Duma outlaws Roman alphabet

(from gazeta.ru)

The State Duma has prohibited Tatars from using the Roman alphabet. On Friday deputies passed a bill banning the use of any alphabet other than Cyrillic in state languages throughout the Russian Federation.

The State Duma reviewed and approved in the second, and the third and final readings the draft bill envisaging amendments to the law on languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation. Henceforth, all Russian citizens will be prohibited from using the Roman alphabet. The draft bill received the approval of the majority of deputies - 336 deputies backed the document, while the liberal Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko refused to take part in the voting altogether, saying that the bill, in their opinion, is aimed against the peoples of Russia.

The debate, according to Kaadyr-ool Bicheldei, one of the authors of the draft and chairman of the subcommittee for language policy, ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, proceeded ''quite smoothly''. He said that during the debate 3 amendments submitted to the bill following the 1st reading were approved and 14 rejected.

Unity member Kaadyr-ool Bicheldei reportedly drew up the bill setting out the amendments to the law on languages. However, according to unofficial reports, the document was elaborated in the Kremlin in response to the decision of Tatarstan's State Council on the gradual restoration of the Roman alphabet in the mainly Muslim republic by 2010. The group of deputies headed by Bicheldei backed the document and submitted it to the State Duma. In June this year the document received preliminary approval in the lower house.

According to Bicheldei, now that the problem of the choice of written language is settled, the State Duma has fully eliminated any gaps in the legislation on languages. ''We have protected the right of citizens to education and access to information,'' the deputy said. ''For instance, if Tatarstan moves to restore Roman letters, then only 2 million people, those who permanently reside in the Republic will be able to use the Tatar language. While the other 4 million Tatars who live in other regions will not be able to use it - since the law (on the use of the Roman alphabet) will be applicable only on the territory of that region.''

Tatar representatives, however, believe that the bill passed by the State Duma on Friday amounts to a gross violation of their people's rights. As the deputy of the Regions of Russia Fandas Safiullin told Gazeta.Ru, the document approved by the lower house on Friday, runs counter to seven articles of the Russian Constitution, that enshrines the right of preservation and development of national languages, and violates international law, in particular, the Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, ratified by Russia.

However, in the deputy's opinion, the bill is so weak that it will hardly make any difference to Tatarstan. For example, the republican authorities can change the status of the Tatar language to that of a non-state language, and thus continue using Roman letters. Or, they can simply ignore the bill. In any case, they will use the letters they find more convenient. At the same time, holds Safiullin, the passing of the amendments may undermine the position of pro-Russian forces in former Soviet republics. Those who are willing to re-unite with Russia may be scared off by a ban on any alphabet other than Cyrillic.

Supporters of the new bill insist that once amended the law on languages ''will help preserve the single cultural and education space''. In particular, the government's envoy to the State Duma Andrei Loginov, who backed Bicheldei's draft, said that the law must regulate writing since this is an element of a public treaty and if everyone invents his or her own writing, it would lead to chaos in the state.

15 November 18:08

Footnote: (from Curt Woolheiser:)

The sponsor of the bill, Kaadyr-ool Bicheldei, is an ethnic Tuvan and is the chairman of the Hural (Parliament) of the Republic of Tuva/Tyva. He is also an influential member of the Council of the Federation. In addition to the new law prohibiting the use of Latin script for the official languages of the Federation, two years ago he sponsored legislation that would impose fines on the Russian-language media for using "foreign words" (see item below):

November 2000 (RFE/RL Newsline)

GOVERNMENT CONTEMPLATES FINES ON MEDIA'S USE OF FOREIGN LANGUAGE. Deputy Chairman of the State Duma's Committee on Federation Affairs (Unity) Kadyr Bicheldei announced on 14 November that members of the lower legislative house are working on legislation that would impose fines on media organizations that use foreign words, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 November. Bicheldei was participating in a roundtable on the Russian language in media broadcasts at the Media Ministry. According to ITAR-TASS, the Media Ministry has provided financial support for a website specializing in the Russian language. (The agency did not provide the address.) Participants in the roundtable sent a telegram to Prime Minister Kasyanov expressing their support for the federal program for the Russian language and their willingness to make sure it is implemented. JAC

A colleague of mine also pointed out that Bicheldei is a linguist by training and is even the author of a textbook of Tuvan for English speakers!

Let's Learn Tuvan! by Kaadyr-ool A. Bicheldei (now Parliament Chairman). Twenty chapters of instruction with a CD.... available from the site http://www.scs-intl.com/trader/ (The Tuva Trader).