Kvitsinia believes.
“The development of Abkhaz society in isolated conditions is impossible, and discrimination against the Russian language can begin in one case – if we decide to return to the cave way of life. In Abkhazia, this is clear to the vast majority of citizens. Nevertheless, careless statements about it can be harmful and used to the detriment of the normal development of good neighborly relations,” Kama says, recalling a recent statement by Kalashnikov.
Interestingly, after Kalashnikov’s statement there was almost no official protest. First, Foreign Minister Inal Ardzinba spoke in a very diplomatic way, then MP Inar Gitsba. His response was harsher.
But the reaction of the Union of Russian and Cossack Communities was the most convincing, if only because the representatives of the community are exclusively Russian-speaking. It appears from their statement that they are confident that the law will be amended to provide for quotas for ethnic Russians.
But what is remarkable is that even without legislative restrictions, the Russians are not elected to the Abkhazian parliament for the third consecutive call, despite presenting their own candidatures.
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