Thursday, May 24, 2018

Russian Language Under Assault and in Retreat at Home and Abroad

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – A major reason why Vladimir Putin is pushing so hard to advance the Russian language at the expense of non-Russians ones is that the Russian language is under assault and in retreat at the level of society both inside the Russian Federation and in other countries as well.

            As even Moscow commentators acknowledge, far fewer people speak Russian now than did at the end of Soviet times, and the prospects for the language are anything but bright even inside the country where the government is able to compel people to study it let alone in the former Soviet republics or further afield.

            This week alone has brought seven reports which indicate that the flow of events is moving against the Russian language. They include:

·         Chuvash activists are dropping the Russian names that were imposed on them in the past in favor of Chuvash ones even as they fight to maintain Chuvash instruction in that Middle Volga republic’s schools (

·         Ossetians too are increasingly changing from Russian-style names to Ossetian ones and are among the leaders in the North Caucasus of the resistance to Putin’s proposed law making Russian compulsory but non-Russian languages voluntary (

·         In Tajikistan, the country’s foreign minister has changed his name from one that sounds Russian and follows Russian spelling rules to one that is completely Tajik in its origins (

·         The government of Kazakhstan has announced plans to promote the Kazakhization of society in order to achieve a situation in which all Kazakh officials and 95 percent of the population of that formerly bilingual republic will speak Kazakh within a decade or so (

·         The Belarusian government is promoting the use of Belarusian in publications directed at and used by that country’s armed services, an especially remarkable development given Belarus’ status as a member of a union state with Russia and the strong Russian-language traditions of its security services (

·         Russian commentators and politicians are increasingly apocalyptic about the decision of the Republic of Latvia to close Russian-language schools in that country and ensure that all graduates are fluent in the national language, a goal Riga is far closer to achieving than many are ready to admit (

·         And the Moldovan Supreme Court appears set on May 31 to rule against the current status of the Russian language in that country, thus reducing pressure on students there to learn it and allowing them time to learn Western languages like English. As in Latvia, Russians are predicting a political disaster if the court acts as expected ( and

Young Russians Offered Numerous Soviet and Imperial Utopias but No Liberal Ones

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – Many explanations have been offered for why young Russians seem even more committed to the imperial and archaic nature of the Putin regime than their parents, but one seldom mentioned is that young Russians are routinely offered Soviet and imperial utopias in books and films but no liberal ones, Gleb Yevseyev suggests.

            In today’s NG-Ex Libris, the critic says that “in present-day Russian fantasy, two images of the future are competing … the USSR-2 [which posits] a ‘Red Renaissance’ in our society and … a Russian Empire 2.0, more a ‘white’ project with clearly expressed features of monarchism” (

                “It is curious,” Yevseyev continues, “that not even the palest and simplest utopian project of a liberal future has yet appeared in our fantasy literature.” 

            According to the critic, “the ‘white’ platform is expressed more clearly and distinctly than the ‘red.’” Since 2013, there have been four collections of Russian Empire 2.0 issued to popular acclaim. A fifth has been announced for later this year.

            In the latest of these books, the editors are quite clear in what they want to show: “Our Russia of the future,” they say, “is a star Empire with a monarch at the head together with the Church but with a highly developed scientific, technological, and poerful economy. This is not a paleo-empire; this is a future-empire.” 

            The writers in the collection, Yevseyev says, “show an Empire not in static form but in a dynamic one: it engages in constant expansion in all directions. It establishes new cities and colonies in the cosmos, it takes under control planets at various ends of the galaxy, it explores the ocean depth and, if needed, defends its interests with the help of armed force.”

            These “’builders of the future,’” the critic says, “try to present Russia in the form of a living and what is most important developing organism, engaged in a harsh competition with other social systems which reflect a different path of development than our own.” The result is a constantly changing “kaleidoscope” of developments.

            Yevseyev says that many will and should read these fantasies for what they say about reality, one that he says either confirms or disconfirms Count Benckendorf’s observation that “the future of Russia exceeds any imagination.”  But those who are writing about it may be closer to the facts than even they suspect, the critic concludes.

            They’ve decided to call their forthcoming volume “Coronation Day.” 

Putin Outdoes Potemkin for World Cup

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – In 1787, Prince Grigory Potemkin erected special villages to impress his lover, Catherine the Great, on her trip to Crimea. Unlike real Russian villages, these were clean and bright and designed to give the impression that the people there were happy. After she passed through, they were were taken down and then up again further along her route.

            While scholars dispute the accuracy of these stories, they have become a byword for Russian officials ever since who can always be counted on to spruce up the buildings and roads for tsars, general secretaries, or now presidents.  But Vladimir Putin has gone Potemkin one better: he hasn’t just ordered buildings cleaned up, he’s painted happy people in the windows.

            “In the windows of old houses in Rostov” in advance of the World Cup, “have been drawn pictures of happy residents greeting participants” in that competition, the Kasparov portal reports and shows a picture of this latest Putin innovation on an old tsarist tradition (

            The comments on this report have been savage. Among the most noteworthy so far:

Yekaterina Barabash says that “in Rostov for the World Championship they are drawing people in the windows; they even remembered to include a Jew with a violin … This already is not a Potemkin village: it is a whole Potemkin country.” And she asks: are those behind these windows now “sitting in darkness?”

Semyon Osheverov says that the French have done something similar in the past but in a way quite different: they paint pictures of windows with people in them but not pictures on the windows of places where people actually live.

Yegor Sedov says that this is just one more indication that the World Cup is “a celebration for all except for the Russians.” And these Potemkin pictures demonstrate that “if you can’t make people happy, there is no reason for despair! You simply draw them as happy” and let others assume that they reflect reality.

Andrey Nikulin says that the bosses “wanted to organize ‘a victory of Russian sport,’” but all that remains is again “hope for a miracle.”

Valery Zen says that no one should be coming to a competition in a country where Oleg Sentsov and so many others are behind bars.  “Why is the world community silent? It is completely possible that they in their turn will say that they are deeply concerned, will threaten sanctions and then … come to the World Cup anyway … as if everything were normal, as if the Russian Federation isn’t holdin gin prisons as hostages dozens of Ukrainians, as if there were no Ukraine or Syria. Everything is very simple: business is business.”

And Eva Kantorovich says that she is “certain that one should not conduct sports competitions in a country which engages in international aggression and expansion and in which fundamental human rights are violated and in their place are the understandings of thieves.”