The Geopolitics of the Cyrillic Alphabet: The New struggle

19.06.2016

Cyrillic VS Latin: The Northwestern Front

Many Finno-Ugric peoples live in Russia. Finland and Estonia accordingly are attempting to do everything possible to spread the Latin alphabet among them as a supposedly “common Finnish” one, even though elementary logic dictates that it would be much easier for both languages (Estonian and Finnish) to begin using the alphabet in use by the rest of the language family. However, if we are talking about the Finnish-speaking peoples of the Russian hinterland, then Latin is used only by about a hundred virtual Erzyan “nationalists” who have grown accustomed to this topic on the Internet and harbor paranoid ideas of uniting Mordovia with Finland.

The situation of the Finno-Ugric script has become a seriously matter only on the western borders of Russia, especially in Karelia. A paradoxical situation prevails since Karelians represent only a tenth of the republic’s population and, in fact, a Karelian literary language has never existed. There are four dialects that are remote from each other and could be considered separate languages: Ludic (close to the Veps language), Livvikovian, which bears a transitional character, Tverin, and actual Karelian. In fact, such a dialect of the Finnish language differs in its phonetic features and has more loan elements from Russian. Finland does not officially recognize “Karelian,” and books and newspapers are printed only in Finnish. In Karelia, a small part of its titular ethnos attempted to take up the Cyrillic alphabet (in two version, one from the pre-revolutionary period and them between 1937-1940), but this initiative did not become widespread and Karelians continue to live without any writing system for their language. Since the late 1980’s, the Finnish language began to become widespread in the republic accompanied by attempts to create a Karelian language using the Finnish alphabet. There were attempts to introduce this “new creation” into the educational system, but in the end Finnish emerged as the leader. On top of this problem,  no law on languages in Karelia was successfully adopted in the ’90’s, and after 2003 the feasibility of establishing Finnish as the official language was excluded. Karelian-Finnish nationalists are still kicking themselves, but Russian remains the only state language in Karelia.

However, complacency was impossible. In 2007, the Karelian government approved a universal version of the Latin alphabet for all the dialects of Karelian language, as well as for the Veps language. The legality of this decision, which is contrary to the Russian federal law, is extremely doubtful.

In addition to the Karelians, the Northwestern Federal District is home to a number of small Finno-Ugric peoples whose languages ​​are close to Finnish and Estonian, such as the Veps, Votes, Izhorians and the recently extinct Livonians. These nations lived without writing until only recently, when in the 1990’s they faced Latinization. The alphabets for these languages were not officially approved, but in practice they use the Roman alphabet as based on the Finnish one with additional letters. This cannot but concern those who despise the preservation and strengthening of a unified Russian information field. Constantly threatened by Finland and Estonia, it is important not to allow the dissemination of their ideological influence on the small nations of contiguous northwestern Russia by any means. One alternative could be introducing the Cyrillic alphabet and, in fact, the struggle for Cyrillic has been quite successful in the case of the Veps, Votes, and Izhorians. In 2013, St. Petersburg published a collection of Vepsian poems by Nikolai Abramov in the Cyrillic alphabet. The previous two books in Vepsian Cyrillic were released as early as 1913 and then in 1992, but authorities never really concerned themselves with the development of the cultural traditions of this small, yet quite stable and not endangered language. There are already two sites on which Veps, Izhorians, and Votes use only Cyrillic, thereby showing their unity with the rest of the Finno-Ugric nations of Russia ((http://veps-kir.ucoz.ru portal and the virtually "dead" website http://veps-kir.wikia.com/wiki/Вепсян_Викий). St. Petersburg has Sunday Cyrillic courses in the Veps’ language, but this only exists thanks to enthusiastic supports who lack the official support of the authorities.

Cyrillic VS Latin: The Southwestern Front

West and southwest of the Russian border, there are vast lands of Orthodox countries which at one point followed suit and used the alphabet created for them by Cyril and Methodius (which has been the Russian civil script since the 19th century). The position of the Cyrillic alphabet on its ancestral lands, however, is strong only at first glance. In fact, the position of Cyrillic were significantly shaken when the Poles introduced their writing in western Russian lands and Croatia, Bosnia, and Romania underwent Latinization.

