Monday, August 7, 2023

Destruction of Russia’s Linguistic Diversity Neither Natural nor Desirable, Ilinov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 29 – An article on the sad fate of non-Russian languages in the Russian Federation that appeared on the To Be Precise portal last month has attracted attention not only because of its documentation of their decline but also because of the insistence of one political scientist that such a trend is entirely natural.

            The original article is available at and the numbers it reports are discussed at

            The comment in the article that the disappearance of numerically small languages is both natural and even desirable came from Aleksandr Kynyev, a Moscow political scientist who was born in the Komi Republic whose titular language is one of the non-Russian tongues most at risk of disappearing.

            Valera Ilinov, the founding editor of the independent KomiDaily, says Kynyev is wrong on both counts (

            What Kynyev calls a natural process has been anything but. Instead, it has been the result of Moscow’s policies intended to russify the Komi and other non-Russian nations. Before 1950, most Komi residents spokes Komi, “but as a result of Soviet policies, everything changed: the Komi ceased to be a majority, and after 1958, schools almost stopped teaching in Komi.”

            According to Ilinov, “the ethno-linguistic policy of present-day Russia is not significantly different from that of the USSR: After Putin’s ‘law on the study of native languages,’ in 2017, obligatory instruction of Komi in schools was done away with. And the apogee of Russification became the 2020 constitutional amendment about ‘the state-forming [Russian] language.”

            As a result of these policies and not some natural processes, “the Russian language has been in a more favorable position relative not only to Komi but to the languages of other indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation. And it is hardly possible to call this something ‘natural,’ as Kynyev has.

            Kynyev says that the Komi republic and other non-Russian republics could promote their languages if they wanted to, Ilinov says. But that ignores the fact that Moscow takes almost all of their income in taxes and gives them back too small a share to be able to publish books, organize mass media in non-Russian languages or keep non-Russian schools open.

            But the Komi editor is especially incensed by the idea that doing away with linguistic diversity is a positive thing. She cites the conclusions of a 2010 Finnish study on the preservation of minority languages which found that even the majority language benefits if the small languages are kept (

            Unfortunately, Ilinov says, all too many commentators and supposed experts are as ignorant about the realities of the linguistic situation in Russia as Kynyev is – and that opens the way to a further and even accelerating deterioration of conditions for those who speak languages there other than Russian. 

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