Sunday, May 24, 2015

Which of Many Russian Languages Defines Putin’s Russia World?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 24 – Vladimir Putin insists that the unity of the Russian nation and the basis of what he calls “the Russian world” depends on the Russian language, but there are “various Russian languages,” Oleg Panfilov points out, thus prompting the question: which of these can Putin in fact use to define his nation and the world?


            Panfilov, a professor at Tbilisi’s Ilya State University and the former director of the Moscow Center for Extreme Journalism, says that the reason there are so many Russian languages is that the one used “depends on the moral situation of society, or part of society, or on the authorities” (


            “Thirty years ago, Soviet people spoke in public in the language of Marxism-Leninism and among themselves with curses. Now, they speak publicly largely in a jargon and among themselves in a strange mix of the language of Soviet offices and jargon,” Panfilov suggests. But that doesn’t answer the question as to which Russian Putin’s “Russian world” will speak.


            According to the Russian professor, “there were always several languages,” reflecting the different circumstances people found themselves in, their position in society, their geography and their background. He notes that he learned to speak classical Russian because he grew up in Tajikistan to which so many educated Russians had been exiled.


            “The quality of contemporary Russian resembles the quality of the production of Russian industry,” he continues. It isn’t high, and many people prefer to use something else especially given that today “it is the language of the lies of Putin, Medvedev, Duma deputies, bureaucrats and journalists,” and “has become a unique argot of ‘the Russian world.’”


            Panfilov notes that he has met many Russian speakers in various countries, some of whom have never lived in Russia or done so only long ago. The Russian they speak is “an entirely different Russian, one in which there is no place for curses” despite the frequency of the use of such words among Russians in Russia.


            Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine in particular avoid the language of curses, even in the east where Putin is trying to create his “’Russian world.’”  They see the use of such words which Russians in Putin’s Russia view as completely normal as totally unacceptable, the same attitude of most peoples in Central Asia and the Caucasus.


            In the Kremlin, Panfilov continues, “they have considered Russian for a long time as an ideological weapon” and have sought to impose their Russian on others not only without success but at the cost of alienating those who speak another Russian language from them but who do not want the world that Putin’s Russian reflects.


            In Soviet times, Moscow attempted to destroy many of the non-Russian languages of the country. The attitude behind that approach continues, Panfilov argues. But neither what the Soviets did nor what Putin is doing has made Russian competitive with English or French. Indeed, this approach has had exactly the opposite effect.


            “As long as Russia remains the language of aggression and conquest, its prospects to become popular will become ever less,” Panfilov says, noting that “in Georgia young people already almost do not speak Russian: there is no desire to speak the language of the occupiers of Abkhazia and ‘South Osetia’ just as in Ukraine ever more ethnic Russians speak Ukrainian for the same reason.”


            In the case of other countries and languages, there is a very different pattern. In Pakistan and India, there is respect for the language of the former colonial powers, as there is in Africa for French, he notes. But that is because there “language is simply a mechanism of communication and not a political lever.”


            Today, it remains unclear “why in the Kremlin they simply cannot understand that to impose Russia with the help of arms is impossible and contradicts good sense.” Moreover, the language that Putin and company are imposing in this way is not classical Russian but rather “a parody on Russian” that few will want to learn or use.




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