2009-09-17 17:39:06 UTC
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
MOSCOW, Sep 16 (IPS) - Nearly all of the former Soviet republics have
adopted native languages that were suppressed during the communist era
at the expense of Russian. This is affecting Russia's influence over
the commonwealth of independent states.
For more than seven decades, the Russian language spanned all 15
Soviet republics with a combined population that had grown to 270
million. Russia is still looking for recognition of its language in
Russia's effort stems from the fact the authorities still view it as
an instrument by which they can exert control in the Soviet region,
says Aleksandr Lytvynenko from the Kiev-based Razumkov Centre, a non-
government think tank researching public policy.
"This relates especially to Ukraine and Belarus, whose population in
Russia is considered an integral part of the united Russian people,"
Lytvynenko told IPS from Kiev. "The strengthening of the position of
the Russian language and culture in these states becomes more
important, and also in the Baltic states and central Asia." Russian is
widely spoken in many parts of the former Soviet republics, but is not
officially recognised as state language.
Some analysts think that the Russian language cannot be used as an
instrument for exerting influence, even though it has a role to play.
"During the period of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics)
it was absolutely a necessity which, in my opinion, remains today,"
Bahodirkhon Anvarhojayevich Eliboyev from the Independent Human Rights
Defenders in Fergana, Uzbekistan, told IPS. "Russian language was and
remains the language of inter-ethnic communication. However, during
that period, there was suppression of other language cultures, which
has taken a heavy toll on society."
He said the Baltics states Estonia, Latvia and Lituania have joined
the European Union (EU), and "for these republics there is no benefit
in speaking Russian; they need a language which Europeans speak."
Ara Sanjian from the Armenian Research Centre at the University of
Michigan says that in Armenia and in many of the republics there are
now few Russian language television programmes, and as a rule they are
shown with subtitles in native languages.
In the south Caucasus, Sanjian said, (where the number of Russians is
small compared, say, to Kazakhstan), use of the native language "is a
by-product of growing national consciousness and pride. Russia is
definitely seen as using economic pressure and energy resources to
maintain its grip. I am certain it will also use language if it
believes it can be used as a tool to achieve the same aim."
In July, Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon proposed banning the use
of Russian in public institutions and official documents. He said the
move would promote the development of Tajik, and bolster patriotism.
The Baltic states banned the use of Russian soon after the Soviet
Language has been a contentious issue in relations between Russia and
Ukraine, where some political groups have opposed the 'Russification'
of the country. Russian dominates in the east, the Crimea and the
capital. Many in the former Soviet republic never learnt Ukrainian.
Use of Russian has been restricted in many republics despite Russian
government efforts at preserving the language. Last year Russia
earmarked 16 million dollars for promoting Russian and to support an
estimated 30 million ethnic Russians living abroad, mostly in former
Russian is the official state language in Belarus, and has official or
semi- official status in some ex-Soviet republics such as Kazakhstan
and Kyrgyzstan, says Alexander Chepurin, head of relations with the
Russian diaspora at the Foreign Ministry.
Russian officials say 'de-Russification' policies and the forcible
adoption of native languages in education, media, judicial and
administrative institutions is creating cultural gaps in the former
Several international human rights organisations have called on the
former Soviet republics to make Russian a second official language,
but most governments have not changed their policies.
"No one disputes efforts by a state to reinforce the state language,
but it is also well known that such actions must not harm the language
rights of national minorities, especially when a country's population
is nationally heterogeneous," the Russian foreign affairs ministry
says in an official statement