100 Million Fewer People Speak Russian Now than Did 25 Years Ago

Map of Commonwealth of Independent States, European Portion

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia Staunton, December 26, 2015)

The number of people who speak Russian has declined by 100 million since 1989 or 27 percent, according to Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the Duma committee on compatriots and Eurasian integration. (In 1989, 370 million said they spoke Russian; now, 270 million do.)

But instead of seeing this as the natural result of the demise of the USSR and the declining importance of the Russian Federation, Russian nationalist commentator Vladimir Linderman insists that this is the result of the declaration of “a war to the death” against the Russian language (regnum.ru/news/polit/2044486.html).

This loss of 100 million Russian speakers, the Riga-based writer and activist says, is made up primarily by losses in Eastern Europe and those parts of “the third world” in which “the USSR had strong positions.” In other former Soviet republics, there is a downward trend but it is not as serious.

Sociological studies in Latvia show, he continues, that “approximately half of the graduates of schools with Latvian as the language of instruction are not capable of performing work connected even with an elementary knowledge of Russian.” And he predicts that “five to ten years from now,” the situation will be the same in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Even more, Linderman says, “the virus of de-russification is extending its destructive work within Russia itself, on the territories of the national republics.” This is happening not only through educational policies but also through migration: “For anyone coming from Central Asia, it is simpler and more comfortable to master Tatar or Turkish.”

It is time to recognize that this is a question of national security: “It is possible to have the best tanks and rockets in the world, but what value do they have if the war for the hearts and minds of people will be lost?”

Of course, Linderman continues, a knowledge of Russian is no guarantee of “love or even sympathy to Russia.” “Spies usually have a perfect knowledge of the language against which they work, and the experience of Ukraine has shown that millions of people for whom Russian is the language of the family … can angrily deny their ‘Russianness.'”

But at the same time, he says, one needs to remember the relationship between the necessary and the sufficient. Knowledge of Russian is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Moscow msut recognize that “the derussification of neighboring states [is] a threat to the security of Russia no less than the placement of NATO forces on Russia’s borders.”

Even more, the Russian activist says, Moscow must recognize that “the military-political expansion of the alliance and the derussification of territories under its control are not two different processes but a single common one.”

Turkey provides an even better example, he suggests. “The growth of Turkish influence, not only in economics but in the humanitarian sphere – in Kazakhstan and Central Asia not to speak of Tatarstan already today threatens the security of Russia.”

Moscow must respond in two ways. On the one hand, it must make the defense of Russian and Russian-language education part of its relations with all these states. “Every closed Russian school, every attack on Russian-language media, the liquidation of a monument or museum connected with Russian history” and so on – all must be opposed and carry a price for those who do these things.

And on the other hand, Moscow must support local movements “prepared to fight ethnocratic regimes” in the name of defending Russian. In short, those who support the Russian language and Russia must “move from passive defense” to active offensive maneuvers against their opponents.

Unfortunately, Linderman says, he does not yet feel that the leadership in Moscow has fully understood the extent of the threat, and until the Russian government does, “the titular nationalists” in these countries won’t stop until they reduce Russian speakers to the status of “small museum minorities.”

Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/12/100-million-fewer-people-speak-russian.html