The meeting participants focused on the implementation of the Federal Law On the State Language of the Russian Federation, support for and popularisation of the Russian language and literature abroad and preparations for the celebration of Alexander Pushkin’s 225th birth anniversary.
The Council on the Russian Language was established in 2014 to improve state policy in the development, protection and support of the Russian language.
The new composition of the Council was approved on August 2. In addition to leading Russian philologists and linguists, it includes representatives of the teachers’ community, Russian literature historians, directors of literature museums, writers and publishers.
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Excerpts from transcript of Council on Russian Language
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues and friends.
I would like to begin as usual by saying a few words.
The topics that we discuss and that are linked with our native tongue, the Russian language, the state language of Russia, are certainly some of the most important both for the country as a whole and for each citizen, for our compatriots and millions of people all over the world who speak Russian and use it in their work, creative projects and as a means of communication.
Uniquely rich, versatile and multi-faceted, the Russian language is undoubtedly part of the world cultural heritage. But first and foremost, it is important for this country, for Russia, where it forms the basis of the mental and historical community of dozens of original cultures and peoples, and to a large extent ensures the sovereignty, unity and identity of the Russian nation.
We, our country, bear tremendous responsibility for preserving, developing and spreading the Russian language and Russian literature, all the more so now that we are facing attempts to oust artificially, and I would like to emphasise this, crudely, to reduce absolutely unceremoniously the space of the Russian language in the world and to oust it to the periphery.
The war on the Russian language is not being declared only by the inveterate Russophobes, as we are witnessing – this is an open secret, and by all kinds of fringe groups, but also by active and aggressive nationalists. Regrettably, in some countries this is becoming the official government policy. But what stands behind this policy, and we must realise this clearly, is again pressure and direct violation of human rights, including the right to a native language, culture and historical memory.
Under the circumstances, we face two equally important tasks. The first is to ensure a befitting level of knowledge and literacy for Russian citizens, and, hence, make the Russian language competitive and appealing on a global scale as a modern, living and dynamically developing means of communication. The second task is to provide efficient informational, educational and humanitarian support for the Russian language environment abroad.
Much has been done in these areas recently. The issues of the Russian language and literature are reflected in our country’s key programme documents and occupy a major place in the foundations of the state cultural policy and the strategy for the development of information society. The concept of teaching the Russian language and literature in Russia and the concept of state support and promotion of Russian abroad have been adopted as well.
However, there are a number of aspects that require special attention. First, I am referring to improving the quality of training teachers for all levels of education, and creating the necessary conditions for the development of literary, linguistic, and educational initiatives, including those from our public associations.
The media should also play a role. They can contribute to creating and promoting the relevant content, but the level, condition, and culture of the Russian language used in the Russian media industry, including the digital landscape, is also important.
Furthermore, I would like to separately consider matters of legal support for Russian language development.
Like all multinational countries, Russia sees its language policy as a priority for the state and a sensitive issue for society. It needs to be weighted, balanced and relevant; it needs to meet modern trends, and to be flexible and responsive to their changes.
In this regard, it seems appropriate to review the respective clauses in current legislation and make the necessary adjustments, primarily to the Federal Law On the State Language of the Russian Federation adopted back in 2005, and of course, to the Law On Languages of the Peoples of the Russian Federation, which turned 28 last month. It is advisable to entrust this work to the Interdepartmental Commission on the Russian Language, so I ask the Government, with the expert support of the members of our council, to approve its new members and to update its authority.
At the same time, I would like to emphasize that improving the legal framework and the norms of the Russian language themselves should not imply any revolutionary change, let alone any vulgar simplifications in punctuation or spelling. On the contrary, improvement implies endorsing norms that actually make our language so vibrant and expressive, and one of the most harmonious, metaphorical, and beautiful in the world.
Along with updating the legislation, I also ask you to start working on a single corpus of dictionaries, reference books, and grammar books containing the norms of the modern literary language when it is used as the state language of the Russian Federation. They should become mandatory for use by all state agencies, including government bodies – the executive, judicial, and legislative bodies, schools, and mass media.
