Dear colleagues, experts, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to participate in today’s Conference and to greet you on behalf of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, an elected assembly representative of over 200 000 local and regional communities of our continent. I speak also on behalf of the multi-ethnic population of the Russian Federation, and in particular the Republic of Tatarstan as one of its regions.
Minority languages are a major component of the cultural diversity of Europe. Their preservation, under the international legal principle of positive discrimination, is a major factor in preserving diversity itself and establishing the role of minority languages in regional development. This role often depends on political and legal status granted to minority languages in their regions of origin, and can be extremely important for the socio-cultural, economic and ecological development of the region.
Europe could be seen as a model in this respect, combining many nations representing different ethnic groups, unique with respect to their diversity and their specific roots and customs. This has been reflected in the European Cultural Convention (1954).
Reaffirming culture and language identity is particularly important for the promotion of tolerant attitudes with respect to other cultures, while preserving and developing its own customs, traditions and values.
The concept of inter-cultural dialogue, linked closely to the preservation and use of minority languages, is of paramount importance for Russia as multi-ethnic and multi-confessional civilization. Over the centuries, European and Asian traditions and customs have been mixing on this vast territory, contributing at the same time to the cultural richness of the whole European continent.
The year 2008 was proclaimed The European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. Today’s Conference fully corresponds to the Council of Europe and the Congress principles in promoting inter-cultural dialogue and tolerance.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Cultural enrichment is a source of welfare and economic development beneficial to all citizens.
Individual multilingualism means personal enrichment. With every new language people learn, they open a window on to a new culture, broaden their personal horizons, increase their tolerance and far-sightedness and improve their individual opportunities for employment and promotion.
This was one of the reasons for the proposal from the Barcelona European Council in 2002 that schools should teach two further languages in addition to a national language.
Considering that this meeting takes place in Norrbotten County (Norrbottens län), I would like to remind us that in here, in Sweden, there already exists an important number of different ethnic groups (Swedish, Sami, Finnish, and others), and that we can draw interesting lessons from the experience of their co-habitation, which constitutes an important contribution for all of us attending this Conference.
I would also like to welcome the representatives of the Secretariat of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Secretariat of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages, the European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning, and the experts.
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages is a real tool for European local and regional authorities. We do understand that the Charter’s ratification provides the communities with a broad range of possibilities on minority languages safeguarding and development. It promotes stability between people of different languages, ethnic groups and confessions.
Russia signed the Charter in 2001, and there are active consultations concerning its ratification at present. Furthermore, some of the Russian regions have actively introduced the Charter’s key regulations.
The Tatarstan experience shows that a lot of provisions are successfully implemented in legislation of the Republic and that public authorities follow the major principles of the Charter. Nevertheless, safeguarding and adequate development of my native language – Tatar – implies not only speaking Tatar on the territory of the Republic, but also creating conditions of its introduction into the field of education; and practicing the language also in other regions and entities of the Russian Federation where Tatar communities live.
Let me illustrate how we have introduced the Charter key provisions in Tatarstan. In 2003 we enacted the Law on ethnic-and-cultural autonomies, which binds the Republic to provide minority languages with social, economic, and legal protection. Tatarstan recognizes and guarantees equal rights for minority languages concerning its practice and further development and it enables their unrestricted development.
Later on, in 2004 we accepted the revised Programme on Languages Safeguarding, Studying and Development within Tatarstan. Its priorities are: Russian and Tatar development, minority languages development, and promotion of the Tatar language outside the Republic. The fundamental principles of the Programme are in full compliance with the Charter.
For instance, one special article of this Programme makes provisions for creating certain terms of reference and conditions within the local government system, providing financial support for child-care centres (pre-schools), secondary schools and other educational institutions. These are some of successful examples how the Charter regulations are implemented in the Russian regions. (esp. articles 8, 10, 12 of the Charter).
Dear colleagues, experts, ladies and gentlemen,
As the Chair of the State Council – Parliament – of the Republic of Tatarstan, I can attest to the fact – proudly – that our Republic has a long standing tradition and practice with regard to tolerance and good-neighbourly relations, enabling different cultures to co-exist in peace and mutual understanding. In Russia, it has become a tradition to pay special attention to inter-ethnic and inter-confessional co-existence. Connected with economic development and social stability, these are the main features of our Republic.
Moreover, we interpret “tolerance” in a very broad sense. Indeed, in our multi-ethnic Republic we do respect other cultures, traditions and customs. We also recognize and protect spiritual values and heritage of “other” ethnic groups.
The Tatar language is widely used around the Republic, including administrative authorities. In addition, a number of mass media use Tatar and other minority languages. We have successfully implemented a set of measures in order to ensure that teaching and learning of Tatar and minority languages and literature is included in schools and vocational training. Presently, there are 8 minorities languages taught in schools in Tatarstan, and there is a 6-languages school education.
Being a part of the Republic’s State policy, the language policy is directed towards optimal performance of both Russian & Tatar (as State languages) and other minority languages in all spheres of cultural and economic life of the Republic.
This is a concrete way to promote “inter-cultural enrichment” which is an on-going process within the Republic of Tatarstan and also largely shared by other entities and regions of the Russian Federation.
The protection and preservation of minority languages has a lasting effect in terms of promoting culture as well as economy, ensuring that employment, education and quality of life are nurtured on the ground, which in turn prevents economic emigration. This is vital to ensure that measures on promotion of minority languages are properly targeted.
Minority languages are playing a positive role in regional development because preserving these languages necessitates a long-term development strategy, based on conservation of existing resources and taking account of the region’s ecological load capacity and precautionary principle for future generations.
Dear colleagues, experts, ladies and gentlemen!
Let me remind you that the major objective of the Charter is to promote the cultural heritage of Europe through safeguarding minority and regional languages. The Charter encourages the use of minority and regional languages in legal, social and economic, and in cultural sphere, as well as in the field of education and mass-media.
The majority of the regions of the Russian Federation today developed their inter-ethnic relations in compliance with the framework of international law, particularly within the frame of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. At the meetings with my colleagues from other regions of Russia, while signing official documents, I have noted with great interest that the regional languages are increasingly used in official activities, and in official documents.
Last month, on 26 September, we all celebrated “The European Day of Languages” aimed at promoting linguistic diversity and the ability to speak another language. I would like to use this opportunity to express my conviction that today’s Conference will also contribute to safeguarding and developing regional languages and regional cultures throughout Europe, including Russia.
Thank you for your attention.