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Russia and ethnic minorities

Review of the legal framework for the protection of the rights of ethnic minorities in the country

Russia more so than any other country knows the real difference between nationalities ethnic, cultural, geographical subjects and nations in a sense of communities of all citizens in a sovereign country. There is a large number of over 190 strongly pronounced ethnic groups in the country.

This rich diversity of Mother Russia is due, primarily, to its territorial and historical peculiarities. The state inherited a very similar kind of structure from the Soviet Union. Article 5 of the Constitution defines the status of national republics within Russia as "states" that "have their own constitution and legislation." And the regions, cities of federal significance, autonomous regions and districts have their own statutes and legislation. There is no other country in the world that confers such a status to its autonomous republics.

The Russian Federation has a very extensive regulatory and legal framework designed to guarantee the protection of the rights to national minorities. Lets take a look at a couple of laws within it.

The Law About languages of the people of the Russian Federation

The state language in accordance with this act (and with reference to the Constitution) is, obviously, Russian. However, republics have a right to establish their own state languages.

In the areas of compact settlements of people who dont have their own nationality-based territorial entities, the language of the population of the given locality can be used in official spheres of communication, along with Russian and those that are official to a respective republic or region.

This legal act identifies state guarantees for equal rights and protection of the languages of the peoples in Russia, provides for their preservation and development, defines cultural and political rights of peoples who speak these languages, including: the right to choose the language of communication, studying and teaching the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation.

Advantages for national minorities, arising from the rights granted to the republics, vary from region to region. For example, in Tatarstan (where Tatars make up more than half of the population), Tatar is a compulsory subject in all schools for everyone without exception. Moreover, in some schools, other subjects are taught in Tatar in all classes. Meanwhile, in Karelia (where the population of Karelians amounts to merely 7.4%), the language of this ethnicity is only studied as an optional subject, 2-3 hours a week.

So, despite attempts to ensure a universal minority rights protection throughout the territory of the country, in practice, the interests of the so-called titular nationalities (part of the population of the state whose nationality determines the official name of the state / entity) can not always be fully met due to the peculiarities of settling and mixing of peoples in the country. In addition, there are such republics as Dagestan, where this issue is particularly acute, and the thorough regulation mechanism in the sphere of languages is yet to be worked out.

Another important instrument is the Law on guarantees of the rights of indigenous and small peoples in the Russian Federation, which establishes the notion of indigenous peoples, the authority of federal bodies of state power to protect original habitat, traditional way of life of small peoples, the guarantee of judicial protection of their rights and other aspects.

The federal law on national-cultural autonomy covers some rights concerning autonomies in Russia, which are also stipulated by the previous law. In addition, its content complements their list with such provisions as: established autonomy rights; ensuring, by both federal and autonomous bodies, the right to preserve and develop national culture; financing and support of activities related to the realization of the rights of national cultural autonomies.

Development of civil society in its core depends on building proper and strong democratic interethnic and federal relations, taking into account the identity of each people and ethnic minority, especially when it comes to such a unique country as the Russia.

Despite the fact that the legal regulation of the issue in RF can be described as sufficiently comprehensive and covering various interests of all the peoples of the country, there are normative inaccuracies leading to unfavorable consequences.

For example, in accordance with the Constitution, the regulation and protection of the rights of national minorities belong to the jurisdiction of the Federation. In the next article (71 and 72), the very same protection of the rights of national minorities, plus the protection of the original habitat and the traditional way of life of small ethnic communities, are in the joint competence of both the RF and its subjects.

Among essential factors affecting the implementation of the norms for protecting the interests of national minorities in the country are : the level of social and economic development of a region, a degree of resolution of demographic, environmental problems, the state of migration relations, the presence of ethnic conflicts and others.

Education in the native languages of the people is encouraged and to some extent promoted by the government. However, according to recent research, unfortunately, there has been a decline in the number of schools providing education in the languages of indigenous peoples or national minorities in the last 10-15 years. For instance, the number of schools where teaching is conducted in the Tatar language has decreased drastically. Lets keep in mind, it is the second largest ethnicity in Russia. It is easy to imagine what the situation is like for other peoples of the country.

Overall, there is a well-developed legal regulatory framework for ethnic minorities to realize and assert their rights in Russia.

Kamilla Napier

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