Maintaining focus on Russia as major communication and integration partner the post-Soviet space

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Jun 19 14:53:19 UTC 2007


President of the Eurasia Heritage Foundation, Moscow

According to the official data, provided by a number of international
organizations, at present 233 million people on Earth speak Russian,
with 164 million having it as their native language and 69 million as
their second language. In Russia, approximately 119 million residents
speak Russian, claiming it their native language, while 27.1 million
use it as their second language for communication[1]. Therefore, a
little less than half of all the Russian-speaking people (37%) reside
outside Russia, comprising a significant part of the Russian world.

The existing realm of the Russian language usage, in fact, determines
the natural boundaries of the area, where the Russian culture may
thrive. For this domination to be sustained and reinforced, a well
thought-out and integral policy on this issue is essential to be

The purpose of this policy is to maintain focus on Russia as the major
communication and integration partner in the post-Soviet space, as
well as to provide conditions for inflow of easily assimilated
migrants. Grasp of the Russian language, deep understanding of the
behavioral stereotypes and values, recognized by the Russian people,
automatically eliminate migrants' many problems, reduce the likelihood
of incipience of ethnic eclaves and raise people' tolerance and
cultural awareness towards the newcomers.

Reasons to Learn the Russian Language

The collapse of the Soviet Union not only resulted in "drawing the
iron curtain up", but also in emerging of the so-called "cataclysm
diasporas"[2] and the intensive outflow of the Russian-speaking
population from the neighboring countries. Viewed from a long
perspective, these events have boosted the growth of the
Russian-speaking community, that is – of the Russian world.

Official data alone indicate that between the two censuses of
population, dated 1989 and 2002, nearly 11 million people have entered
Russia, coming from the former republics of the Soviet Union, while 4
million people have left the country within the afore-mentioned
period. To compare, after the Civil War, the country saw immigration
of its population, in the amount of 2 to 5 million people, as the
different data suggest, which made up the first wave of the Russian
immigration. The Great Patriotic War and the following international
deportations of civilians to and out of the Soviet Union involved
nearly 9 million people[3]. These movements were however brought about
by the major military campaigns.

Therefore, should the number of those having left our country after
the collapse of the Soviet Union be combined with the Russian-speaking
population, having left the New Independent States, avoiding Russia,
we would get the never before seen wave of immigration.

On the one hand, the "exodus" of the Russian-speaking residents from
the New Independent States weakens Russia's position there. On the
other hand, the growth of the immigration flow and developing of the
multiple kind migration is automatically enlarging the Russian
language presence across the Globe.

Analyzing the situation with the New Independent States, the Russian
experts claim the common cultural and linguistic background, having
been accumulated throughout centuries by numerous generations in the
Russian Empire epoch and the Soviet era to be almost fully exhausted.
It caused the Russian environment in these states to fall into decay,
being unable to independently develop and being deprived of
nourishment due to the mass Russian-speaking migration. For instance,
in Tajikistan with a 6 million population, the share of the
Russian-speaking population has fallen ten-fold in a 15-year-period –
from 500 thousand to 45-50 thousand. This number is basically
comprised by the people who, due to various reasons, were incapable of
leaving the country, mostly retired population or international
families. The threat exists that the Government Program on Assisting
Voluntary Resettlement in Russia of Compatriots Residing Abroad,
targeting at capable qualified specialists, will eventually wear out
the Russian-speaking population potential in this country in
particular and in the entire Central Asia on the whole. Still, this is
another topic to be closely looked into.

Against the general loss of positions, previously occupied by the
Russian language in the New Independent States – we still have years
ahead to uphold the desire within the residents of the countries under
concern to master the Russian language. With all that, it is worth
remembering, that Russian as the official language remains (but for
how long?!) in Belarus only, while in other New Independent States it
is solely preserved as the means of the international communication,
if at all.

Still, regardless of the former states' apparent shift towards the
western patterns of economy and education, at present, the population
of these countries is coming to realize the economic necessity for
learning the Russian language with its further employment as the
international language.

According to the data, provided by an independent research, conducted
in Georgia in 2006, the communication in Russian in this state may be
maintained by 65% of respondents, which number ranks high among other
foreign languages[4]. These 65% are as well capable of passing their
knowledge of Russian to the younger generation under 25 years old, who
in the last 15 years have practically been deprived of the chance to
fully master the language and get a grasp of the Russian culture. As
the research indicates, 86.6% of those surveyed frequently resort to
the Russian literature and other authentic written materials. This and
other many factors, migration to Russia and economic dependence on the
remittances (migrant's money transfers to their native country), being
among them, the raise of language competency is considered essential
for 30% of respondents. Notably, a large share of those willing to
enhance their language skills are aged under 35; in the age group
between 18 and 24, this number rises up to 54.3%, while 42.4% of
people aged from 25 to 34 express such desire. With the pensions,
approximately equaling to 10-15 lari, three thirds of respondents are
ready to allow monthly payments at the extent of 5 to 30 lari to have
the Russian language lessons. Today, a teacher of the Russian language
for schoolchildren is one of the most highly-paid jobs in Georgia.
Aren't these facts weighty enough to be regarded as the witness of the
need or, at least, the demand which craves to be satisfied?

In modern Kazakhstan, along with the common tendency of
"Kazakhization" of the state and society, President Nursultan
Nazarbayev is aiming at the "three language dominance", i.e. imposing
knowledge of the Kazakh, Russian, and one of the European languages.
This factor has been rated as one of the competitive advantage points
among Kazakhstan' younger population. In Kazakhstan, more than 32% of
the population are ethnic Russians. The way they are integrated into
the developing society and growing economy will influence the level of
their impact on the social and political processes in the country, and
the level of the influence of the Russian world on the whole.

