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1. Legislation: Legislation dealing with the use of languages

The Russian Constitution, adopted on December 12, 1993

Language of the RSFSR Peoples Act from October 25, 1991

Updated (March 2002)

On February 22, the State Duma's Committee on Nationality Affairs recommended the approval of a draft bill according to which ethnic minorities living in Russia could only make use of the Cyrillic script. The members of the Committee had previously rejected a draft bill proposing the right to choose scripts by ethnic groups. Excepting Tatarstan, where the Latin script is intended to be reintroduced after several decades, such measure might also affect other languages that have historically made use of the Latin script within Russia, such as German, Finnish, Estonian, Vepsian, Moldavian or others.

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Updated (July 2002)


The Constitution presently in force was approved by a referendum in December 12, 1993. At any rate, it is clear that the population of the ethnic republics gave less support to the text than those of the homogeneous Russian entities of the Federation. Republics such as Adygea, Bashkiria, Dagestan, Karachay-Cherkess, Chuvashia, Tuva and Mordovia voted against the Constitution, while in other republics the participation was clearly scarce.

The Constitution is introduced by a Preamble in which the multinationality of the people of the Russian Federation is expressed; as well as the adhesion to the principles of equity and self-determination of the peoples is proclaimed. According to Article 1, sovereignty corresponds to the multinational people of the Russian Federation. Article 5 establishes that the Russian Federation is territorially structured to Republics, Territories (Kraja), Regions (Oblasti), Federal Towns, Autonomous Region (Avtonomnaja Oblast) and Autonomous Areas (Avtonomnye Okrugi). Article 65 includes a list of all 89 entities (21 autonomous republics, 6 territories, 49 regions, 2 federal towns, 1 autonomous region and 10 autonomous areas).


















North Ossetia










Komi Permyak




Ust-Orda Buriat



After the independence, the Russian Federation adopted a new linguistic policy. These new regulations for protection of linguistic diversity in Russia are grounded on three basic principles:

  • The maintenance of Russian as the common language in the Federation
  • The conservation and development of the minority languages of the Russian Federation
  • The differentiation in the treatment of the languages spoken in Russia: languages of Russia's peoples, languages of national minorities and languages of the indigenous communities of the Russian Federation

The Constitution

The 1993 Constitution contains four articles with a clear reference to linguistic matters. (See Appendix B - Russia) The central precept regarding this subject is Article 68 (the structure of the Article resembles Article 3 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution). The majority language enjoys the official status in territorial, personal and institutional sphere of the Federation. If the constitutions of the republics establish the respective territorial spheres, other languages of Russia can share such official status as well.

Therefore, there exists a triple constitutional level of the languages protection:

  • A majority language with an exclusive official status throughout the territory
  • Several languages having an official status in the territory of their respective republics, always with a shared official status, at least, with the Russian language
  • The other languages, including those of the national minorities, enjoy a generic clause of constitutional protection, strengthened in the case of the indigenous and small community languages by means of Article 69.

The inclusion of the autonomous areas in the redaction of Article 68.2 would have made it possible for the Chukchee, Koryak, Nenets, Dolgan, Permyak Komi, Khanty, Manis and Evenki languages to have access to the juridical status of official languages, as well as the territorial extension of the official status of the Buriat language.

In addition, according to the second section of Article 68 nothing forces the republics to give the official status to their titular languages. All the same, nothing prevents the republics from proclaiming languages as official, even if they are not the languages of the titular ethnic group of the given territory.

Article 19 guarantees prohibition of language discrimination, which must be understood in reference both to the mother tongue of an individual and to the language that he/she usually or sporadically uses for expressing him/herself. The second section of Article 26 recognizes the right of any person to use the mother tongue, as well as to choose the language of communication, education, training and elaboration of creative work. Finally, Article 29 in its second section also refers to languages prohibiting propaganda in favor of the superiority of any language, race, social class, religion or nation.

The Law on the Languages of Peoples of the Russian Federation was approved on October 25, 1991. The Law puts forward the main principle that inspired the Article 68 of the Constitution, although very much emphasizing the equality of all Russia's languages. (See Appendix B - Russia)

The Federal Law on Education (January 13, 1996) guarantees in its Article 6.2 the right of all people to receive education in their mother tongue, however, according to the resources available in the educational system.

In addition, the Federal Law on the General Principles of the Organization of the Local Authorities in the Russian Federation (August 12, 1995) includes among its articles prohibition of discrimination based on language and confers competencies to the autonomous territorial entities in matters related to education (Article 6.2).

