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Language Legislation Could Heighten Inter-Ethnic Tension in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian country in which Russian remains an official language. At present, Russian is designated as the "language of interethnic communication" between the country's 4.9 million population, which includes Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Russians, Germans, Chechens, Uighurs and other ethnic groups. Kyrgyz ranks as the "state language," a somewhat subordinate ranking that obliges members of government to have a basic understanding of the language.

Under the legislation passed by Kyrgyzstan's lower house of parliament on February 12, Kyrgyz would assume de facto status as the country's primary official language. Candidates for political office would need to demonstrate proficiency in, not merely an understanding of Kyrgyz. The same would hold for students wishing to enter or graduate from university. The law also would establish a language quota in mass media, stipulating that at least one third of all news broadcasts and advertisements be in Kyrgyz. Russian would remain an official language, but Kyrgyz will also be designated a "language of interethnic communication." State officials would be required to rely primarily on Kyrgyz.

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Emil Mamataipov is a pseudonym for a freelance journalist based in Bishkek.

Language Legislation Could Heighten Inter-Ethnic Tension in Kyrgyzstan

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