Single Cultural Space in the World of Globalization

In the information era the maintenance of the cultural and historic
space is brought forward not only by tradition and historic roots,
which make up the basis of a cultural entity. The impact of the
information flow and communication networks, based on the common norms
and assumptions, have also increased. In this respect, it appears
essential to get involved in creating the information infrastructure,
which connects all parts of the Russian world.

The strategy of the network marketing may serve as a means of
spreading Russian literature and culture, and, consequently, building
the entire Russian world. Russia already disposes of the tools, which
are devised, though consciously or not, and may be viewed as a source.
Here we are talking about the Russian share of the world wide web,
which requires no visas and has no boundaries.

Runet is a particularly efficient language carrier, the very .ru zone,
which permits to perceive information and interact with all users,
regardless of their citizenship, thus expanding the Russian-speaking

Along with that we have the Roszarubezhtsentr's (Ministry of Foreign
Affairs of the Russian Federation) world wide network, which is far
from existing in the cyberspace. It represents patches of the Russian
culture located in many countries, founded back in the Soviet era. In
the last 15 years, the number of the Roszarubezhtsenter's subsidiaries
has significantly reduced. However, there is still an understanding
that elaboration of the proper model of the Russian world should be
passed on to professionals, who possess profound knowledge on this
very complicated issue. In this case, specific competence and human
factor appear to be crucial.

Economic, majorly, regional integration and projects in the area of
infrastructure place the issue of mastering the Russian language on
the list of the competitive advantages for employees in various
spheres, which tells upon the self-perception of the representatives
of the Russian world. In this respect, along with the infrastructural
economic programs it is essential to draft projects, designed to
maintain the cultural and historic environment which has been formed
on the territory of Eurasia, with Russia being in the center of it. To
accomplish that task, a scientific community oriented to Russia may be

Academic and educational migration alone, formed by the
Russian-speaking (former Soviet) scientists, students, professors, and
other professionals, has laid basis for establishing large diasporas
in a number of the world's leading economies. Our compatriots work for
many research centers within the United States and Europe, as well as
they become members of the faculty at thousands of technical and
junior colleges, in laboratories of applied science and IT departments
of commercial firms, in symphonic orchestras, art galleries, and sport

Thus, the Russian world is not just a narrow national phenomenon, or
mere consequence. Stemming from the multinational character and
multicultural diversity of Russia itself, it is as well a
non-political and supranational network of social, cultural,
informational, and other connections.

Assimilation and Identity

Language serves as a means to enlarge the Russian community , becoming
a supranational and metaethnic uniting factor. In other words, the
Russian language speakers, having the knowledge of at least one
international language, may invite new members to the Russian world.

At this point, however, one confronts a very weighty "but". Any state
is interested in integrating the national minorities – and Russian
communities are not an exception – into the society with their further
complete assimilation, which appears to be the dream of any
bureaucrat, as such outcome will automatically eradicate all burning
national issues. This option, though, is a straight way towards losing
language, culture, and national traditions. In case of assimilation,
the language is deprived of its main mission, and is later overwhelmed
by the country's majority language. In case of the community's
seclusion and/or its consolidation around the key issues (religion,
culture, etc.), the effect achieved may appear the same. The language
is preserved within the first generation of migrants, but further on,
having no connection with the historic roots and background or
enjoying no extra support on the part of both ends of the Russian
world, i.e. Russia and Russian diasporas abroad, it will be partly or
fully substituted by the language of the majority nation. (Such
tendencies may be observed in the community of the Russian Lipovans in

The complex research among the Russian-speaking population[5] in a
number of foreign countries, carried out in fall 2006, have in some
cases produced unexpected results.

In every foreign country, Russian-speaking population is a set of the
national minorities, more rarely, ethnical Russians, like the Lipovan
community in Romania. In Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia the majority
of the Russian population is made up by the Russians. In Germany, a
4-million Russian community (some researches give the 5 million
number) is mainly formed by the voluntary migrants (ethnic Germans and
refuges of Jewish origin) who have moved to the country in the last 20
years. In the environment of the overall economic growth in Russia,
children from the Russian-speaking families are deliberately taking
Russian as their first language at school. Their parents have an
understanding that in the world of the total globalization, having
common mentality with the Russian residents and possessing the
knowledge of the two languages, professionals have high career
perspectives. Simultaneously, such people will as well be equally in
demand in their home countries. For that reason there are bilingual
kindergartens opening in Germany, where children learn two foreign
languages with preferences given to none of the two.

It's nevertheless worth mentioning that the better the knowledge of
the language of the majority is, the easier the integration process
will be for each migrant, and, consequently, for the entire diaspora.

Far from all Russian-speaking communities abroad may be approached as
diasporas in the classical sense. Due to various reasons, they have
not yet been shaped into proper organizations, as each country
provides them with various conditions to establish and develop such
structures. As a result, the number of countries, housing
Russian-speaking population, is not equal to those with Russian

The Russian language keeps the "new devotees" connected to the Russian
culture, while promotion of the Russian cultural heritage worldwide is
the most beneficial investment in the national interests.

June 19, 2007 ________________________________


[2] Diasporas, formed as a result of the state's elimination from the
world's political map.

[3] Analytical report "Policy of Immigration and Naturalization in
Russia: Present State and Prospects", Moscow, 2005, p. 201.

[4] Here and further on – the data is provided by the research
conducted by Eurasia Heritage Foundation in 2006 in a number of New
Independent States.

[5] The research was conducted by "Rossiyane" International Foundation
in collaboration with experts of Eurasia Heritage Foundation in
Germany, Latvia, Romania, and Estonia at the request of the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.

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