Cyrillic suffered serious losses in the former Yugoslavia. A universal Serbo-Croatian language, developed in 19th – 20th century, was artificially divided into several new “languages”, the boundaries of which did not coincide with the ancient dialects of these regions. Croatia is dominated by the Latin script engrafted by the Ustaše in 1941-1945 (a slight expansion of Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets in modern Croatia since 2013 will be discussed later). In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the double-failed-state, two alphabets are officially recognized, but Latin is in fact dominant, whose norm is close to Croatian. Montenegro, which gained independence in 2006, has a comically tragic situation in which pathetic attempts have been made to create a “Montenegrin language” from scratch based on the Latin alphabet. And does it need to be emphasized yet again that the Latinization of Bosnia and Montenegro took place under the slogans of joining NATO and the EU?

In Serbia itself, the Cyrillic alphabet is considered to be official, but each year the use of the Latin alphabet (the same as the Croatian) is expanding, and in Kosovo this is promoted by the NATO occupation authorities. The more pro-Western that a Serbian politician is, the more indifferent he is to the preservation of the Cyrillic alphabet. Perhaps it is the favorable background in Bulgaria and Macedonia that allows Serbian Cyrillic to hold its ground. On the other hand, even though optimists note that under Tito Serbian lands were almost generally Latinized, today the share of Cyrillic is at 30%, which is even greater than in the 1970’s-’80’s. But much of this depends on Russian society, which does not concern mere political contacts but, for example, translators of product inscriptions, various instructions, etc. which make it no trouble for Serbs to use exclusively the Cyrillic script (which is provided for in the Serbian Constitution), but this is often not the case!

The translation of Ukrainian into the Latin alphabet (the Polish one?) announced for the first time in Ukraine by Yushchenko and then by Yatsenyuk remains estranged, and even native Russophobes continue to write with the Russian civil script invented by Peter the Great as if nothing has changed. Their Nazi counterparts from Belarus, on the other hand, increasingly openly demand a transition to the Latin alphabet, and sometimes directly to the Polish one. The already scanty idea of Belarusian “independence” among the Zmagars finally became a thing of the past by 2014, replaced by a mere thirst for becoming part of Poland, something even more significant for Latinizers. 

The situation in Moldova is quite dangerous, where in 1989 the Moldovan language using the Latin alphabet was announced to be the official one which is essentially Romanian despite some differences (mainly stylistic). President Voronin was fond of emphasizing this, but he still did nothing to further talks about respecting the Cyrillic heritage. The Transnistrian Moldavian Republic has maintained the Cyrillic and “Moldovan language.” Tiraspol, as Alexander Dugin has noted, has become a center of attraction for Eurasian-oriented Moldovan intellectuals in recent years. The geographical, economic, and political status of Transnistria, however, is weak.

The state of Transnistria is not officially recognized by Russia. Thus, all texts in the “Moldovan” language in Russia are actually written in Romanian, even though the law does not prevent duplicating them in Cyrillic for Transnistrian residents. The Moldovan-language Wikipedia site was established in 2007 but soon frozen by US demands, which is nonetheless evidence that there is a demand in society for such. Moreover, in Romania itself, circles of old Romanian Cyrillic enthusiasts have appeared in recent years.

Everything said about the Moldovans can be applied to the Gagauz. This Turkic-speaking, Orthodox nation has always been closely linked with Russia. Moscow, however, has not adequately aided the Gagauz in their confrontation with the Chişinău administration. As a result, the region has come increasingly under Turkish influence with the Gagauz language semi-officially translated into the Turkish alphabet in 1996. A welcome phenomenon on the front of the struggle for the Cyrillic alphabet was the publication of the full text of the Bible in Cyrillic Gagauz in 2012 on the initiative of the Moscow Patriarchate. 

