IZHEVSK, Russia — Hundreds have bid farewell to Udmurt scholar Albert Razin, who died after he lit himself on fire in protest against Russia’s language policies in the capital of the Volga region of Udmurtia.
Udmurt culture and language activists, Udmurtia’s Culture Minister Vladimir Solovyov, and the Izhevsk city-council speaker, Oleg Garin, were among those who gathered at the Udmurt National Theater in Izhevsk on September 12.
Razin died on September 10, several hours after he set himself on fire outside the regional parliament in Izhevsk, ahead of a session. He was holding signs reading: “If my language dies tomorrow then I’m ready to die today,” and “Do I have a Fatherland?”
Local officials have urged journalists “not to cover the farewell ceremony to avoid speculation.”
Meanwhile, a group that promotes Udmurt culture and language has called on local authorities to announce a period of national mourning to honor Razin.
“With his sacrificial death, Albert Razin has called on Russia and the whole world to pay attention to the catastrophic situation of the Udmurt language and to implement measures to save it, to create all conditions to protect and preserve it. Now, we cannot continue to ignore the Udmurt language’s problems and remain indifferent to its death,” the activists wrote on VKontakte.
Earlier, indigenous-language activists from the neighboring regions of Chuvashia and Bashkortostan issued their condolences to Razin’s relatives, friends, and all Udmurts, calling him “a hero of the Udmurt nation, a firm fighter for the rights of oppressed peoples, whose death must unite all Udmurts and other peoples colonized by the Russian Federation in their fight for their ethnic rights.”
Razin’s associate, Andrei Perevozchikov, said that in accordance with Razin’s will, his body will be cremated and his ashes will be spread in his native Alnash district in Udmurtia.
Razin, a doctor of philosophy and an Udmurt activist, was among a group of local experts who had signed an open letter calling on Udmurtia’s parliament not to support a bill on the teaching of “native languages” in schools that has angered representatives of many of Russia’s indigenous ethnic groups.
The bill, approved by Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, last year, cancels the mandatory teaching of indigenous languages in Russia’s so-called ethnic regions and republics where non-Russian ethnic groups are well-represented.
Responding to complaints from ethnic Russians living in these regions, President Vladimir Putin said in 2017 that children should not be compelled to study languages that are not their mother tongues.
The bill is considered in Russia’s so-called ethnic regions, including Udmurtia, as an existential threat to their culture.
The Udmurt language is of the Uralic stem that also includes Finno-Ugric languages. The number of people who speak the language decreased from 463,000 in 2002 to 324,000 in 2010.
There are some 560,000 ethnic Udmurts living in Russia’s Volga region, Kazakhstan, and Estonia.