Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

The Imperial Policy on the Native Language Education in Private Schools of the Polish and Baltic Provinces at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century

Sat1  Apr04:30pm(15 mins)
Turnbull Room


Yoko Aoshima1
1 Hokkaido University, Japan


At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Russian Empire responded to crises from within and without by reforming its state system and changing various policies toward the local population to prolong the empire's life. This presentation analyzes the changes in the imperial authorities' responses to the local people in the empire's western border regions, focusing on the issue of native language education.

Due to the deterioration of the revolutionary situation around 1905, the imperial authority completely lost the reins of control in the western border regions of the Russian empire. Although somehow restoring the local order after the Russo-Japanese War, it sought to improve the situation not only through violent means but also through policy changes. Among these, the permission for native language education was "considered by almost everyone as one of the most effective means of calming people's minds" (from a report in the Riga Education District, 1908). In fact, many of the petitions filed in the revolutionary climate included requests for permission to teach at school in the native language. Even officials, such as the national school inspectors, considered the issue of the language of education as the most serious problem. Around 1905, the native language was permitted, but primarily only (1) as a supplementary means of early primary education and (2) in private schools that did not have the same rights as the ones of state schools. This presentation will trace the process of this policy decision and practice. In particular, the analysis will focus on the Polish and Baltic provinces, where native language education in private schools was recognized. In the presentation, we present the following points. Firstly, we show that the government introduced native language education to benefit and conciliate the dominant non-Russian groups in the regions but gradually extended it to other non-dominant groups. Secondly, we show that the imperial government, in progression, came to fear the strengthening of dominant regional groups in the border regions. Thirdly, we explain that this fear reinforced the idea of protecting the Russian population's settlements. Native language education was initially considered a right of individual school children whose "language of birth" was non-Russian. But, in the course of developments, the idea of protecting the Russian residential area reinforced the idea of seeing native language education as a territorial issue as well. Finally, we show that the final examination of private schools could have created a system that connected private schools with native language education with the rights of the empire, but it was never fully developed. We will conclude that the native language education policy implemented around 1905 did not play a role of a bond that held back the border regions but rather increased the border regions' autonomy.