Pushing for the Kyrgyz Language: Why It Fails
That case probably marked the start of active politicization of the state language issue. Since then Kyrgyz language has become a matter of serious debates that are mostly led by parties with nationalistic sentiments.On September 23 Kyrgyzstan marked 22 years of the Kyrgyz language. Back in 1989 the Kyrgyz SSR Supreme Council proclaimed Kyrgyz as the “state language”, while Russian language was given the status of the “official language”. These terms are defined very loosely and open for subjective interpretations, which in turn create more confusion and row.
Served under the sauce of “care” for national identity and statehood, more and more people demand dominance of the Kyrgyz language in various areas: politics, education, science, economy, television etc. Often they suggest coercive measures to force the language into a certain sphere: making Kyrgyz language mandatory for all civil servants, increasing the number of Kyrgyz language classes, make Kyrgyz the main teaching language in uversities etc. Often these “easy” ways to popularize the language do not take into account the reality.
The reality is that 90% of classes in universities are taught in Russian, most vacancies in businesses and international organizations list Russian as required, not Kyrgyz, official forms in police, government structures are mostly in Russian and only 5% of books of an average city library are in Kyrgyz. On the other hand, Kyrgyzstan media landscape is filling up with Kyrgyz language newspapers, websites, radio stations, less and less high schools in the regions are teaching in Russian due to lack of language bearers. More and more people use Kyrgyz in informal communication.
Kyrgyz language is widely used in the regions, while intellectual and power houses – Chui province and Bishkek city – remain dominated by Russian language. Increasing gap between the regions and the center is exploited by various political forces to gain political scores and lobby their interests.
In attempts to regulate the situation, government and intellectuals are constantly working out suggestions and enacting various provisions. Some, like the requirement on bilingual ads are more or less followed, while others like the requirement for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to hold negotiations in Kyrgyz are almost completely ignored for understandable reasons.
Most of the attempts to popularize Kyrgyz language are based on pure “patriotic” emotions and administrative resources backed up by neither financial nor human resources. They are very random and spotted activities rather than thought out strategic policies. Apart from the lack of a consolidated approach to the issue of languages, there are other problems that hinder proper development of the Kyrgyz language.
- Kyrgyz language centered approach. Almost all policies push only for Kyrgyz alone, not considering other languages (Rissian, Uzbek, English, Turkish or Chinese for example). Policies must address the issue of languages as a whole: their interrelation, priorities, legal statuses etc.
- Kyrgyz language should be positioned as a a helpful means of communications. Often Kyrgyz language is lobbied by nationalists in an ideological package with kyrgyz traditions, history etc. which creates some tensions and denial by other ethnic groups. It should be perceived as a tool.
- Kyrgyz language needs to be updated (developed) starting from basic things like journalism, official forms and circulars, documents etc. Currently, it lacks many “modern” words, while being heavily loaded with archaic phrases, proverbs that can be rarely applied in a nowadays average talk. The language is not mobile.
- Financial back up. All this work requires a lot of money – publishing, research, training etc. Kyrgyz Government needs to make a serious financial commitment. Wide availability of learning resources gives a good incentive.
- Clear and detailed legal framework for the official and state languages. Usage of the languages in public speaking, forms, official correspondence and other related issues must be spelled out in detail in order to avoid discrimination and conflicts. This requires serious political commitment from the Government, otherwise, it will remain in the hands of nationalist enthusiasts, which may worsen the situation.
Considering the current difficult situation with intererthnic relations in the country, I think it is very critical for the government to address the issue of languages in order to avoid possible escalation.
PS If you have any thoughts on the issue, please share them in comments.