An academic activist, Albert Razin, died in Russia after setting himself on fire in a political protest about government policy surrounding his native Udmurt language. According to the Moscow Times, the man self-immolated outside the State Council building in Izhevsk, and held a banner that read, “If my language dies tomorrow then I’m ready to die today.”
Razin committed the act to protest a law passed in June that prevents regions from requiring the study of and teaching in minority languages and requires the study of Russian language and culture. According to Radio Free Europe, many in the ethnic republics fear the change would mean fewer opportunities for minority-language speakers and would represent a major intrusion by the federal government into an area previously delegated to the regions.
The Udmurt language is one of 131 languages in Russia that are considered endangered by UNESCO, with a decrease of 3% of speakers from 2002 to 2010. It is an official language of Udmurtia (a federal subject of Russia) and has 340,000 speakers according to the 2010 census.
The line, “If my language dies tomorrow then I’m ready to die today,” seems to be borrowed by the poem “Native Language” by Rasul Gamzatov.
And, vaguely hearing the sound of the native speech
I came to life, and the moment has come
When I understand that would cure me
Not a doctor, not a medicine man, but the native language.
Someone heals from a diseases
An another language, but to me on it it is not sing,
And if tomorrow my language disappears,
I am ready to die today.
Photo by The Moscow Times Credit Vkontakte / zlou18