Feb 28, 2020

Lezghin: Day of Native Languages of Russia Inspires all-Russian Initiative for Linguistic Protection

The Russian Ministry of Education has started an all-Russian initiative called “Native Languages of Russia”, which has been timed to coincide with the celebration of the International Day of Native Languages.

Below is an article by Federal Lezghin National-Cultural Autonomy (FLNKA), originally published 14/02/2020 in Russian.


The project is being realised by participating schools, which can take part as a group or individually. As part of the initiative, participants have to record a video of themselves reciting a poem in their native language about their parents, hometown or village, as well as a historical event. The video is then subsequently put up on social media under the hashtag #РодныеЯзыкиРоссии (#NativeLanguagesOfRussia). All participants will receive a certificate for taking part, with the maker of the best video winning a prize.

The Mission

The main goal of the initiative is to bring attention to the native languages of the many peoples of the Russian Federation, which despite having the status of official (and in some cases de-jure) language of a republic or territory, as well as the support of the state, many of them remain extremely vulnerable and are faced with the threat of extinction.

The difficult situation of native language preservation in Russia can be seen in the most multinational (and thus most complex) region – the Republic of Dagestan, where dozens of nationalities are fighting for the preservation of their languages. In Russian, the meaning of the term “nationality” (natsional’nost’) is coterminous with ethnicity and refers to the different peoples within Russia, and not to other peoples outside Russia.

Although the Lezghins have a fixed status in Dagestan (along with 13 other nationalities), it is difficult to develop and modernise the language adequately and many languages (smaller and without the recognition enjoyed by the Lezghins) are simply struggling to survive.

Lezghins at the forefront

Within the Republic of Dagestan, among those fighting to protect their language are the Lezghins. The Suleiman-Stal’skiy region, whose government has taken perhaps the most action in support of native language protection. This is to the credit of the head of the region Nariman Abdulmutalibov, who with the support of wealthy sponsors actively investing in the bright future of the Lezghin language, in particular the well-known socio-political activist Imam Yaraliyev, is supporting a large number of cultural and linguistic projects in the municipality, which embrace all local villages and schools without exception.

Similar initiatives are being undertaken in Kyurek, where videos showing the participation of flashmobs were broadcast by local Kasumkhyur television, and many of them were published on the region’s adminstrative website.

However, it is worth mentioning that it is not only in Suleiman-Stal’skiy region that the question of the popularity of the Lezghin language is gaining traction in. There are projects that unite all Lezghin regions and communities beyond the small region’s borders. In particular, one of the main cultural events of recent years – the International Total Dictation in the Lezghin Language, which was supported by all municipalities in Southern Dagestan, the cities of Derbent and Makhachkala, and communities in many cities in Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Turkey, and other countries.

Lezghins, united by their love for their native language, have managed to realise the fantastic initiative, which has brought to light new opportunities to unify the intelligentsia and the general public. It’s already understood that the given area has great potential to raise the struggle of the Lezghin people for their language, culture and self-determination to a new level.

Turning to countrymen who care about the situation of the language, the FLNKA is calling for proactive participation in the activism, initiated by the Russian Ministry of Education, as well as in other projects connected to the protection and development of native languages. It is important to understand that some words and measures in the fight for the Lezghin language will have no effect without real and constant communication in the language within families and wider usage of it in public life, so far as it is possible.


Photo by FLNKA