Russia seeks to promote Russian

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jul 6 01:02:19 UTC 2007

 [image: International Herald Tribune] <>
Moscow seeks to promote the Russian language

Monday, July 2, 2007

*MOSCOW:* Russia has opened a campaign to promote the national language
after almost two decades of retreat, hoping to match the country's
increasing economic and political confidence.The Kremlin believes it can
start rebuilding the credibility of Russian as a means of communication
outside its borders, with business, and not Communist, ideology driving the
revival.In Moscow last week, ministers announced a series of plans, like
expansion of an international cultural foundation comparable with Germany's
Goethe Institute or the Alliance Fran├žaise.

"Russian was the first language spoken in space," Education Minister Andrei
Fursenko said, referring to the first cosmonauts and their Cold War-era
space race against English-speaking American astronauts. Once the common
language across most of the Communist world, Russian has been sidelined,
especially in Eastern Europe, where English has replaced it as the favored
second language. Russian also suffers from an image problem there, with
Czechs, Poles and residents of other former Warsaw Pact member states
resentful at having been forced to study a language linked with an occupying
foreign power.

Across former states of the Soviet Union, only Belarus still recognizes
Russian as a state language. In many others, notably Turkmenistan, the
post-Soviet leadership has sought to erase all traces of Russian. The number
of mother-tongue Russian speakers also continues to decline. Russia's
population is falling by 700,000 every year and stands at 142 million. In
his annual address to Parliament in April, President Vladimir Putin linked
the country's linguistic fate to its morals and values. "Looking after the
Russian language and expanding the influence of Russian culture are crucial
social and political issues," he said.

Putin said he backed proposals "to create a National Russian Language
Foundation, the main aim of which will be to develop the Russian language at
home, support Russian language study programs abroad and generally promote
Russian language and literature around the world."The Russian government has
created a Web site ( in both Russian and English to
promote the Russian language. It provides details on more than 100
international festivals and events, as well as publications and plans to
build libraries.

One recruitment expert has advised expatriates that if they want a top
management job they should learn Russian. "In the mid-'90s we could put up
with people not speaking Russian, because they had other experience and
expertise. Now, Russians are catching up," said Anton Derlyatka, a partner
with an executive search consultant company, Ward Howell International. "The
complexities of the Russian market have increased so much that you can't
work without understanding the mentality of the people and the Russian
context. In order to do that, you have to speak Russian." The image of
Russian can benefit from Russia's current economic and political resurgence,
said Culture Minister Alexei Sokolov.

"The evolution of the Chinese society was the reason behind the changes in
attitudes to language," he said. "Russia is also currently on the brink of a
significant breakthrough in the areas of nanotechnology, science and
culture, and that is why it should be expected that the language will
benefit." Foreign ballet dancers, American astronauts and Moscow-based
ambassadors who speak Russian were photographed for a new public exhibition
in Moscow to promote the campaign. Morihiro Iwata, a Japanese ballet dancer,
said he was proud to promote Russian but did not speak it when he first
arrived in the country 17 years ago.

"I think more foreigners should learn Russian," he said. At home, Iwata
speaks only Russian with his wife and fellow Bolshoi Theater dancer, Olga.
He had to learn the language quickly when he first arrived in the country,
he recalled, because rehearsals for performances in the Bolshoi Theater are
conducted in Russian. Persuading foreigners to learn Russian is not an easy
task because of the complexity of Russian grammar and the spread of English.
Russian's main competitor abroad has also cast its corrosive spell inside
Russia, with Russians using numerous English words, like "biznesmen" and
"kompyuter" every day.


Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475

Email:  haroldfs at

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