New law discriminates indigenous languages

The native children on the tundra in Nenets Autonomus Okrug have no longer any guaranteed education in Nenets languages. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

The controversial law on education, signed by President Vladimir Putin on New Year’s Eve, states that classes in non-Russian languages cannot be conducted to the detriment teaching in Russian language.


There are more than 40 different indigenous languages in Russia, many of them in the Arctic, from the Sami people on the Kola Peninsula in the west to the Chukchi people on the Chukchi Peninsula in the Far East.

With the new law, teaching of non-Russian languages should not be promoted or implemented if this damage the teaching of Russian language, reports NRK-Sàpmi.

The law enters effect from September 1, the date when all Russian schools start up after summer vacation.

In the Barents Region, indigenous children get education in their native language in Lovozero and several other Sami villages on the Kola Peninsula and the Nenets children in Naryan-Mar and in the tundra villages have education in Nenets languages.

The Norwegian Barents Secretariat has in addition provided grants to the so-called tundra school, teachers moving around with the nomadic Nenets families to teach in native language. Anja Salo is advisor on indigenous peoples issues with the secretariat.

“It is hard to say how the new law will be applied, but this is a development of deep concern. It could be a real setback for the revitalization of indigenous peoples culture and languages in the Russian north,” says Anja Salo.

The law text officially recognizes the right to education in languages of Russia’s ethnic minorities, but does not make it mandatory of completely guarantee such education.