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Tajikistan Considers Russian Language Ban

Tajikistan is considering a bill that would prohibit the use of Russian by government agencies in the former Soviet republic. Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon is urging lawmakers in the Central Asian country to speed passage of the measure, which some people in Russia view as a hostile act.

Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon told a nationwide television audience last week the greatness of a nation can be judged, first of all, by the amount of protection and respect its official representatives give to their national language.

Tajik Association of Free Media member Abdufattokh Vokhidov agrees with Mr. Rakhmon's assessment. He says the Tajik language was relegated during the Soviet period to home use, and many people in Tajikistan neglected their native tongue.

Vakhidov says people of his generation were born under Soviet rule and educated in the spirit of the Russian language. He notes some people who do not know Tajik have no respect for it; they think the only language in the world is Russian and cannot imagine life without it.

In Moscow, lawmaker and nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky said adoption of the Tajik language law would be considered an act of hostility toward Russia. He threatened the Central Asian republic with retaliatory measures, including denial of visas for unemployed Tajiks looking for jobs in Russia.

The Interfax news agency quotes a member of the Parliament's Commonwealth of Independent States Committee, Alexei Ostrovsky, as saying dissatisfaction among unemployed Tajiks could then erupt in street protests.

The head of the Tajik Migrant Workers Union in Moscow, Karomat Sharipov, says remittances sent by Tajik migrant workers in Russia help maintain the social and economic stability of Tajikistan, where unemployment runs high.

Sharipov says more than 120,000 Tajik citizens in Russia have children born of mixed marriages, more than 800,000 have obtained Russian citizenship, and they will return to their native country speaking Tajik and Russian.

The director of Russian language testing at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia, Svetlana Melnikova, told VOA she agrees with President Rakhmon about the need to protect all national languages. But she says many of them are being affected by globalization, particularly in the areas of business and science.

Melnikova says technical terminology in CIS countries exists basically in Russian and English, and Tajiks will need to choose one of them. She predicts it will take more than a decade before Tajikistan develops its own scientific vocabulary.

Abdulfatah Vakhidov says the Tajik language, which is similar to Persian, was influenced throughout the 20th century by Russian, and does not correspond to the needs of its speakers. At the same time, he says no one is suggesting that Tajik cannot borrow foreign technical terms.

Vakhidov says languages constantly develop and so does Tajik, because new technologies emerge and those who speak the language accept foreign terms that reflect the advance of high technology. He says Tajik speakers do not make up new words, but rather accept terms from English, Russian, Persian, Arabic and other languages, which no one opposes.

Vakhidov says Russian is currently used very widely in Tajik science, industry, and government. If passed, the language law would require the exclusive use of Tajik in national courts, armed forces, police and other agencies of government.

While Svetlana Melnikova questions the practical considerations of the measure, she says it would not infringe on anybody's legal rights.

Melnikova says she would not go so far as to talk about any violation of rights for Russian speakers just because a country declines use of another language. After all, she says, Russia does not demand that Americans speak Russian just because there is a Russian diaspora in the United States.

Ethnic Tajiks comprise about 80 percent of Tajikistan's population. Fifteen percent are Uzbeks, one percent Russian and the remainder belong to various other ethnic groups.

Karomat Sharipov says Russian should remain the language of international communication among countries of the former Soviet Union. Abdulfatah Vakhidov says the languages spoken in those countries should be allowed to develop by those who speak them, free of outside interference.

There is no word on when lawmakers will consider the Tajik language bill.