Golbe transcripts the Putin´s commentary, who says: “Russian language forus is the state language, the language of inter-ethnic communication, and it cannot be replaced by anything else. It is the natural spiritual skeleton of all our multi-national country. Everyone msut know it … The languages of the peoples of Russia are also an inalienable aspect of the unique culture of the peoples of Russia.” The speech is clear: Russia has a peculiar, unique culture whose multinational unity is woven by the language, the center, the main structure of it´s culture. According to Putin, the non-Russians languages are not property of the State as the Russian language is, but belong to their respective peoples. The Constitution guarantees their study, but voluntarily and not mandatory like the mother tongue. “To force someone to study a language which is not his native tongue is impermissible”, said the President. The exception is the Russian, mandatory in all whole country.
The emphasys in the peculiarity of the Russian culture is a recurrent narrative in Putin´s speeches, who usually evokes espiritual and civilizational issues when he addresses this theme. It clear in his speech of the July 20th that the Russian culture is the link that unites the multiethnic nation, a prevailing culture.
"The concern of an Empire in organizing it´s conquered territories in a segregated way, giving to some greater cultural and political weight than to others, created a conception of ethnical belonging as an inherent attribute of each individual, being imutable and inherited." (p. 179)
"...a transnational cultural space whose main element is the Russian language. With no doubt, the ideological dimension of this concept cannot be ignored: the Russian world is first and foremost a world of Russian colonization, with it´s history of 'russificiation' of the new territories as the main strategy of cultural assimilation." (p. 182)And she continues:
"However, the result of these policies has become a conception of ethnic nationality based primarily on linguistic belonging. In this way, the Russian language, a language difficult for non-native speakers, has become the univeral common denominator for a multilingual and multinational country like Russia. Paraphrasing Elias, the Russian language effectively changed in an institution that allows to speak of the existence of a national habitus in Russia" (p. 182)
"In appealing to the needing of education to provide a common moral and social education, it demanded the sharing of common values and ideas about the world and life (...), worldliness that the action of the political power (...) would have to become hegemonic in order to 'create' rationalistic and patriotic citizens. What, as we saw, didn´t exempt the socializing role, if not from a civil religion (...), at least some kind of 'secular' or 'civic religion'" (p. 302-303)
From this we can conclude that the Russian state isn´t only an administrator of the public affairs, but above all a structure which seeks to embrace the whole of society and, therefore, to define the role and values that it must bear. Looking at the country´s history described by Sumner, as the Russian state expands, it also expands it´s activities within various domains of public life, particularly since the Peter the Great administration. In Russia, State and society walk thogether or, to be more exact, the State walks above the society and even the Church.
When Golbe says that Putin didn´t make reference to non-Russian republics, but only the nations without their own territory, it´s implied that the priority of the Russian language over all others goes beyond the school and embrace the entire state apparatus. This doesn´t means that these groups don´t have their own state apparatus capable of propagating the mother tongue, but rather that these languages are of secundary importance to the national project of promotion of the Russia´s mother tongue.
I don´t intend here to qualify what Putin said, but to conclude this brief analysis by stating that for what we call Russia, the Russian ethnicity doens´t prevail over the others only in number (equivalent to 82% of the country´s population), but also formally through official promotion of their mother tongue. In this way, the state acts to promote national and territorial unity through a specific culture, but without necessarily depreciate other cultures, since there´s no legally prohibition of teaching the language of the non-Russian ethnicity.
* Published in Portuguese on July 24th, 2017.