Once again, our goal is to create an active and holistic language policy that will ensure the preservation and development of the Russian language and Russian literature both in Russia and around the world. The professional community’s involvement in addressing this problem is crucial. I ask the members of the Russian Language Council to get involved in this work. Colleagues, your expertise is in great demand today.
I now give the floor to Mr Tolstoy.
Adviser to the President, Chairman of the Russian Language Council Vladimir Tolstoy: Thank you very much, Mr President.
Good afternoon, colleagues, friends.
The President has clearly outlined two crucial interconnected goals, which are to keep the Russian language within the country in the same powerful, truthful and free form in which we received it from previous generations and to consistently resist any attempts to oust it from the family of world languages.
The war waged against the Russian word and the Russian language in the so-called civilised world makes it possible to consider it a powerful and formidable weapon, which means that this weapon must be in full combat readiness. Russia has achieved truly breakthrough successes in the military sphere and in ensuring its defence capability in recent years, but much remains to be done in the cultural sphere, most importantly, in fine-tuning the control of these processes.
Many departments and organisations formally engage in promoting and supporting the Russian language abroad, but in most cases, they describe the goals of their activities differently, do not follow the same criteria for evaluating the results and, most importantly, often do not have complete information about the political, social and cultural environment in which they will work. Extremely modest, I must admit, budget funds are spread thinly across numerous organisations, the efforts of which are almost uncoordinated. The result is like the proverb: ”Everybody’s business is nobody’s business.“
The Russian world outside of Russia is steadily shrinking, and the way we are approaching it today, we will not be able to stop it, or even slow down this process. We cannot borrow foreign experience directly as the language policies of France, Germany, Spain, Great Britain, and China vary greatly and are very specific. However, these countries’ activities in promoting their languages around the world, preserving French, German and Spanish language spaces led us to the conclusion that success comes when this activity is controlled from a single centre, and the state finances it without interruption and in the requested amounts.
Speaking of the amounts, Rossotrudnichestvo [Federal Agency for Affairs of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Residing Abroad and International Humanitarian Co-Operation] will receive 4 billion rubles this year, and the Russkiy Mir Foundation will be granted 424 million rubles. To put this in perspective, the Goethe Institute’s annual budget is equivalent to 15 billion rubles, and China allocates a similar amount to support the Confucius institutions and classes, even though no one in the world opposes German or Chinese.
I am deeply convinced that the Foreign Ministry can and must be placed in charge of the international aspects of state language policy, where a once defunct special department can be restored. The Foreign Ministry has full and continuously updated information on domestic political processes in foreign countries, and its senior executives demonstrate the best example of a literate and literary living language to the world and to us.
If such a decision is made under the Foreign Ministry, it would be possible to develop an integral concept for the Russian Federation’s international language policy and update the previous acts and decisions in this area.
This concept can be implemented through the new state programme on supporting and promoting the Russian language abroad, in which the Foreign Ministry would be chief executive, the interested departments would be co-executives, and relevant government and public organisations – participants in the programme. Clearly, programme funding must exceed the current budget several times over to ensure the resolution of the goals set.
Obviously, preservation of the Russian World outside Russia will only be successful if the Russian language leads a full-blooded life inside the country and is being developed and enriched.
I will not go into details of school and university education – my colleagues are better qualified to speak about this –but would like to note two philosophical aspects in this respect.
First, Russian cannot and must not be a non-native, kind of a foreign language to Russian citizens. The bilingual environment in which the personalities of children are formed in the country’s national republics is a blessing and gift of destiny rather than a punishment and a drawback. A person who talks and thinks in two native tongues has an advantage by definition and this potential advantage must be realised in work, life and creative endeavours. Creating conditions for implementing these advantages should be an objective in the government’s language policy.
Second, it is vital for us to ensure guaranteed literate use of the Russian language in the public areas where it represents the national language of the Russian Federation. By law, the government must use only a normative, literary version of the Russian language in all dealings with citizens. This must not remain just a vain wish but must be strictly observed.
