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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tajikistan Moves to Ban Russian Language

Tajikistan is preparing to ban the use of Russian by state agencies and in official documents to boost the role of the local language, in what analysts see as either a move to win new financial support from Moscow or to demonstrate political independence.

But the move, criticized by a senior Russian lawmaker Thursday, could bring more damage than help to the impoverished country, where remittances sent back from Russia accounted for almost 50 percent of the economy last year, according to World Bank estimates.

Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon called on the government to speed up consideration of a bill that would require state agencies and companies to communicate with one another and issue official documents exclusively in Tajik, RIA-Novosti reported late Wednesday.

The bill would also make knowledge of the local language compulsory for every Tajik citizen, the report said.

“A speedy adoption of a new law about the [national] language is needed,” Rakhmon said in a televised address to the nation, according to a transcript on his official web site in the Russian and Tajik languages. “A state language … is an attribute of political independence,” he said.

Rakhmon’s televised address was dedicated to the anniversary of the law on the national language adopted on July 22, 1989. That law made Tajik the national language but gave every citizen the right to choose between Tajik and Russian when addressing state agencies, RIA-Novosti said.

The text of the bill was not available Thursday on the web sites of the president or the government. Repeated calls to the prime minister’s office went unanswered Thursday afternoon.

Official Tajik web sites are published in Tajik, Russian and English. About 15 percent of the population is ethnic Uzbek, while Russians and Kyrgyz each comprise about 1 percent.

Meanwhile, Tajik First Deputy Foreign Minister Abdullo Yuldashev said Thursday at a news conference in Dushanbe that his country had “excellent relations” with Russia, Central Asian News reported.

Alexei Ostrovsky, chairman of the State Duma’s CIS Affairs Committee, called the bill a “great mistake,” Interfax reported. He predicted that Russia would be “forced” in the future to ban the employment of Tajik migrants who do not know Russian, which would “aggravate the difficult economic situation of the majority” of Tajiks and could lead to street protests there.

Tajikistan borders Afghanistan and fought a civil war with Islamist rebels in the 1990s. Dushanbe and Moscow have been wrangling over financing for a half-completed hydropower station intended to help solve Tajikistan’s chronic power shortages.

Analysts said the language bill was a new chip in the political bargaining between Russia and Tajikistan.

Tajik authorities knew that the bill would be “painful” for the Russian leadership, which has been trying to maintain its influence in the CIS, said Andrei Grozin, an analyst with the Commonwealth of Independent States Institute, established and headed by United Russia Duma Deputy Konstantin Zatulin.

“The aim is to make Russia provide clearer support for Tajik leadership,” Grozin said, referring to Russian investment sought by the Tajik authorities.

Alexander Rahr, a Russia expert with the German Council on Foreign Relations, said Tajikistan was trying to “show that it can do without Russia” and cooperate with countries such as China. But sidelining the Russian language would also impede “globalization processes” in Tajikistan, he said.

It would also harm millions of future Tajik migrant workers to Russia, who would “face big problems because they don’t speak Russian,” Grozin said.

Moscow, which wants Dushanbe to abandon its multilateral foreign policy and make relations with Russia its priority, would likely refuse further investment because of the bill, Grozin said.

Passage of the bill could result in another delay of a visit by President Dmitry Medvedev to Tajikistan, now scheduled for July 30, he said. The visit was initially planned for May. The Kremlin has provided no reason for the delay.

The proposed changes are not the first time Tajikistan’s president has sought to strengthen the status of the national language. In March 2007, Rakhmon dropped the Slavic “ov” from his surname and ordered that all babies born to Tajik parents do the same.

Saparmurat Niyazov, the eccentric former leader of Turkmenistan, banned teaching Russian in schools and ordered that diplomas issued in Russian universities not be recognized in the republic. In December 2007, Ukraine’s Constitutional Court banned the showing of movies in Russian and other foreign languages in Ukraine’s movie theaters despite objections from the country’s Russian-speaking eastern regions.