Cyrillic VS Latin: The Southeastern Front

Now let us consider the Muslim peoples of the South and the East, first and foremost the Turkic-speaking ones, but also those of the North Caucasus. All of these nations used the uncomfortable Arabic script for centuries, only to switch to the Latin and then the Cyrillic (admittedly, not always in a convenient form) in the 1920’s. Since 1991, all of these nations within the Russian Federation and outside of it have felt the impact of Ankara in one way or another. Part of the propaganda work by Pan-Turkists is aimed at distancing these nations from Russia, one of the demands of which is adopting the Turkish alphabet (not the Arabic one, since these forces work in accordance with the interests of globalization, the West, and do not want any return to national roots).

Inside Russia, Tatar nationalists dreamed of a transition to the Latin alphabet (suggested as the Turkish alphabet with additional letters closer to the English version). In 2003, legislation put an end to this dangerous trend on the official level, but we should not expect that pro-Western nationalists in Kazan have merely accepted their defeat.

During the Ukrainian occupation of Crimea, the Russophobic Mejlis actively spread the Latin (Turkish-based) alphabet for a quarter century. Nevertheless, this could not be victorious, and immediately following the liberation of Crimea in March 2014, the Crimean Tatar language based on the Cyrillic alphabet received the status of one of the official languages of the republic.

For North Caucasian languages, which have dozens of consonants, the adaptation of any writing system has always been problematic. However, the Cyrillic alphabet is still much more suitable than Arabic or Latin letters. Latinizing propaganda, however, has indeed been disseminated among the Adyghes and Cherkesses, but it did not expand beyond small circles. The only exception was Cherkess separatism in the 1990’s which, given direct funding from London, introduced the Latin alphabet. After the liberation of the republic in 2000, the Chechen language returned to the Russian alphabet.

But the most ambitious project of Latinization was the one deployed by pro-British and pro-Turkish forces in Azerbaijan. In his time, President Elchibey not only ordered the Azerbaijani language to transition to the Turkish alphabet, but also demanded the language be called “Turkic.” After the beginning of Heydar Aliyev’s turn in 1993, the situation stabilized, the “embrace” of Ankara became much more moderate, and the Cyrillic alphabet retained its dominant position. Only in 2001 did Aliyev finally decide to introduce the Latin alphabet, and the use of the Cyrillic alphabet was completely banned in 2002. This situation clearly shows the cost of the special relationship between Moscow and Baku and the latter’s attitude. At the moment, the Cyrillic alphabet is still used in Azerbaijan (including the Internet), but on a very modest scale. On the territory of Iranian Azerbaijan (where a majority of ethnic Azerbaijanis live), the Arabic alphabet dominates, but the Cyrillic and Latin (in two versions) are still found in use. The Iranian government actively supports Azerbaijani Cyrillic. In Russia itself, Azerbaijanis use Cyrillic more widely, including in Dagestan where the Derbent newspaper is published. However, outside of Dagestan in the Russian Federation, as if nothing has happened, Azerbaijani schools function on the basis of the Latin alphabet. This glaring fact shows that cultural and public figures are not even aware of the problem and are striking indifferent to the unity of the Eurasian information field, or at least have a lack of understanding of this case. Interestingly enough, despite the “alphabet holiday,” the full unification of the Azerbaijani and Turkish languages has been impossible to the point that even European names are written according to completely different transcription rules in Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Following the example of Azerbaijan, Latinization was also proposed in Central Asia, although this failed almost before it began. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia, despite all the chatter, have kept the Russian alphabet for their languages and even Tajikistan has improved its transcription (however, the Arabic script has been approved for the Tajik language for the sake of rapprochement with Iran). In 2013, Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev announced a rather strange initiative for preparing the transition of the Kazakh language to the Latin alphabet, but fortunately no real steps have been taken to this end.

In the 1990’s, laws governing the use of the Latin alphabet for the Uzbek and Karakalpak languages were passed several times in Uzbekistan, but there has been no further movement in this direction. This is partly explained by the fact that local authorities chose the English script, which is incredibly uncomfortable for the Uzbek language, rather than the Turkish alphabet. As a result, the Cyrillic alphabet continues to dominate in Uzbekistan, while some texts are written in both the Latin and Cyrillic scripts.

