Monuments to Cyril and Methodius can be found all across Russia, and their number keeps growing. This year, for instance, a five-meter-tall memorial has been erected in the city of Saratov, on the Volga River. Cyrillics Day celebrations traditionally include folklore pageants, academic symposiums, and church services to remember the canonized brothers.
Cyril and Methodius, born into the Slavic-speaking community of Saloniki, in Macedonia, served as Byzantine Christian missionaries in Slav lands. They created a new uncial cursive, Glagolitic, on the basis of the Greek alphabet and used it for translating scriptural and liturgical texts for the Slavs. Glagolitic was later developed into Cyrillics (the script was thus named for the elder of the two brothers, Cyril). The Cyrillic alphabet is used to this day by the Russians, the Ukrainians, the Belarussians, the Bulgarians, the Serbs, and the Macedonians.
Russian Cyrillics underwent significant changes in the times of Emperor Peter I (1672-1725). Some of the letters were excluded altogether, and the writing form of others was simplified. During the reign of Catherine II, the script was modified further by Princess Yekaterina Dashkova, the first President of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Another major spelling reform came in 1917, when the Bolsheviks simplified the Russian orthography to encourage mass literacy.
Today, writing system reform is back on the political agenda. Some of the Russian MPs go as far as proposing that Cyrillics be replaced with the Roman alphabet to make it easier for the nation to integrate into Europe.
Linguist Vitaly Kostomarov, a detractor of any such reform, reminds to those "progressive-minded" lawmakers that Russian is one of the world's six major languages and that its cultural significance is based on great literary classics. Also, one-third of the world's contemporary scientific and technical writings are in Russian. The famous American chess player Robert Fischer, for one, began studying Russian to get access to the wealth of chess literature written in the language.
The idea of transferring Russian spelling from Cyrillics to the Roman alphabet may be realistic technically. But how can the nation's literary heritage be recoded, Kostomarov wonders.
Russian linguists have no worries about the Russian language's development in the 21st century, Kostomarov says. Of course, it will be changing to reflect new realities. But perpetual change is precisely what makes human languages immortal.