Finally, the Federal Law on Cultural and National Autonomy (June 17, 1996) is relevant because it allows for a complementary protection for the languages that cannot benefit from any territoriality status. They have to be originally from Russia and spoken by national minorities. According to Article 1 of this Law, the national and cultural autonomy of the Russian Federation is a form of national and cultural self-determination by means of a public association of the citizens of the Russian Federation that consider themselves to be members of specific communities, in the interest of the independent establishment of matters related to the preservation of their identity, the development of their language, education and national culture. These associations may be established at a local, regional or federal level.

Again, the Law guarantees the state protection for the different local languages (Article 8) and recognizes the right to maintain and develop the autochthonous languages of the republics and the autonomous territorial entities (Article 9). The Law also recognizes the right to receive primary education in the mother tongue (Article 10), for which the associations of cultural and national autonomy can create educational institutions or special groups of such institutions to provide education in their respective national languages (Article 11).

The combined framework of constitutional regulations and federal legislation allows establishing the official status of the Russian language in the territory of the Federation. As regards minority languages, those, which are spoken in the territory of any of 21 republics, may be proclaimed official in a particular republic. The languages spoken in the territory of the republics, which are not proclaimed to be official, may benefit from the specific linguistic legislation that the respective Republic approves.


The majority of 21 republics have incorporated into their Constitutions an article similar to the Article 68.2 of the Federal Constitution. Thus, the general norm is the proclamation of the titular language as the official one together with Russian. This happened in the Constitutions of the Republics of Adygea, Altai, Buryatia, Kalmyk, Ingush, Khakassia, Karachay-Cherkess, Komi, Mari, Tatar, Tuva, Udmurt and Yakutia.

Meanwhile, the Constitutions of Dagestan, Mordovia, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkar chose several languages for the official level.

According to the establishment of one or several official languages together with Russian, most republics have approved linguistic laws and programs for the application of protection and development of their respective titular languages. (The Law on Languages in the Kalmyk Republic in 1999; both laws on languages in the Komi Republics in May 1992; Tatar in June 1992; Khakassia in October 1992 and Altai in March 1993)

Source: Minority Languages of the Russian Federation, Perspectives for a ratification of the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages, by Eduardo J. Ruiz Vieytez, Universidad de Deusto, Mercator web page, Working Papers, Minority Languages of the Russian Federation.

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Updated (September 2002)


The first act to provide the legal basis for the use of Karelian was “The Non-Russian District and Local Council Legal Status Act” adopted in 1991. According to this law Karelian became the language of the local administration, education and culture in the areas with compact Karelian population. In 1994, the Educational Law was adopted specifying the rights of the Karelian population to be educated in their language.

The work on the Karelian Law on Languages was initiated in 1992 but the first draft was submitted for a discussion only in September 1996. The reason why the process took such a long time was obvious. The majority of the Russian Federation republics that had adopted language laws proclaimed the language of the titular nation to be the state language along with Russian. To grant the state language status to the language lacking writing tradition or demographic and functional capacities was considered to be a very bold decision. However, it was done and brought about a lot of criticism.

A new draft law of 1998 also caused harsh disapproval, as it contained a minimum of amendments as compared to the earlier version. All the discussions and debates resulted finally in a new draft (2000) differing radically from the two previous ones as well as from other language laws enacted in the Russian Federation. The new Languages Act proclaimed Russian to be the sole state language while Karelian, Vepsian and Finnish acquired a status of regional languages.

Source: World Congress on Language Policies, Barcelona, April 16-20, 2002, “Effective Language Politics: The Case of Karelian,” by T.B. Kryuchkova (Russia),


Since the 1990s, the revitalization of the Kalmyk language has started. The 1991 Language Law proclaimed that Russian and Kalmyk are the official languages in the country. Another document that regulates language situation in the Kalmyk Republic was adopted in 1994. The Constitution of Kalmykia guarantees equal rights, assistance to cultural and language development of all ethnic groups living in its territory and preservation of their ethnic originality. The status of the Kalmyk and Russian languages does not limit rights and interests of other ethnic groups living in the Republic.

The Law on Languages of the Republic of Kalmykia guarantees and provides social, economic, juridical support and assistance to all ethnic groups and their languages. The main points of the Kalmyk language revival were worked out at the series of both international and regional scientific conferences and seminars. The Law on the Languages of Ethnic Groups of Kalmyk Republic adopted in 1999 has been worked out in accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The Law provides republican program of maintenance, study and development of languages of the ethnic groups of the Kalmyk Republic.

