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‘This Was A Political Protest’: Widow Of Udmurt Scholar Hopes His Death Will Bring Change

by September 22, 2019 Market

The police investigators were insistent and very pointed in their questions, according to Yulia Razina: Why did her husband douse himself with gasoline and set himself on fire in this central Russian city’s main square?

How did he get along with relatives? With his friends? Had he lost his job?

“‘This was a political protest,’ I told them,” Razina said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Tatar Bashkir Service. “Ancient people have a custom that when a person is oppressed, offended, that he goes to the gates of the offender to prove his case.”

Albert Razin’s death on September 10 in a hospital, hours after he set himself alight, stunned residents of this city 1,100 kilometers east of Moscow, in Russia’s Volga Ural region.

It drew attention to a city better known as the home of the legendary weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov. More importantly, it drew attention to the issue that Razin, 79, was so passionate about that he was willing to kill himself the fate of his native language, Udmurt.

With linguistic ties to Estonian, Finnish, Karelian, and even Hungarian, Udmurt is spoken as a native language by just 324,000 people, according to 2010 census figures. About 560,000 people claim ethnic Udmurt heritage, living primarily in Russia’s Udmurt Republic, as well as in Kazakhstan and Estonia.

The language is one of dozens spoken throughout Russia, primarily by ethnic groups other than Russian Slavs. And it’s one of many that is in danger of dying out.

This is what Razin, a scholar of philosophy and longtime advocate of the language, felt so strongly about.

For hours before he lit himself on fire, he had stood on the main square in Izhevsk holding two signs that read: “If my language dies tomorrow, then I’m ready to die today” and “Do I have a Fatherland?”

Razina said her husband had never discussed the possibility of killing himself.

“Never,” she told RFE/RL. “He always talked about the value of life. He spoke of patience. And the Udmurt have this saying: ‘If patience is not broken, the soul cannot be broken.’ People would come to [him] saying that life had lost all meaning. And he could find the right words for everyone, and people would come back to life.”

Nonetheless, she said she understood why he killed himself. “He was desperate,” she said. “He just threw up his hands. When you understand that this world is no longer for you….”

Russia For Russian

Razin had sought to raise awareness about the fate of Udmurt and other languages for years. The issue gained new urgency for him in 2017, when President Vladimir Putin said that children should not be compelled to study languages that are not their mother tongues and that are not considered official, “state languages.”

The comment came after mounting complaints from ethnic Russians in some regions with large non Slavic populations.

Activists and advocates for Russia’s ethnic minorities have also complained that Putin’s rhetoric increasingly echoes Slavic nationalist themes that have then been widely embraced. They say that has led to further discrimination against non Slavic ethnic groups and their cultures.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.