Alas, it so happened that issues of the Russian language, its preservation, development and functioning as a national language is not the subject of the activities or direct responsibility of a single department in this country. Obviously, linguistic issues cannot be resolved within a single branch or department, but I am convinced of the need to have a mechanism for implementing laws on languages and for using soft pressure to ensure literate and normative use of Russian. The government’s linguistic policy cannot be derelict.
Your words and instructions as regards the Interdepartmental Commission at the Government and the extension of its authority instill us with high hope. I think this is a much-anticipated decision.
And my last point. In 2024, it will be 225 years since the birth of the main creator of the modern literary Russian language – Alexander Pushkin. Mr President, if you support us and if the poet’s forthcoming anniversary will be observed as a national event, we could use the remaining years before this date for a common effort to introduce our young compatriots to Pushkin, and the wealth of the Russian language and to help them realise Russia’s historical mission – to carry into the future the ethical and aesthetic values of our civilization, which are not subject to revision.
It so happens that Pushkin’s dates coincide surprisingly with landmark events in modern history. Thus, the year of Pushkin’s 200th anniversary became a point of departure for the revival of Russia, its return to the development path preordained by its historical destiny. The year of 2024 may also become a landmark in the history and life of our homeland. Pushkin’s name, his creativity, his refreshing and wise language is bound to help us in this onward movement.
We may also recall that in the next few years we will observe the 200th birth anniversary of Dostoyevsky and Nekrasov, Fet and Ostrovsky, Saltykov-Shchedrin and Leo Tolstoy, and the 150th birth anniversary of Bunin, Kuprin, Leonid Andreyev and Ivan Shmelev. In this context, it seems appropriate to declare a decade of classic Russian literature through an analogy with the Decade of Childhood. As one of its glorious representatives, Ivan Goncharov said, “Literature is the language that expresses everything that the country is thinking, what it wants, what it knows and what it wants and must know.”
Vladimir Putin: I have a couple of points to make before I give the floor to our colleagues who have passed the notes.
Mr Tolstoy said that the Russian language is a powerful weapon and so on. Let us not use these words. I am serious. It makes sense to not use them. Why? Because if it is a weapon, it will be dealt with as a weapon. It is already being fought against, but for other reasons. Indeed, it is a power to a certain extent, a soft power. I believe this is enough.
After all, and I have pointed this out many times, it is no secret, that the vast majority of experts believe that the influence of a particular country in the modern world is measured not by weapons, but by its economy, and weapons, culture, education and science follow as derivatives of the economy. Everything has its own background story, and so forth, but it can very quickly turn sour if not supported by a highly developed and rapidly growing economy.
Regarding the economy and market laws, I would like to oppose Vladimir Alpatov (head of the Research Centre for Ethnic and Language Relations at the Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences) ”that market laws squeeze out languages.“ No, they do not. It is the other way round. Look, back in Soviet times, Eastern Europe studied Russian widely and did a good job, by the way. We are still using this. “We” in the broad sense of the word, our partners use it. Why? Because it made sense and was beneficial in a good and non-primitive sense of the word to speak Russian as the Soviet Union was the key partner. People’s careers depended on it and there was real cooperation with the Soviet Union. There was influence.
The Soviet Union ended and interest in the language began to fade. This fading is being artificially bolstered, Mr Tolstoy is right here, because they are still wary of us. But what are we seeing now? I am telling you quite seriously that in the countries with which economic and political cooperation has begun to revive, there is a surge in interest in the Russian language, a real surge in interest. They are telling us, “Give us textbooks and teachers.” And not only in the former Soviet republics, but also in the so-called ‘far abroad’ we can clearly see this interest.
As soon as the country begins to make progress and as soon as the economy begins to breathe, our achievements in culture and education take on a whole new dimension and everything rises to this level. Of course, defence capability is also important in this sense. It all works together, so we need to take this into account. There are absolutely objective factors.
Of course, if we blunt the tool itself, nothing good will come of it either in this country, or outside it. We must keep it in good condition, and we must take good care of it, primarily you as outstanding representatives of the professional community. The tool must always be kept in good shape.
