The ‘wars’ of the Cyrillic alphabet

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Of Costa Rapti

What were the invisible conditions that Putin set for Kazakh President Tokayev in order to assist, through the forces of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO), in suppressing the uprising that broke out in the Central Asian country with the arrival of the New Year? And how should the latter show his gratitude after the success of this operation?

Many media outlets, not only Russian but also Western, claim that one of the possible exchanges will be the cancellation of Kazakhstan’s planned transition to the Latin alphabet.

The political significance of every choice about the writing system around the world cannot be underestimated – especially in languages ​​that, in the absence of their own cultured written tradition, have met their modern needs through adoption.

The choice of writing system is a statement of legitimacy – in ancient times mainly religious. Eg peoples who spoke more or less the same language, but were separated from the dogma, turned to different alphabets.

The main difference between Serbian and Croatian is the use of the Cyrillic alphabet by the orthodox speakers of the first and the Latin by the Catholic speakers of the second respectively (in the Serbo-Croatian dialect continuous, the differences are anything but political).

The language of the North Indian subcontinent, which under British rule was abbreviated to Hindustani, includes the Hindu Hindi, rendered in the ancient semi-syllabic Nagari or Devanagari script (“deva” = divine), and the Oudun Arabic writing.

In any case, as related to the Qur’an, the Arabic script is used with minor adaptations (eg Persian) or used (see Turkish, Albanian) to render many non-Arabic languages ​​of Muslim peoples.

This was the case with the Islamized Turks of Central Asia, such as the Cossacks. But the Bolsheviks, who took control of the once-Russian Empire after the October Revolution, favored writing systems with fewer religious affiliations – or allusions to Greater Russian nationalism. So in 1924 the Latin alphabet was introduced for the Kazakhs, which was considered a carrier of “modernization”.

All in all, a huge linguistic experiment took place in the then newly formed Soviet Union in the 1920s, as, in accordance with the Bolshevik policy of ethnicity, the languages ​​of many peoples of the vast country became written for the first time.

Few languages ​​of the Soviet region (eg Armenian or Georgian) had a long written tradition at that time. The tendency towards Latin was such that even its use for Russian itself was discussed, instead of the Cyrillic script (which, however, was simplified by the removal of some “unnecessary” letters).

This experiment was, however, his greatest success outside the Soviet Union, acting as a model for Kemal Ataturk in order to force him to replace the Arabic script with Latin (enriched with the required insignia), thus completely cutting off modern Turkey from the ottoman secretariat.

In 1940, however, in the Soviet Union, where Stalin now dominated, it was time to retreat in this area as well. Fear of pan-Turanism (since Turkey now used the Latin alphabet) as well as the desire to create a common, more coherent “Soviet identity” forced the use of the Cyrillic alphabet for minority languages ​​such as Kazakh. The trend was so strong that allied countries outside the Soviet Union, such as Mongolia, abandon their traditional writing system for the sake of Cyrillic.

Three decades after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the power of inertia still holds the Cyrillic alphabet in place in countries such as Kazakhstan, home to a large Russian minority (estimated at 40% of the population at the time of independence and at almost 25% now).

However, Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan for 29 years until 2019, as part of his “multidimensional” policy, launched in 2017 the gradual replacement within seven years of the third change in the country’s writing system, with a return to the Latin alphabet. an era of intensive tightening of ties with Turkey within the framework of the Turanian Council (Turkic Council) and “Kazakhization” of place names, with numerous renamings.

In 2021, during Tokayev’s presidency, it was decided that the transition to the Latin alphabet would officially take place on New Year’s Eve 2023, while the version of the Latin alphabet that would be used was revised (with the removal of some insignia). Whether this plan (hailed by some in the West as cultural emancipation from Russian influence) is now intended to be canceled is an open question. It is noted, however, that only 66% of the population state that they use the Kazakh language fluently.

Calling the Cyrillic alphabet “Russian” is, however, something that particularly annoys Balkan peoples such as the Bulgarians, the Northern Macedonians and the Serbs, who not only use it but also claim paternity.

Indeed, this writing system was invented, probably by Saint Clement of Ohrid, in the area of ​​present-day Bulgaria towards the end of the 9th AD. century, with the combination of Greek and Glagolitic letters, ie from the alphabet made for the needs of the Christianity of the Slavs of Moravia by Saints Cyril and Methodius.

And Bulgaria (in which Cyrillic Alphabet Day is celebrated every May) may not yet join the eurozone, but its accession to the EU brought on the banknotes the appearance of the word “euro” in Cyrillic, parallel to Latin and Greek.

In Russia, the Cyrillic alphabet was introduced by missionaries of Bulgarian descent, along with the holy books and the liturgical language, which to this day remains a form of ancient ecclesiastical South Slavic. This does not prevent today’s Russians from considering the Cyrillic alphabet as a valuable national symbol to be preserved. Even the ordinary visitor to Moscow can notice how limited the presence of Latin writing on store signs has been in recent years, apparently with encouragement from above. Vladimir Putin, for his part, signed a law in June banning the term “Shampanskoe” in Cyrillic alphabet on imported French champagnes, in order to protect Russian producers.

But where the Cyrillic alphabet’s “wars” are in danger of leading to real adventures is in the Western Balkans, where in Bosnia and Herzegovina the Serbian federal government has seen it ousted in the constitutional court on the grounds that its decision to impose the exclusive use of the Cyrillic alphabet.

It is noted that in neighboring Serbia (marked by the Yugoslav practice of using two alphabets in parallel), the government of President Vuςiς made the use of Cyrillic mandatory in the public sector and gave incentives such as tax exemptions to the private sector, to imitate it.

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Source From: Capital

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