Staunton, November 26 – Behind discussions in Kyrgyzstan about whether to drop Russian as an official language and boost the amount of English language instruction in that republic’s schools is a stark and for many disturbing reality: both are languages intended to help Kyrgyz leave their homeland and work elsewhere, Igor Shestakov says.
In this, the Bishkek analyst says, Russian has the advantage because more Kyrgyz go to Russia than to Anglophone countries and their knowledge of Russian gives them an advantage over other Central Asians in Russia (stanradar.com/news/full/42416-kto-i-dlja-chego-hochet-iskljuchit-russkij-jazyk-iz-konstitutsii-kyrgyzstana.html).
Moreover, Shestakov continues, Russian remains the language of inter-ethnic communication in Kyrgyzstan in general and in its southern regions in particular. But for him as for most Russian speakers, the language issue remains a geopolitical one in which the fate of Russian there is about the fate of Russia’s influence in Central Asia.
According to Shestakov, Kyrgyz remains in a weaker position and wouldn’t have acquired its current standing if it were not for the fact that over the last 30 years, international funders like George Soros paid for the publication of Kyrgyz language textbooks because Bishkek hasn’t been able or willing to do so.
That is not how the advocates of doing away with the official status of Russian in Kyrgyzstan view the situation. They have tried twice before, in 2006 and 2010, and they argue that if Bishkek doesn’t take this step, there is a risk that Kyrgyz will not survive because young people are no longer using it.
Activist Sadirdin Toraliyev tells Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional convention Bishkek must change the balance in favor of Kyrgyz and that one way to do that is to lower the status and thus prestige of Russian among the young. Otherwise, the country will lose what binds it together (24.kg/vlast/174569_vkonstitutsionnom_soveschanii_predlagayut_lishit_russkiy_yazyik_statusa_ofitsialnogo_/).
The debate taking place in Kyrgyzstan is part of a larger one across Central Asia. IWPR and CABAR have now released a 40-page paper that provides background on the evolution of the use of Russian and titular nationality languages there (cabar.asia/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Policy-Brief_languages_ru.pdf).
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