Source: World Congress on Language Policies, Barcelona, April 16-20, 2002, “Language Policy in the Republic of Kalmykia,” by A.N. Bitkeeva, Institute of Linguistics of Russian Academy of Sciences, Research Center on Ethnic and Language Relations, Moscow, Russia,

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Updated (October 2002)

On June 5, 2002 the State Duma adopted in its first reading a bill establishing the Cyrillic alphabet as the written basis for all state languages in the Russian Federation (343 in favor, 15 against, 1 abstaining from voting). One of the authors of the bill, Unity Deputy Kadyr-Ool Becheldei, said the bill was designed to take into account the interests of Russia and its citizens and not just those of separate regions. Fandas Safiullin, a deputy who was elected from a single-mandate district in Tatarstan, tried to introduce another bill, which would have allowed each region to select its own alphabet for Russia's various national languages. During debate over the bill, Safiullin commented that, “no Russian tsar, including Ivan the Terrible, encroached upon the written languages of the peoples of Russia.”

It is generally believed that the bill is aimed at Tatarstan, which recently introduced the Latin alphabet for its language.

Source: Minelres Archive,, RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly, Vol. 2, No. 20, June 19, 2002

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Updated (December 2002)


The State Duma on November 15, 2002 passed in its second and third reading an amendment to the Law on the Languages of the Peoples of the Russian Federation. The amendment would mandate the Cyrillic alphabet to serve as the basis for the written languages of all peoples in the federation. The use of any other alphabet would have to be approved by a special federal law.

Boris Panteleev, a legal expert for the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, believes that there are no legal grounds to overturn Tatarstan's law introducing the Latin alphabet. In a commentary released on November 15, Panteleev also argued that the Cyrillic-only law violates several articles of the Russian Constitution:

  • Article 55, Part 2, which states that no laws should be issued that revoke or reduce citizens' rights and freedoms
  • Article 68, Part 2, which states that republics have the right to establish their own state languages
  • Article 68, Part 3, which states that the Russian Federation guarantees all peoples the right to preserve their native language and creates the conditions for its study and development

Source: Minelres News, RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly, Vol. 2, No. 39, November 20, 2002,

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Updated (March 2004)


The Tatar State Council on February 26, 2004 appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court to review the federal Law on Languages of the Peoples of the Russian Federation.

The legislators challenged a provision in the law requiring that the state languages of the Russian Federation republics use Cyrillic-based alphabets. They argued that republics have the constitutional right to adopt their own state languages.

The Tatar language used the Latin alphabet in the 1920s and 1930s. The State Duma and the Federation Council mandated the use of Cyrillic in amendments to the law in late 2002.

Source: Minelres News, February,

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Updated (May 2004)


According to legislation, the programs of national television and radio stations must be broadcast in the Russian language. In the regional mass media Russian, the state languages of the republics, as well as other languages of the peoples living on the territory may be used.

As regards translation and dubbing for cinema and video production, Russian, the state languages of the republics and the native languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation may be used, taking into account the interests of the population.


This law deals with aboriginal small-numbered peoples (living in communities of less than 50,000 people) and the peoples of the Far North. The list of such peoples is approved by the government. The law also guarantees the right to receive and disseminate information in native languages and to establish mass media.

Article 10. The rights of the small numbered peoples to the preservation and development of their original culture

Members of the small-numbered peoples, the associations of the small-numbered peoples for the purposes of the preservation and development of their original culture and according to the legislation of the Russian Federation are eligible:

To preserve and to develop native languages; to set up public organizations, cultural centers and national-cultural autonomies of small-numbered peoples, the funds of the small-numbered peoples' development and the funds of the financial support to the small-numbered peoples; to create according to the RF legislation and their material and financial capacities training groups comprising the members of the small numbered peoples in order to teach them the traditional economic activities and crafts.

No normative act on broadcasting touches on the use of the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation (including obtaining licenses, elaborating the program concept, etc.). With the exception of nationwide broadcasters (who work in the state language), broadcasters are entitled to distribute programs in the language of the peoples of the RF.


The RF Law on Mass Media establishes only the general conditions for issuing and canceling licenses for television and radio. A number of governmental rulings (# 1359 of December 7, 1994, #698 of June 26, 1999, etc.) specify the procedures of licensing. None of the Acts mentioned in this section (due to the restrictive scope of their regulation) specify the conditions of minority participation in establishing and organizing broadcasting.

