Friday, January 8, 2021

Central Asians Want to Learn Russian Not as Language of Former Imperial Center but for Pragmatic Reasons, ‘Stanradar’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 6 – At the CIS summit last month, Vladimir Putin made clear that he wants to expand the use of Russian across that region; but many of the countries there are moving in the opposite direction, and in Central Asia, most are committed to learning Russian not as the basis for political re-integration with Moscow but for narrowly pragmatic reasons.

            That is the conclusion the StanRadar portal reaches after surveying the legal and social situation of Russian in the former Soviet republics. In Belarus and Kazakhstan, it is one of two state languages and in Tajikistan, it has been declared “the language of inter-ethnic communication.” But elsewhere the governments treat it as just other foreign language.

            That means that any push for change in its status must start with mobilizing public opinion, but the portal suggests that the reasons many will want Russian to have a higher status are very different than those Putin would like to see (

            According to StanRadar, “people are beginning to relate to Russia not as the state language of the former metropolitan center but toward it as a language which will help them in their business activities and career.” In Central Asia in particular, many want their children to learn Russian to make it easier for them to become migrant workers in the Russian Federation.

            The portal continues by observing that “despite the fact that Russian is in demand among the population of the CIS countries, one cannot fail to note the existing deficit of educational programs in it even in those countries of the post-Soviet space which traditionally are included in Russia’s zone of influence.”

            Experts in Moscow and the former republics are divided as to what Russia should do. Many in the Russian capital believe that promoting Russian should be left to the governments of the other countries rather than being the duty of Russia. But others say that Moscow must do more because that will help it maintain its influence and because of its need for migrant workers.

            The fact that such a debate is taking place at all calls attention to an important new reality: Moscow’s resources are now sufficiently limited that it is no longer able to devote a major effort in support of what Putin and his regime have declared is an essential goal and of what Russian companies deem necessary.

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