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Asia Times
July 23, 2003
Ex-Soviet states reject all things Russian
By Sergei Blagov

MOSCOW - The new republics formed after the breakup of the Soviet Union are following up their fight against Russian dominance with new resistance to the Russian language.

"Nationalist elites in all former Soviet states except Belarus are pushing out all things Russian," said Konstantin Zatulin, head of the Moscow-based Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Institute. Latvia and Estonia openly oppose use of the Russian language, while Ukraine and the Central Asian states are pursuing the same policies quietly, Zatulin said.

Some 142 million people now live in 14 former Soviet states, about the same population as Russia. More than 100 million of them know the Russian language, according to the CIS Institute.

Many do not just speak Russian, but see it as their native language. According to the CIS institute, there are 12 million such people in Ukraine in a population of 48 million, 4.48 million in Kazakhstan, 1.8 million in Uzbekistan, 1.142 million in Belarus, some 800,000 in Latvia, 650,000 in Kyrgyzstan, 500,000 in Moldova, 420,000 in Estonia, 300,000 in Lithuania, 200,000 in Georgia, 180,000 in Turkmenistan, 150,000 in Azerbaijan, and 60,000 in Tajikistan.

The total is, however, a minority in the new republics, and most of them are pushing Russian aside to promote their own languages.

In Latvia, a third of its 2.4 million people are ethnic Russians. But all Russian schools are due to be shut down in September by a government order.

"The Russian language is being mechanically replaced by Latvia," Igor Pimenov, head of the Latvian Association to support Russian Schools, told the Russian Information Agency (RIA) on Monday. "We support freedom to choose the language of education."

One Latvian student from the capital city Riga sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin to seek his help in receiving education in Russian. The Kremlin press service published Putin's response on Monday. "The Russian language will remain in Latvia in the future," Putin wrote. But the letter mentioned no concrete measures.

Estonia, with a population of 1.4 million, will ban use of Russian as a medium of teaching in 2007. Higher education in Russian has been stopped already in Estonia, Vladimir Illyashevich, head of the Union of Russians in Estonia, has warned. He has been calling this policy social and linguistic apartheid.

Turkmenistan discontinued teaching in Russian last year. It has followed that up with a move against dual citizenship of both Turkmenistan and Russia.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have also been overshadowed by disagreements over use of the Russian language. The language issue was discussed in talks between Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Ukrainian leaders in the Ukrainian capital Kiev last Thursday and Friday.

Ukraine has seen divisions between the Russian-speaking east and the nationalist west, but nationalist policies inevitably prevail. There are only 10 Russian schools left in Kiev now, compared with 170 a decade ago, Zatulin says.

Leonid Grach, a deputy in the Ukrainian parliament, has drafted a bill to amend the constitution and to grant the Russian language official status. Only Belarus and Kyrgyzstan among the new republics have granted the Russian language official status.

But the Russian language has still proved its resilience, says Vyacheslav Igrunov, head of the Moscow-based Institute of Humanitarian and Political Studies. "After a decade of independence for Ukraine, up to two-thirds of all books published in Ukraine are in Russian," he said.

Russian officials are working to promote the language outside the country. The Ministry of Education has set up three Russian universities in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, says Yuri Kungurtsev, head of the ministry's CIS Department. (Inter Press Service)

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