Thursday, May 24, 2018

Russian Language Under Assault and in Retreat at Home and Abroad

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – A major reason why Vladimir Putin is pushing so hard to advance the Russian language at the expense of non-Russians ones is that the Russian language is under assault and in retreat at the level of society both inside the Russian Federation and in other countries as well.

            As even Moscow commentators acknowledge, far fewer people speak Russian now than did at the end of Soviet times, and the prospects for the language are anything but bright even inside the country where the government is able to compel people to study it let alone in the former Soviet republics or further afield.

            This week alone has brought seven reports which indicate that the flow of events is moving against the Russian language. They include:

·         Chuvash activists are dropping the Russian names that were imposed on them in the past in favor of Chuvash ones even as they fight to maintain Chuvash instruction in that Middle Volga republic’s schools (

·         Ossetians too are increasingly changing from Russian-style names to Ossetian ones and are among the leaders in the North Caucasus of the resistance to Putin’s proposed law making Russian compulsory but non-Russian languages voluntary (

·         In Tajikistan, the country’s foreign minister has changed his name from one that sounds Russian and follows Russian spelling rules to one that is completely Tajik in its origins (

·         The government of Kazakhstan has announced plans to promote the Kazakhization of society in order to achieve a situation in which all Kazakh officials and 95 percent of the population of that formerly bilingual republic will speak Kazakh within a decade or so (

·         The Belarusian government is promoting the use of Belarusian in publications directed at and used by that country’s armed services, an especially remarkable development given Belarus’ status as a member of a union state with Russia and the strong Russian-language traditions of its security services (

·         Russian commentators and politicians are increasingly apocalyptic about the decision of the Republic of Latvia to close Russian-language schools in that country and ensure that all graduates are fluent in the national language, a goal Riga is far closer to achieving than many are ready to admit (

·         And the Moldovan Supreme Court appears set on May 31 to rule against the current status of the Russian language in that country, thus reducing pressure on students there to learn it and allowing them time to learn Western languages like English. As in Latvia, Russians are predicting a political disaster if the court acts as expected ( and

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