The Law on Mass Media envisages that a language in which the mass medium is going to be published should be indicated during the registration. It also requires the registration if the language is changed. However, the choice of the language is made by a founder.


The Law on Advertising allows the distribution of advertising in the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation in addition to the state language.

Article 5. General Requirements of Advertising

2. Advertising on the territory of the Russian Federation shall be disseminated in the Russian language and, at the discretion of the advertiser, additionally in the official languages of the republics and native languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation.

This statute does not apply to radio broadcasts, television broadcasts or printed publications produced exclusively in the official languages of republics or in the native languages of peoples of the Russian Federation or in foreign languages, nor to registered trade marks (service marks).

Source: Minority-language Related Broadcasting and Legislation in the OSCE, Program in Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP), Center for Socio-Legal Studies, Wolfson College, Oxford University & Institute for Information Law (IViR) (, Universiteit van Amsterdam (Study commissioned by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities), April 2003, edited by T. McGonagle (IViR), B. Davis Noll & M. Price (PCMLP),

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Updated (August 2004)


In the Russian Federation, the Constitution, the norms of international law and intergovernmental treaties are the main sources of legislation dealing with the issue of languages used in broadcasting.

Though the Constitution adopted on December 12, 1993 guarantees equality regardless of nationality, it does not provide any special privileges for national minorities (Article 19). The language-related provisions of the Constitution are developed in statutes.

Article 69 of the Constitution guarantees the rights of aboriginal numerically small peoples. A special regime regarding such peoples (living in communities of fewer than 50,000) and the peoples of the Far North is set down by the 1999 Statute on the Guarantees of the Rights of Numerically Small Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation. This statute provides them with the right to original socio-economic and cultural development and obliges the Government to assist by devising programs for support, by allocating funds, etc. It guarantees the right to preserve and develop native languages as well as to receive and disseminate information in native languages and to establish mass media.

Article 26 stipulates that everyone has the right to use his/her native language. The Constitution further establishes (Article 68) that while Russian is the state language of the Federation, the republics have the right to set their own state languages, which in fact become parallel official languages in a respective territory. However, Russian still remains the dominant language and also the language of communication between all ethnic groups in the country. The other languages are widely spoken and actively promoted in 21 national republics of the Federation, as well as in 11 autonomous territories and regions and other areas densely populated by ethnic groups.

The use of the state language and other languages in the territory of Russia is further regulated by the 1991 Statute on the Languages of the Russian Federation. Article 20 of the Statute deals specifically with languages used in the media. In particular, it states that broadcasts of all Russian TV and radio channels are conducted in Russian. At the same time, the state languages of the republics, as well as other languages of the peoples living on their territories can be used in the mass media.

In practice, "Rossia" (national Russian TV channel) has slots for broadcasting of regional stations, and whenever applicable, they broadcast in the national languages. These stations are part of the Moscow-based Russian TV and radio holding company.

In October 2003, the State Committee on Minorities and a number of cultural minority organizations of the Karel Republic formally complained to "Rossia" about the disappearance of broadcasting in the Karel, Finn, and Veps languages in the regional slots. The reason was that in early 2003, there was a change in the broadcasting concept of the state channel, without taking into consideration the opinion of local authorities and non-governmental organizations.

Several national republics (Tartar, Ingush, etc.) have recently established state-run broadcasters that are not subordinate to Moscow. No normative act regulating broadcasting deals specifically with the use of the languages in Russia.

The 1991 Statute on the Mass Media establishes only the general conditions for issuing and suspending/revoking licenses for television and radio broadcasters. Several governmental rulings (No.1359 of December 7, 1994, No.698 of June 26, 1999, etc.) specify the licensing procedures. None of these acts specifies the conditions of minority participation in establishing and managing of broadcasting.

The Statute on the Mass Media envisages that the language, in which a mass medium is going to be disseminated, (print or broadcast) should be indicated during the registration process (Article 10). However, this choice is made by a founder of the mass media. The language does not influence the outcome of the registration process, though the Statute requires re-registration if the language is changed (Article 11).

The 1995 Statute on Advertising gives great freedom to the use of languages in advertising in the mass media (Article 5). It permits advertising in Russian and, at the discretion of an advertiser, additionally in official languages of the republics and native languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation. This statute does not apply to radio and television broadcasts or printed publications produced exclusively in the official languages of the republics or in the native languages of peoples of the Russian Federation or in foreign languages.