In Turkmenistan, Latinization was announced in 1995, but began only in the 2000’s (the original and, moreover, uncomfortable version of the alphabet was chosen). However, Turkmen Cyrillic is still widely used in Russia and other countries (including among political refugees from Turkmenistan).

On a side note, the situation of the Kurdish language deserves attention. In Iran, the Kurds use the Arabic alphabet, while in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria their languages have been almost completely transferred to the Latin alphabet (not one, but several competing types). This situation is quite natural and normal, but it bears remembrance that in the Soviet Union, the Kurdish language used mostly the Cyrillic script (and in some cases even Armenian letters). Today, Kurds in Russia prefer the Russian Cyrillic, while in 2009 in Armenia, such was replaced by the Latin alphabet as the Russian leadership failed to muster the funds to preserve the Soviet Kurdish traditions. This fact is an alarming display of the unprincipled, instrumental approach that constantly undermines the foreign policy of the Russian Federation.

Expansion in Breadth

We have thus generally outlined the boundaries where the advance of the of the Latin alphabet has been stopped for the time being. The question is simple: what can conscious Russian patriots do to preserve and spread the native alphabet as an important instrument of Eurasian integration? First, the importance of this issue should be realized. This issue drew lively attention from Lenin, Stalin, Rosenberg, and the new nationalist leaders of the post-Soviet and Balkan states, and it is therefore not far-fetched. It is always an urgent and actual problem of the information war.

Realizing the importance of the issue should be translated into practice, to which one cannot be indifferent. People who know any of the languages discussed above should write in Cyrillic both in everyday life and particularly on the Internet, thus demonstrating a clear civil position. It is necessary to create such sections on Cyrillic Wikipedia, VK social networks and other resources in these languages. Translators working for companies that export goods abroad should remember that the law allows for the use of the Cyrillic alphabet for goods imported to Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, as well as Transnistria. The state is required to provide appropriate instructions for such state institutions as the Russian Post, which prohibits the use of the Latin alphabet in inscriptions of CIS-countries’ languages. Legislation should ensure that media in local languages on the territory of the Russian Federation publishe their information in Cyrillic (such an experiment is already underway in Dagestan). Finally, a government committee for improving existing Cyrillic alphabets should be established for many of those languages which in the Soviet era were deliberately made with a number of deficiencies that can now be corrected (primarily unifying the spelling of letters denoting the same sounds in the alphabets of different nations). Only these measures can give the right to the Russian state to celebrate the Day of Saints Cyril and Methodius on May 24th.

Expansion in Depth

Even in the case of maximum expansion, the use of the Cyrillic alphabet is not the main problem to be solved, since the Russian alphabet could still be perceived as second after the Latin, the alphabet of science. Within Russia itself we need now more than ever to expand the Cyrillic alphabet in all spheres of life as modeled in the early 1950’s. This means that Cyrillic letters should be introduced as much as possible even in mathematics, physics, economic, etc., and even for numbering lists.

In terms of spreading Cyrillic “in depth,” it is important to note the Russian law that bans the publication of advertising slogans in foreign languages without a Russian translation underneath. Of course, the biggest success has been the introduction of the domain “.рф” which in turn led to the 2012 introduction of the Serbian Cyrillic domain “.срб”. In August 2013, the Yanukovich-Azarov government in Ukraine managed to introduce the domain “.укр” which Bulgaria then did in 2015 with the appearance of “.бг”.

A key area where Latin predominance can be challenged is linguistics. Russian scholarly works on linguistics use the Latin transcription (IPA,sometimes adopted in the West for the extensive use of transcribing Asian words) of foreign words ​​(mostly Asian). Thus, Russian linguistics, which has been and remains one of the strongest schools in the world for two centuries, is put at a disadvantage. After all, there are highly accurate systems for Russian transcription to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Georgian, Arabic, Hindi, and Hebrew, but some linguists continually (though fortunately, there are exceptions) use the Latin transcription for such languages. It is unimportant whether this is a matter of habit or a conscious neglect of opportunities for the native alphabet, but as long as Cyrillic transcriptions are not used by linguists for most languages of the world (except Western Europe, but including all of Eastern Europe), Russian linguists will be perceived as initiative and provincial, and not as an independent scientific center under whose influence other regions’ scientists will be compelled to adapt.

