Saturday, December 1, 2018

Expansion in Russian Instruction in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan Reflects Economics and Demographics More than Politics, Kazakh Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – The increase in the number of Russian-language classes and schools in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan reflects the fact that these two countries profitably send enormous numbers of gastarbeiters to Russia and that their populations are increasing rapidly and that the share of Russian classes and schools has not risen, Kazakh experts say.

            But over time, the four tell Central Asian Monitor, such instruction will have political consequences; and that reality is something Kazakhstan must carefully consider as it moves gradually toward the Latinization of its titular language and the promotion of other foreign languages (

            Tolganay Umbetaliyeva, head of the Central Asian Foundation for the Development of Democracy, says that the Tajik and Uzbek decisions to boost Russian are driven almost entirely by economics:  The two countries send millions of gastarbeiters to Russia who send back billions of US dollars, and those who go to Russia need to know Russian.

            Russian-language instruction, she continues, is thus “the easiest and more rapid means of solving the problem of unemployment” in the two as well as ensuring that remittances from those who work in Russia will continue to flow back to them.  At the same time, she says, this economic decision “may in the future have political consequences.”

            Ayman Zhusupova, a specialist at the Presidential Institute for World Economics and Politics, says that Russian remains widespread in the two countries but the quality of knowledge of that language is falling.  That hurts the two because neither Dushanbe nor Tashkent is able to offer advanced education in their national languages in many fields.

            Moreover, she continues, in both countries, “Russian remains the language of international communication especially for the urban intelligentsia, bureaucrats and businessman.” But, she says, the areal of its use is “significantly” and rapidly declining regardless of the number of classes and schools.

            Miras Nurmukhanbetov, one of the founders of the Zhana Kazakstan forum, says that in addition to support for their gastarbeiters in Russia, the two countries may simply be increasing such schools and classes to keep up with their rapidly increasing populations. It isn’t clear or even likely that Russian instruction is increasing its share.

            And Aygul Omarova a Kazakh political scientist, says that the two countries benefit not only economically but in social spheres from the maintenance or expansion of Russian language instruction. Even their national security can be better protected if they have a Russian-speaking population because their cadres will be able to work more easily with Russian ones. 

            But she insists that there is no danger that Russian will overwhelm or drive out the titular national languages of these two countries.  Tajikistan and Uzbekistan at a fundamental level will remain mono-lingual countries, where Tajik and Uzbek will predominate especially as the population grows particularly in rural areas.

            The situation of Kazakh in Kazakhstan is different, Omarova says. The republic has long been multi-lingual and consequently the government must promote the study of the national language. But it must do so in ways that do not offend others but rather attract them to Kazakh and encourage them to use it in ever more spheres.

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