Thursday, August 31, 2017

Is Putin Attacking Non-Russian Languages Because of Decline in Number of Russian Speakers in the World?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – Two developments this week may be more connected than it would seem at first glance: On the one hand, Vladimir Putin has ordered prosecutors to investigate cases in which Russians have been compelled to study non-Russian languages in the country’s republics (

            And on the other, statistics have been released showing that the number of Russian speakers in the world has declined by 50 million over the past 25 years, with the number of Russian speakers beyond the borders of the Russian Federation now roughly equal to those inside it.

            Given that the number of Russian speakers outside Russia is likely to continue to decline – or at least that the trend in that regard is much subject to what Moscow may do – it is at least plausible that Putin’s push against non-Russian languages this summer in part reflects his desire to ensure that the number of Russian speakers in the world doesn’t fall any faster than it has.

            That these two developments may be linked is explicitly suggested by experts Dmitry Rodionov of Svobodnaya pressa surveyed about the decline in the number of Russian speakers who collectively suggest that “Russia itself is guilty in the downfall of the Russian language” (

                Not only has a large part of the older generation which was compelled to learn Russian in Soviet times in the former republics and Warsaw Pact countries passed away with younger people choosing not to learn Russian but rather English and other languages, they say, but Russia no longer offers the kind of ideological attractions that caused some to learn Russian in the past.

            And Stanislav Byshok, an analyst with the CIS-EMO monitoring group, adds the following which may go a long way to explaining what Putin intends as far as the non-Russian languages inside the Russian Federation, a factor that “is no less important” than the falling away of people speaking Russian abroad.

            “The primary bearers of Russian are ethnic Russians and peoples tied to them,” the political analyst says. “Consequently, in the frameworks of Russia, the study of Russia must not be limited by anything, including the imposed need to study ‘national’ languages.” 

            And he adds: “In Russia we are united not by a kaleidoscope of mutually unintelligible languages, dialects and archaic traditions but by the Russian language and Russian, primarily literary, culture.”

            Such reflections go a long way to explain the passion Putin brings to this idea and the fears many non-Russians have about how their languages will be treated now that the Kremlin leader has focused his attention on this issue. 

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