Trends of Retreat from the Latin World Monopoly

It is interesting that since 2010, a number of countries have taken important steps towards returning to their old traditional scripts.

For example, Mongolia has adopted a law banning signs in English without duplicating the Mongolian Cyrillic and traditional Mongolian alphabet. Simultaneously, the traditional Mongolian alphabet received official status equal with the Cyrillic alphabet, and is already widely used in Ulaanbaatar. Taking into account that three million Mongolians live in an independent (Outer) Mongolia while four million Chinese Mongols of Inner Mongolia use only the traditional Mongolian alphabet, the official equality of the two scripts is an absolutely positive step which is helping to rectify the 20th century split in the centuries-old Mongolian cultural tradition.

There are even more such examples. Although the tradition of using Hungarian runes died in the far corners of Transylvania in the 18th century, the Orban government in Hungary and especially the Hungarian community abroad in Transylvania and Transcarpathia have initiated an official revival of runes. Traffic signs and government building signs are now sometimes written only in runes without any accompanying Latin script. Although this might not affect the overall situation of the Hungarian literary tradition, such steps can only be considered useful as a symbolic gesture pointing to the non-European, Eurasian, Turkic origin of the Magyars.

Similarly, under the previous social-democratic government in 2013 - 2014, Croatia approved the official status of the Glagolitic alphabet along with the Latin alphabet, and duplicated signs have appeared at public institutions. Croatian youth have learned to write in Glagolitic inscriptions on walls. On the other hand, during the same period Croatia has taken a number of steps towards legalizing the Cyrillic alphabet in Serbian regions. This has been done in the policy framework of general reconciliation with Serbia. Unfortunately, since the outright pro-American puppet government came to power in January 2015, the fate of these initiatives has been left hanging in the balance.

There are positive examples of the retreat of the Latin alphabet in favor of national traditional writing even in the other hemisphere. For example, in the Nunavut Inuit territory which occupies over 20% of Canadian territory, the official language is geometric syllabary. No one can even imagine writing in Eskimo using the Latin alphabet.

Even in England, the number of people using Anglo-Saxon runes has increased. The Old English Wikipedia successfully operates in three orthographies: two Latin ones and one runic.

The Absence of Reasonable Language Policies in Russia

While in some countries the Latin alphabet is forcibly introduced and in others, the state actively opposes this, Russia has virtually no coherent government position on this matter. The main vice which effects the entire management system from top to bottom is a fear of ideas and a basic misunderstanding of their role and the importance of symbols, cultural codes, and ideology. The geopolitical thinking of the Russian leadership almost exclusively thinks in military categories in defining objectives, as it was in the pre-industrial era in the 18th century, and is completely insensitive to the issues of information war and the struggle for the minds of local populations via cultural hegemony.

In the contemporary epoch, it is almost impossible to maintain any military installations or strategic points without informationally treating the local population. What alphabet is used since childhood by the local population will solve the question of the cultural dominance of one party or another in the Great War of Continents. US intelligence agencies have understood this well since at least World War II, and has spent billions of dollars on textbooks, popular literature, propaganda, and, last but not least, the fight against the Cyrillic alphabet. The Russian leadership has never done anything of the sort. Even today, now that Russia has achieved some successes in the information war, these can still not be compared to those of the Anglo-Americans.

The Russian Federation has never directly or harshly put forth the issue of linking levels of diplomatic, political, and economic relations to the status of the Russian language and, in some cases, the Cyrillic alphabet. The prohibition of the Russian language has always evoked routine protests by the Foreign Ministry and the State Duma, but the ban of Cyrillic for local languages never caused such. That the death of thousands of people in 1990-1992 protected the Moldavians from the introduction of the Latin alphabet has never been pondered by the Russian leadership. Its traitorous slogan of “non-interference in the internal affairs of its neighbors” puts the cultural space of the Russian, Eurasian world in a disastrous situation.

