Saying Nyet to Russian

By Conant, Eve | Newsweek International, July 1, 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Saying Nyet to Russian

Conant, Eve, Newsweek International

Hardly anyone these days has a good word for the language of the former Soviet Union. Teenagers in Central Asia say they hate it; thousands have taken to the streets of Moldova and Belarus to protest it; former Soviet governments have deleted it from their mandatory-education programs, and some countries, like Latvia, have passed discriminatory laws against those who speak it. A Russian visitor to rural Moldova or Uzbekistan might have a fine conversation with a person over 35--but a 20-year-old will greet him with blank stares. "If before more than 90 percent of the people in the Soviet territories spoke Russian, now less than half do," says Vladimir Neroznyak, a Moscow linguist who helps advise the Russian government on language policy. Within the decade, he predicts, that figure will have fallen to one in 10.

What a change. Not long ago the language rivaled English as a lingua franca of empire. Then came the revolutions of the early 1990s, when the former republics began promoting local languages as a symbol of independence. Anti-Russian "affirmative action" programs sprang up, rewarding those who spoke the local tongue with coveted university jobs and government positions. Meanwhile, Russian-language schools lost funding or were shut down. Small-scale linguistic scuffles in Ukraine led to such extremes as a proposed ban on Russian pop music and the formation of ultranationalist "Ukrainization teams" to harass sellers of Russian music and literature. Last April a Russian-language radio station in Latvia lost its license for violating laws limiting the Russian "content" of its broadcasts to 25 percent or less.

The results are evident everywhere. The number of schools that conduct classes solely in Russian has dropped by 71 percent in Turkmenistan, 65 percent in Moldova, 59 per-cent in Kazakhstan and 47 percent in Uzbekistan. Leaders of many newly independent states are pleased. "For decades we couldn't even think in our own language," says Moldovan parliamentarian Stefan Cekareanu, whose party earlier this year helped organize demonstrations against a communist-backed initiative to reintroduce compulsory Russian in Moldovan schools. "If Russian were to somehow become official again, other Soviet habits would start to creep back."

Russian is under assault even within Russia itself. As many as 10,000 foreign words, such as bucksi, voucher, biznesmen and bizneslunch, have entered the language within the past decade--the opposite of what takes place in "A Clockwork Orange," where Russianisms like moloko and droog invade English. "Whether we like it or not, half of Russian business is conducted in English," says Neroznyak, who is lobbying to introduce language-purity laws as strict as those of the French.

The Kremlin is on his side. Over the past two years President Vladimir Putin has more than doubled the amount of money appropriated for the protection of the language. Russian "must be preserved as a language of international discourse," he said soon after being elected, if only so that the former Soviet states will be "able to compete" in the world at large. Putin's wife, Ludmilla--a linguist by education--has become the Kremlin's spokeswoman for the campaign. Across the former Soviet territory, she can be found opening Russian-language centers and attending Russian-language "Olympiads" where students compete in grammar drills.

Clearly, there are benefits to being able to speak the tongue of Mother Russia.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Saying Nyet to Russian


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?