Monday, April 20, 2020

Results of Soviet Russification Efforts Ever More on Display in Post-Soviet Censuses, Chuvash Specialist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 18 – Soviet Russification efforts, especially those which expanded after 1956 with the closing of many non-Russian teacher training institutions and non-Russian language schools became manifest in the census less during the Soviet period than in the post-Soviet Russian one, Viktor Simakov says.

            Despite these efforts, the number of people declaring themselves Chuvash remained relatively constant in the 1959, 1970, 1979, and 1989 census but then plunged in 2000 and 2010, the Chuvash journalist and scholar says. It almost certainly will continue to fall again in the upcoming census (

            The process of destroying a linguistic community and the ethno-political one that community supports doesn’t happen overnight, he argues. It takes a generation or more, but it is remarkably effective, something that makes the current Moscow drive to eliminate non-Russian languages in the schools especially worrisome.

            “The reduction in the number of Chuvash began in the 1970s and 1980s when the transition to Russian language instruction in the schools produced a sharp reduction in the number of Chuvash,” Simakov says. The children were Russified before the parents, and today, “in many Chuvash families, the children do not know the language of their parents.”

            In perestroika times, some of the schools for Chuvash children living outside of the Chuvash republic, there were efforts to restore Chuvash-language instruction. But now progress in that direction has been reversed, in the first instance in predominantly Russian regions like Samara but less so in Tatarstan where they still have support.

            The situation in predominantly Russian regions is especially dire. He says he knows of many cases there were education officials “demanded that Chuvash parents speak only Russian with their children at home.” And there were cases when officials fined teachers for any conversations among students in Chuvash.

            With the loss of language, many Chuvash choose to list themselves as ethnic Russians in the census and to declare Russian as their native language, Simakov continues. But at the same time, there has emerged a new category of people “who do not know or poorly know their native language but call themselves Chuvash” in any case.

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