Thus, the first-rate leadership of the country are not the best example, since they have never protested against the barbaric acts of the forced Latinization of Russia’s nearest neighbors. While  American organizations give grants to Serbs and Montenegrins to write in Latin, the Russian government and other public and private structures quietly do business with Latinized Azerbaijani or Turkmen documents without doing anything to fight this blatant position. The worst thing is that Latinized schools exist in Russia itself with the connivance of the government and even with state funding.

Requiring the Cyrillic alphabet to be used for Azerbaijani, Talysh, Udi, Khinalug, Kurdish, Turkmen, Uzbek, Karakalpak, Moldovian, and Gagauz on Russian territory will not cost the state anything. It is enough to issue appropriate directives and send them off for translation agencies who work with inscriptions for Russian production firms. And so on. Very small funds are sufficient to “Cyrillize” Karelian, Vepsian, and Azerbaijani schools in Russia. The situation in which Vepsian Cyrillic enthusiasts lack a few thousand rubles for site maintenance, while the Karelian budget spends this money on the installation of road signs in the Latin alphabet in the areas of endangered Vepsians, is profoundly abnormal and threatens Russia’s national security. The situation at Moscow State University in which linguists receive grants from the government of Azerbaijan and, instead of developing the earlier Khinalug alphabet which is similar to the alphabets of all the Dagestani languages, is working on a Latinized alphabet itself unsuitable to the practically used parody of Turkish-Azerbiajani, can qualify as treason on the part of these “scholars.”

As is obvious, the role of stupidity and ignorance in all these egregious situations is much more evident than conscious sabotage. The opponents of Russia are well aware that “ideas do matter”. Therefore, they do not take into account the practical inconveniences sand considerable expenses when they impose the Latin alphabet upon entire countries and peoples (a characteristic detail is that, in the history of mankind, no nation has introduced the Latin alphabet as a result of a referendum - it has always been either by directive or under the lash against the wishes of the population). On the contrary, the Russian leadership, with its notorious “pragmatism”, sincerely believes that the cost of changing the alphabet and renaming streets or demolishing monuments is an extra hole in the budget and a headache for officials. As a result, Russia’s enemies, who understand that name-changes and demolitions are more important for triumph than investments in the economy and profit, leave these “pragmatists” with nothing, unable to see beyond their own noses. 

Fortunately, President Putin’s consultation on  linguistic and cultural policy (the first such meeting in the history of modern Russia) gives some timid hope that the newly formed advisory institution will help change things for the better. But this requires a much higher degree of social activity. Relevant projects and legislative proposals have already been prepared, or are being developed by the enthusiasts who include the author of this text. All the authorities have to do is show that they have a will to fulfill them. The recent proposals in favor of Cyrillization by Alexander Dugin, Mikhail Tyurenkov, Yegor Kholmogorov, and Danil Bondarev must be taken into account.

For a united “Az”

Everything concerning the waves of advance and retreat of the Cyrillic alphabet, and the future prospects of its development, are only a particular (however, the most significant) example of the use of graphics and letters in the ideological struggle in the era of globalization. In the 19th century, the “politicization of alphabets” reached its culmination and has remained at its peak for two centuries. The struggle over script has gone on for a long time whether we like it or not. The only question is whether we, Russians, and the other peoples of Russia, the nations of Eurasia, are up to participate in it. He who does not attack will inevitably retreat. Archpriest Avvakum, who knew that life could be given for an idea embodied in a symbol, sign, or letter, said: “I will die for a unified ‘az’.” No one is inspired to give their lives for economic benefits or the deployment of military facilities on their territory by a culturally and mentally hostile population. Today, despite some partial successes, the Cyrillic legacy uniting Russians and the Eurasian world is once again being persecuted and is once again on the recurring defense. Thus, Russia will have a difficult fight ahead of it for the extension of the use of the Cyrillic alphabet in its breadth and depth, for the Cyrillic reconquest of Eurasia and even the world. The enemies of Russia have driven it into a corner and left it with a simple choice: “die for ‘az’ or win.” The Russian government and Russian society are today faced with this choice: do nothing and inertially celebrate Saints Cyril and Methodius in memory of the once-existing Byzantine-Slavic civilization, or do everything possible to make this day a premonition of the future of the Russian World to be celebrated across Eurasia.