Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Many Non-Russian Languages Now at Risk of Disappearing, Moscow Philologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 20 – In advance of the International Native Language Day tomorrow, Oleg Belyaev, a philologist at Moscow State University, says many languages in Russia today are at risk of disappearing because their speakers are shifting to Russian and even those surviving are in trouble because of massive lexical and grammatical borrowing from Russian.

            In some cases, he says, these processes have been going on for a long time; in others, they have accelerated in the relatively recent past. He says that in some republics like Daghestan, non-Russian languages are having an analogous but weaker impact on Russian and promoting regional dialects (

            Belyaev’s comments are noteworthy because some more prominent Russian specialists on the nationality question downplay the risks that non-Russian languages now face, especially given that having made the study even of the titular languages of the non-Russian republics completely voluntary, Moscow is providing less support to many of them than in the past.

            The Moscow State University specialist makes a number of additional comments worthy of note.  He says that “unfortunately, under conditions of globalization, many small languages without additional support are fated to wither away.” In Russia, the larger non-Russian languages do not face that risk now; but the smaller ones without official structures do.

            Languages of the latter kind, Belyaev says, “which do not have official status are very difficult to save, unfortunately.” Thus, he continues, “urbanization destroys the traditional forms of the existence of these languages in small rural societies. Linguists are making attempts to slow this process” but so far without notable success.

            “The problems which the numerically smaller languages of Russia encounter are similar to those of numerically small languages in other countries,” he adds.  “The specific feature of our country perhaps is that many of the languages with relatively small numbers of speakers nonetheless have definite official cultural institutions” and other supports.

            According to Belyaev, “this is connected above all with Soviet language policy. Sometimes these formal characteristics look somewhat artificial, but they make a definite contribution to the support of languages spoken by relatively small groups of people.”

            The obvious conclusion of Belyaev’s remarks is that if the state eliminates these formal supports, ever more non-Russian languages will be put at risk of disappearing.  That explains the fears and anger of many non-Russians about what is taking place now and why they are working as hard as they can to block changes that could be the death knell for their languages.

A Baker’s Dozen of Other Russian Stories from the Last Week

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 20 – Day in and day out, Russia continues to generate remarkable stories that taken together help to form a picture of that country as it is rather than how many would like it to be. They point in various directions, reflecting the enormous diversity of all kinds there. Below is a selection of 13 instructive stories from the last week alone:

1.      Lenin Making a Comeback in Yekaterinburg. Most of the stories about monuments in Russia concern the demolition of Soviet-era ones or the erection of memorials to those the Soviets would never have honored. But this week, in the center of Yekaterinburg, a city most associate with Boris Yeltsin, officials announced plans to erect three memorial centers in which Lenin will figure prominently (

2.      Two-Thirds of Russians Don’t Believe You Can Do Business in Russia Honestly. More than 60 percent of Russians say that it is impossible to do business in Russia and remain honest and almost exactly the same number declare that they have no interest in going into business as a result ( and

3.      Russian Soldiers Banned from Using Smart Phones. In the name of national security, Russian commanders have banned soldiers from having smart phones with which they might take selfies or pictures of military equipment (

4.      Highest Paid Russian Rector Paid 370 Times What Lowest Receives. Income inequality has hit Russian higher education at least as hard as other sectors.  According to a new survey, the highest paid rector in the country, in St. Petersburg, currently receives 370 times as much as the lowest paid, in the provinces (

5.      Two Russian Cultural “Ties” for the Price of One. An enterprising alcohol producer has come up with a way to offer Russians two “ties” of their national life together all at once. In Krasnoyarsk, he is selling vodka in church-shaped bottles, to the anger of some in the church but to the amusement of many others who see this as an oblique comment on the church and on Putin’s talk about cultural “ties” (

6.      Environmental Contamination in Russia has Soared Under Putin. Ecological activists say that the level of air, water, and land contamination in Russia has soared under Vladimir Putin with dangerous chemicals now to be found at levels several orders of magnitude higher than before he came to office (

7.      Fearful Russians Increasingly Turn to Fortune Tellers for Reassurance. As Russians have lost confidence in the future, ever more of them are turning to fortune tellers to provide them with some reassurance that the future is not as uncertain as they feel it to be (

8.      A Statistic a Stalinist Could Love: 97.5 Percent of Russians Weren’t Ever Repressed. Defenders of the Soviet dictator love to argue that only a very few people were actually victims of Stalin’s repressions. The latest offering in this regard is by one who insists that 97.5 percent of Soviet citizens weren’t ever repressed or related to anyone who was.  That isn’t true – the real share of victims was far higher – but it is the kind of statistic that tends to have a life of its own ( 

9.      KPRF Wants Law Punishing Officials for Insulting the Population. In response to a United Russia drive to impose penalties on those who criticize the government, the KPRF has come up with an alternative proposal: it wants a law banning any criticism by the authorities of the Russian population (

10.  Stavropol Police Set Up a Bordello and Make a Fortune. Russian investigators have finally caught up with a group of policemen in Stavropol kray who are supplementing their income by operating a bordello. They have done so well, one can guess, because unlike others who operate such facilities, they can be sure there won’t be any police raids (

11.  Head of Academy of Sciences Wants Russians to Take IQ Tests When They Get Physicals.  Aleksandr Sergeyev, the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that IQ tests should become a required part of the medical examinations Russians normally undergo (

12.  More than Half of Russians Say They’ve Been Threatened with Offensive Pictures of Themselves Online. The spread of the Internet in Russia has created a new class of victims in that country: more than half of Russians say that they have been threatened with the posting of offensive pictures of themselves unless they meet the demands of those making the threats (

13.  Grozny Now a Medical Mecca for Russia’s Muslims. Ramzan Kadyrov may choose to go abroad for treatments, but over the last few years, officials say, some 1.5 million Muslims from various parts of the Russian Federation have made their way to the Chechen capital to get medical care (

Moscow’s ‘Russia for All’ Portal Intended to Help Immigrants Integrate Being Closed Down

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 20 – Since 2012, Russia Today has maintained a portal, “Russia for All,” with pages in Azerbaijani, Kyrgyz, Crimean Tatar, Circassians, Tajik and Russian, to help immigrants integrate into Russian life. But the site is no longer being updated and its 25-member staff has been let go (

            Neither the site nor any other Russian official has announced the closure, Nazaccent says; but it has earned that the portal is being shuttered and will resurface if it all as part of the United Humanities Publishing House, yet another indication of both budgetary stringencies and changing political priorities in Moscow.

            Elena Davydova, the chief editor of the site, refused to answer questions and referred Nazaccent to her bosses at Russia Today. She did say that the latter will “in the near future” announce what they plan to do, if anything.

            The shuttering of this portal will only add to the difficulties migrant workers face in getting information in their own languages about how to navigate Russian life. Some of them may turn to less reliable sources or even decide to return to their own country rather than gain permanent resident status or even citizenship in Russia.