Central Asia: The rapid decline of Russian language
After the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia maintains expressive and important political and economic influence in Central Asia. However, Russian influence is slipping in an alarming rate.
In the language sphere, the most noticeable thing is the cultural erosion. Every year more and more citizens of such Central Asia’s countries as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are losing contact with Russian and the young generation can barely speak the language at all.
This situation in large part is caused by the lack of government funding for Russian-language education. Local authorities have averted educational resources to the teaching of native languages and the reinforcement of local cultural tradition. But of course there many other factors. For example, nowadays it is possible to build their own history and career without knowledge of Russian language. When it was a soviet time, to be a part of it and take part in processes, you had to know Russian language. Now it is not so important and it is not the case.
Considering Kyrgyzstan, the youth are barely speak Russian language. Among children between the ages of 7 and 15, only 5 percent are listed as native Russian speakers, and just 26 percent have mastered it enough to consider it a second language. The decline of Russian language is more jarring in this country, when the fact that Russian enjoys state-language status is taken into account.
Of course, there are different points of views. For example, Beater Schulter, in his article about the language issue in Kyrgyzstan, summarizes the wide spread of the Russian language in Kyrgyz society in 4 points:
1. “Because of economic pressure in Kyrgyzstan, many parents deem it more important for their children have a good command of Russian than of the language they speak at home.
2. Because the Russian language skills taught in non-Russian schools are not satisfactory, many parents attempt to send their children to a Russian school.
3. Because the State language is perceived as the language of one ethnic group (i.e. the Kyrgyz), it is difficult for members of other ethnic groups to learn this language.
4. Schools in Kyrgyzstan do not provide enough time or methodology for children to learn to communicate in various languages.”
In other countries of Central Asia, for example in Uzbekistan the position of Russian language is in a more low position. Considering especially such region of Uzbekistan, as Ferghana Valley few younger residents of it seem to speak Russian anymore. The country does not maintain official statistics on language usage, but while 60 percent of Uzbeks knew at least some Russian, only 20 percent had significant command of the language.
I think that it is a big problem for the development of the Central Asia’s countries, because As Russian declines and it is not replaced with English, or any other global language, Central Asians will find themselves at a disadvantage.
The poorest citizens of Central Asia’s countries have already felt the consequences of the decrease. In context of migration, many Central Asian guest workers do not have a strong command of Russian, and are thus increasingly vulnerable to harassment and mistreatment.
Another big disadvantage of the eclipse of Russian is that it becomes difficult for Central Asian countries to engage with, and understand people, because that knowledge of Russian is no long enough to communicate effectively.
In conclusion I’d like to say, that obviously the influence of Russian language is rapidly declining. But in past time it played a very big and important role in the life of each citizens of each country in this region. Despite the fact, that Russia remains top trade partner for Central Asia and that economically on Russia in many ways, the cultural importance and influence is barely exists. Russian will probably remain the “default” language to learn for ambitious locals. Most people who have a choice still consider Russian necessary. For upward mobility, you have to learn Russian. Russia still considers this region a part of its historical and traditional sphere of influence and tries to secure its control over the region with economic contracts and military and security cooperation in order to avoid the growing impact of Western power.
Dzhopua Saria. GMB-35
1. Dukenbaev, Askat & W. Hansen, William, “Understanding Politics in Kyrgyzstan”, DEMSTAR, Research Report No. 16, September 2003;www.demstar.dk/papers/UPKyrgyzstan.pdf.
2. “Now and Then: 20 Years After Soviet Union Collapse” http://www.eurasianet.org/ussr/64703