Caravanserai
Politics

To shed colonial past, Uzbekistan must implement state language law: observers

By Rustam Temirov

Amendments to the state language law require that advertising in Uzbekistan be in Uzbek. Translations into other languages must be smaller than the main Uzbek text, correctly express its content and occupy no more than 40% of the overall advertising space. [Caravanserai]

Amendments to the state language law require that advertising in Uzbekistan be in Uzbek. Translations into other languages must be smaller than the main Uzbek text, correctly express its content and occupy no more than 40% of the overall advertising space. [Caravanserai]

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan must work quickly to implement new amendments to its state language law that require advertising in the country to be in Uzbek, rather than Russian, officials and observers say

Nationwide, little is being done to fulfil the new amendments, signed into law June 7 by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and set to go into effect September 8, said Uzbek language and literature specialist Shakhnoza Soatova.

The amended law stipulates that advertisements be in Uzbek, the country's state, or official, language.

The new rules also require translations to use smaller font than the main Uzbek text, correctly express the meaning of the original content and occupy no more than 40% of the overall advertising space.

Advertising is seen outside a building in Tashkent on August 21. [Aziz Patokhov]

Advertising is seen outside a building in Tashkent on August 21. [Aziz Patokhov]

Though the new rules have been codified, neither non-profits nor businesses have been updating their signs, according to Soatova, an adviser to Justice Minister Ruslanbek Davletov. She monitors compliance with legislation on the state language.

"In practice, it seems that no one wants to comply with Article 6 of the law," Soatova wrote in an August 15 Telegram post.

The government's Antimonopoly Committee and Department of Spirituality and Development, which should be overseeing the change, are instead "silent and inactive", she said.

City signs written in Russian are a symbol of the colonial past, Soatova said.

"How long will our cities and even remote villages be filled with billboards shamefully proclaiming our addiction to another language?" she wrote.

"A new version of the law on the state language has been published," she wrote. "At least let the law on advertising work."

"Do we have an independent Uzbekistan with an official language ... or a country that still cannot escape its colonial past?"

Soatova recalled how on a recent visit to Georgia she saw signs written in Russian, Turkish and English but predominantly in Georgian, even though the Caucasus country "was colonised longer than we were".

"Language is a reflection of the character, resolve and honour of a nation," she said. "Our mirror is fogged up. It needs to be cleaned!"

'Advertising must be in Uzbek'

Regulating the language of advertising is a very relevant issue for Uzbekistan, said Pulat Akhunov, an Uzbek politician living in Sweden.

"The point is not only the 'colonial past' but also that Uzbek hasn't yet become the state language among the elites," he said.

"The proposed measure is not directed against Russian-speakers but against our own locals, who still think that the whole world understands the Russian language," he said.

Cartoonist Makhmud Eshonkulov, who is known for his anti-war drawings following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, supports eliminating the use of the Russian language in advertising.

"Advertising must above all be in Uzbek," he said. "In any event, you can use English, because it is an international language."

"Billboards and signs in Russian abound on the streets of Tashkent and other big cities," he said.

"The country adopted laws defining the status and use of the state language," Eshonkulov said. "They just need to be put into practice."

Sabokhat Vakhidova, a philologist and teacher of Uzbek language and literature, largely agrees.

"There is a law on the state language, which stipulates the entire procedure for using the Uzbek language in public places," she said. "You just need to monitor compliance."

"The Uzbek language should function in our country," Vakhidova said.

Protecting the state language

Even after the passage of legislation, problems regarding the state language in Uzbekistan remain.

In Tashkent, for example, old Russian-only signs bearing the names of city streets gave way long ago to bilingual signs in Uzbek and Russian.

These street signs were erected after the adoption of the first "On the State Language" law in October 1989, before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991, the signs switched to Uzbek in Cyrillic script. In 1993, Uzbekistan officially adopted the Latin script, and some of the signs had to be changed again.

Using Latin script is meant to emphasise the country's shift away from Russian influence.

The dates for the final transition to the Latin script have shifted repeatedly, and the websites of government agencies and of leading mass media still offer Uzbek content written in Cyrillic script and Latin script.

In October 2020, Mirziyoyev called for the creation of a road map to chart the complete transition to the Latin script.

Officials also approved the Plan for the Development of the Uzbek Language and the Improvement of Language Policy in 2020-2030, along with a programme for its implementation.

Under this plan, 80% of preschools in the country are to be conducted in Uzbek by 2025.

A programme also will be created to teach Uzbek as a second language for immigrants to the country.

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The Russian language is rapidly losing its position.

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While thirty years ago there were 300 million Russian speakers, including the Warsaw Pact member states, Cuba, Mongolia, and China, Russian-speaking areas have dwindled to 200 million [today]. It'll shrink by 40 million more after Ukraine defeats Russia. Then it will keep declining every year because Central Asia is going to switch to English and Turkish. It's time to write Russian off from the roster of the world languages and replace it with Urdu, which is understood by over one billion people around the globe.

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