Moscow, May 8, Interfax - Kazakhstan switching to the Latin script will have a negative effect not only on its Russian speakers but the Kazakhs themselves, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations, said.
"There are Russian people living both in Kazakhstan and in Tajikistan. In Kazakhstan, for example, there are very many, several millions of them. And of course, for them, as well as many Kazakhs, the switch to the Latin script will be very painful," Metropolitan Hilarion said on the Church and the World program on Rossiya-24 (VGTRK) television channel.
The switch is Kazakhstan's internal affair, he said.
At the same time, he expressed his bewilderment at why the Latin script should be more in tune with the Kazakh national spirit than the Cyrillic one.
Until a certain stage Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union, and Central Asian residents "spoke perfectly both their mother tongue and Russian, the Russian language was their window into the world," Metropolitan Hilarion said.
He also disagreed that the switch to Latin spelling would help people master the English language.
"English in Kazakhstan will never have the same place that Russian has held there until now, and never will the Kazakhs have as good an understanding of the English language as they had of Russian in the Soviet Union. Secondly: if you need to learn English, the difficulty there is not in the alphabet - the alphabet is the easiest part to manage - but overcoming the cultural abyss that separates the Kazakh people from the Anglo-Saxon world will be not just difficult but impossible," Metropolitan Hilarion said.
Nor did he support Tajikistan's ban on Russian names and surnames.
"The refusal from the Russian language, Russian names, from the Slavonic alphabet will not lead to broader cultural horizons, but, on the contrary, will contribute to cultural isolation," the archpriest said.
On April 12 it emerged that President Nursultan Nazarbayev had ordered government to plan for the Kazakh alphabet's transition to the Latin script. "We will start preparations [for the transition]. The government must draw up a schedule of transition of the Kazakh language to the Latin script," Nazarbayev wrote in his article for the Egemen (Independent) Kazakhstan newspaper.
"The single standard for the new Kazakh alphabet and Latin graphic signs must be developed by the end of 2017, after consultations with scientists and public representatives. Starting from 2018 specialists will be trained to teach the new alphabet and prepare secondary school textbooks. The organizing and methodology work should be carried out over the next two years," Nazarbayev said.
Initially, the Latin script will be used alongside the Cyrillic one, he said
The Kazakh Ministry of Education and Science set up a working group in charge of the transition to Latin spelling, which started work on April 13.