The interest in the Russian language will grow as our well-being in the broadest sense of the word, including individual welfare and national welfare, and our influence continue to grow. Then, there will be interest in the language. If not, there will be no interest no matter what you do. We may have two or three more authors like Tolstoy or Pushkin. Their books will get translated, no doubt about it, and there will be good translators. But if our country is strong and appealing, people will start learning the Russian language.
This was a brief digression.
Vladimir Putin: They want to cooperate with us. Someone mentioned African countries. One of the participants in our meeting with African countries, the prime minister of a fairly big country, made his speech in good, literary Russian practically without any accent. There is renewed interest in Russia for different reasons. The interest in the language immediately gets revived, just instantly, in a second.
If a country is tiny, if it has no influence and nobody needs it, the interest in it will fade away. People will visit museums to see who Pushkin or Tolstoy were, but I must assure you, no matter how sad this is for us, eventually the interest in all this will disappear. I hope people will always listen to music by Tchaikovsky. But in principle, the interest in a country, culture and language disappears instantly, as soon as the interest in the country as such, as an active participant in international communication, is gone.
The interest in a country is certainly rooted in the economy. This is an obvious fact. But its derivatives are in politics, defence and so on. However, the instrument must always be in good shape. Sorry, but speaking about the instrument I am referring to the topic that we are discussing now – the Russian language.
Vladimir Putin (replying to Rector of North Caucasus Federal University Alina Levitskaya, who reported on the experience of polycultural schools with tuition in two languages: the Russian language and the native tongue): You have raised a very delicate and important question, which is especially important for our country. It is important for any polycultural country, but especially so for Russia. We must find a balance between what is necessary – and it is obvious that children must know their mother tongue, because without it there is no national culture, and they need to study Russian so that they feel part of their country, a large and mighty power. This is very important.
Of course, the municipalities have the right to take the decision on one- or two-language tuition – either tuition only in the native language, or in both the Russian and the native languages.
As you have said, some ethnic republics have decided that tuition in their schools should be at least in two languages, because teaching children only in one language could hurt their future ambitions. What if some of them decide to continue their education in another region, where they will need to speak Russian in their future profession? Teaching only in the native language will limit the children’s opportunities. What if it is impossible to receive education in a particular speciality in their native republic?
Of course, I believe that it is a mistake. But such problems should be settled in coordination with the republican, territorial, regional and, in this case, municipal authorities, while keeping in mind that people must not feel limited in any way. This would be going to another extreme and would definitely be a bad mistake for a multi-ethnic country. People must feel no restrictions whatsoever in the study of their native language, culture and the history of their ethnic group.
Vladimir Putin (replying to Director of the Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences Andrei Kibrik’s remarks on disappearing minority languages and the need to create a programme for preserving language diversity in Russia): This proposal is absolutely to the point. We have discussed this several times already. There must be such a programme in Russia. Any form of supporting language diversity in Russia is welcome.
Mr Tolstoy is telling us that a dedicated foundation has been created in our country, but according to him, it is not adequately funded. We need to look at the real needs. Of course, any kind of need can be made up, but we must proceed from reality and see what needs to be done to support the languages of the peoples of Russia.
I will not repeat myself. We are well aware of how this has been supported in previous years. There was an entire set of support tools, including magazines. We must definitely return to this and work on it. Perhaps, there is a need for a specific programme which should be properly financed.
You mentioned a quote about the “great and mighty” Russian language. Remember our wonderful parodist Alexander Ivanov who paraphrased, ‘Great with the mighty Russian language.’
Unfortunately, we do not want to say that we are heading in this direction, but there are alarming signs, clearly, and I agree with those who said this. There are alarming signs about how the Russian language is developing and what kind of support it receives or does not receive.
Based on today's discussion, we will certainly prepare a draft of relevant instructions. I am sure that today’s meeting will be productive. I hope these instructions will be helpful in the areas that we discussed, and that an attempt will be made to improve the situation. As our colleague put it, this gathering will do no harm at least, and I think it will be quite productive. I would really like that.
I want to thank you for coming to the meeting and to express hope that we will be holding such meetings in the future. They will be substantive and aimed at resolving the issues with the Russian language that we discussed today. I want to thank you for this and wish you every success.