Source: Regulation of Minority-Language Broadcasting, by Tarlach McGonagle, Institute for Information Law (IViR) of the University of Amsterdam and Andrei Richter, Moscow Media Law and Policy Center (MMLPC),

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Updated (September 2004)


In general, new pluralist and democratic language legislation in Russia provides peoples of the country with an equal legal foundation for revitalizing and development of their languages. Legislative acts on concrete languages are to be adopted on the regional level.

Regional laws are different and depend not only on the variety of language situations and economic difficulties but also on a percentage of a particular national minority in the total population of the Republic.

Source: World Congress on Language Policies, Barcelona, 16-20/04/2002, "Language Law in Russia: Models of Implementation in Tyva and Khakassia", by Tamara Borgoiakova, Khakass State University, Russia, (,

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Updated (February 2005)


On December 28, 2004, the Tatar Supreme Court decided to overturn the 1999 Tatar Law adopting the Latin script for the Tatar language. Such decision corresponds to the ruling of the Russian Constitutional Court from November 16, 2004 based on the Federal Law on the Languages of the Peoples of the Russian Federation1, which establishes that each Republic within the Federation may choose its own state language, but the use of the Cyrillic alphabet for all official languages is mandatory.

The origin of the ruling was an appeal filed by the Tatarstan State Council (Parliament) and the Tatarstan Supreme Court, which read that the Russian Federal Law on Languages runs counter to the Constitution. Tatar representatives originally believed that the Latin alphabet is more suited for transliterating the sounds of the Tatar language (a Turkic language) than the Cyrillic alphabet.

The Russian Constitutional Court argued that by the introduction of another script without a special permission from the federal legislative bodies Tatarstan risked threatening of Russia's linguistic integrity.

On the other hand, in November 2004, the same Court ruled in favor of bilingual teaching in kindergarten and general primary and secondary schools. Thus the Republics in the Russian Federation may introduce the teaching of non-Russian state languages to the same extent as Russian is taught.

Source: Mercator News, January 2005,

1 amended in 2002.

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Updated (November 2006)


The Regional Development Minister, Vladimir Yakovlev, presented the revised version of the draft State Nationality Concept at a session of the Federation Council’s Commission on Nationality Policy on 22 November 2006. The session was attended by senators and parliamentary speakers from individual federation subjects.

The initial version contained a formula for the creation of "a single multinational society in which the Russian people [russky narod] would play a consolidating role". This triggered outraged protest from non-Russian minorities, and has been watered down in the revised version, which envisages a "unifying role" for the Russian people in the process of forming "a single sense of civic awareness" [grazhdanstvennost].

Source: RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY NEWSLINE Vol. 10, No. 217, Part I, 27 November 2006

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Updated (November 2007)


Chechnya has a language problem – many adults cannot read or write in the Chechen language; meanwhile, many children start school with only a poor knowledge of Russian, the language of tuition. A government program to promote teaching through the medium of Chechen in schools instead has had little effect so far.

In April, Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov, signed a law “on languages in the Chechen Republic” which seeks to preserve and develop the Chechen language.

The law also entitles children to choose their language of instruction in schools – be it Russian, Chechen or another language.

The Education Ministry says that they have never ordered primary schools to adopt a Chechen language-based curriculum; the transformation of the curriculum from Russian to Chechen is a long-term process requiring a great deal of effort and expense.

First problems, concerning the language shift, have arisen at the beginning of the new school year – it turned out that the curriculum drawn up by the Ministry of Education and Science was entirely in Russian.

Only two subjects, Chechen language and literature, are now taught in the local language. For all other subjects, Russian is used as the language of instruction. In practice, however, teachers often have to switch between the two languages, as a new generation of children growing in Chechnya does not speak Russian well. Nevertheless, many parents want their children to study in Russian because proper knowledge of it makes it easier for them to attend higher levels of education.

Ruslan Betrakhmadov, chair of the Chechen Parliament's Committee on Science, Education, Culture and Information Policy, said the idea behind passing a law was to confront those in the education system who oppose efforts to introduce the Chechen language in schools. He also added that passing the law was not about removing Russian from the teaching program. Instead, there are three major factors needed to make the new system work: proper study material, teachers who can and want to teach in the Chechen language, and finally public support for it.

In general, passing of the law only reflects a wider debate about the status of the local language. Those who favor the new education system think that if Chechen is regarded as a state language it should be preserved and developed.

Source: Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Caucasus Reporting Service, November 22, 2007 by Ilias Matsiev

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