[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 15:19 GMT
Russia court sticks to letter law
Tatar women break the fast
Muslim Tatars are the second largest ethnic group in Russia
Russia's highest court has ruled that the country's ethnic republics cannot choose which alphabet to use for their languages.

The decision ends a dispute with the republic of Tatarstan, whose people speak a Turkic language quite distinct from Russian.

Most of Russia's ethnic groups use Cyrillic letters, but Tatarstan has a long-term strategy to move to Latin.

Moscow snubs such moves as evidence of separatist tendencies.

The court considered a complaint against a language law adopted earlier this year. It ruled that its provision which says that all languages native to Russia should use the Cyrillic alphabet did not contradict the constitution.

The court did not rule out the possibility of switching to another alphabet, but declared that regional authorities can not do this independently without the consent of the central government.

Changing alphabets

Tatars used the Arabic alphabet until 1927 and then transferred to Cyrillic. But in the 1990s, many of the former Soviet republics, whose people speak other Turkic languages, replaced the Cyrillic alphabet with the Latin one, as used in the Turkish language.

The government of Tatarstan now says only the Latin alphabet can fully express the full range of sounds of its language.

Tatars are the second-largest ethnic group in Russia and have enjoyed a high degree of autonomy from Moscow.

BBC regional analyst Steven Eke notes that after Stalin forcibly russified the entire Soviet Union in the late 1930s, Russian came to dominate all areas of life outside the family.

Since the collapse of the Soviet state, that situation has been reversed, with a steady decline in the use of Russian outside Russia itself.

In recent years, Russian lawmakers have passed a number of measures, including restrictions on foreign words in advertising, which they say will help protect the country's rich linguistic heritage.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific