Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 28 15:00:48 UTC 2009

*Chinghiz Umetov 9/23/09 *
On this, the 20th, anniversary of the adoption of Kyrgyz as the state
language, government language policies remain a source of contention in
Kyrgyzstan. For members of ethnic minority groups, the de-emphasis of
Russian in favor of Kyrgyz is widely seen as a discriminatory act. Kyrgyz
mass media outlets, meanwhile, are struggling to comply with Kyrgyz-content
provisions. It was September 23, 1989, when the Kyrgyz Supreme Soviet, then
the top legislative body in the land, enshrined Kyrgyz as the state
language. Since then, Kyrgyz leaders have tried, with decidedly mixed
results, to get the population to embrace the indigenous language. Recent
changes, designed to accelerate the use of Kyrgyz, have become a source of
acrimony for some members of minority groups.

"For several years, I had been working in the Osh city police, but this year
I lost my job," Ruslan, a 31-year-old ethnic Tatar, told EurasiaNet. "At the
beginning of this year, the management of the Osh city Interior Ministry
Department ordered that all reports, statements and other documents be
processed in the Kyrgyz language. I can understand and speak Kyrgyz, but I
cannot read or write it. So, I was forced to resign." Ruslan, who declined
to give his last name, alleged that his supervisors failed to provide
promised Kyrgyz language courses.

Elsewhere, officials complain that protracted efforts to expand the use of
Kyrgyz are not working. "We are inspecting all state and public
organizations to make sure they have switched to processing official
documents in Kyrgyz. The preliminary results have shown that a number of
organizations, including state ones, do not follow the law," said Nargiza
Sarykova, a senior expert from the Osh Province State Language Development
Fund. Though ethnic Kyrgyz constitute roughly three-fourths of the country’s
population of 5 million, many living in urban areas still consider Russian
to be their first language and continue to have difficulty with reading and
writing in Kyrgyz. "Kyrgyz is my native language, but I feel more
comfortable with Russian. Actually, this is the language I think in. As for
reading and writing in Kyrgyz, it takes more time and efforts to use it,"
Maksuda Aitieva, a journalist, told EurasiaNet.

In Bishkek and Osh, the country’s two biggest cities, Russian appears to be
still used more widely than Kyrgyz. Some observers claim the protected
status of Russian -- which was made an "official language" in 2000 in an
attempt to stem emigration by ethnic Slavs -- is hampering the state’s
ability to promote the indigenous language. "This unreasoned step [hampered]
development of the Kyrgyz language," MP Ibragim Junusov told EurasiaNet.
Inattention to language issues, as well as spotty enforcement of legislative
provisions, also isn’t serving the best interests of many Kyrgyz, some
observers contend. "The language young and adult Kyrgyz speak is a terrible
mixture of the Kyrgyz and Russian languages," said Tatyana Arkhipova, senior
lecturer from Osh State University, an ethnic Russian.

Representatives of ethnic minorities complain that Kyrgyz authorities are
not doing enough to help them learn the state language. "There are no
language courses provided by the government," said Mars Agiev, a
Russian-English freelance translator and an ethnic Tatar. "Courses at
private language schools are inadequate and they do not have proper
methodology and well-designed programs. Quite often it is awkward to hear
many Kyrgyz speaking their language so poorly, and it is kind of funny when
they demand that we, ethnic minorities, speak their language."

The lingering preference for Russian over Kyrgyz appears to be connected in
part to the realities of modern life. For example, technical literature for
many professions is readily available only in Russian. To translate such
materials into Kyrgyz is an arduous process because Kyrgyz lacks many words
for highly technical and scientific terms. "Even in Kyrgyz-language
[educational institutions], university teachers prefer to lecture in Russian
since it is a laborious process to prepare lectures in Kyrgyz," said
Arkhipova of Osh State University. "To do that, a lecturer has to translate
information available in Russian into Kyrgyz."

Journalists are complaining about language provisions these days,
specifically a requirement, adopted in 2008, under which at least 50 percent
of television and radio broadcasts must be in Kyrgyz. Most outlets have no
hope of complying with the law because of a "lack of financial and personnel
resources," said Marat Tokoev, a local NGO activist. The government’s
approach, Tokoev continued, undermines the democratization process and "may
essentially worsen freedom of speech."

If authorities get tough on enforcement and demand immediate compliance,
then many media outlets will face fines, and, ultimately, will run the risk
of being shut down for non-compliance. "We broadcast 20 hours a day in three
languages: Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Russian," Khalil Khudaiberdiev, the head of Osh
TV, the biggest private television broadcaster in southern Kyrgyzstan, told
EurasiaNet. "We are doing our best to broadcast 50 percent of our programs
in Kyrgyz, which is very difficult to achieve." If pressed, Khudaiberdiev
added, the "only way" for the station to comply with the quota would be to
drastically cut its broadcasting hours.

*Editor's Note*: Chinghiz Umetov is the pseudonym for a Kyrgyz journalist.


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