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Is The Russian Language Losing Its Dominance In Central Asia?

Many parents believe that their children have a better chance to succeed in life knowing Russian than, for instance, Kyrgyz. But attitudes are changing.
Many parents believe that their children have a better chance to succeed in life knowing Russian than, for instance, Kyrgyz. But attitudes are changing.

The number of Russian speakers in Central Asia has declined since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, mostly due to sociodemographic factors such as the migration of ethnic Russians and population growth in dominant ethnic groups.

But Russian remains strong, especially in cities. It is still the language of education, science, services, and, often, official paperwork. And many parents still believe that their children have better chances of succeeding in life knowing Russian. These linguistic divisions -- often between people of the same ethnicity --have led to cultural clashes and resentment over unequal opportunities and discrimination.

But government policies and public attitudes among Russian-speakers are gradually shifting toward a more prominent role for native languages.

This was the subject of a live Twitter discussion hosted by RFE/RL on May 26 with Issatay Minuarov, a sociologist from Kazakhstan; Bektour Iskender, a journalist from Kyrgyzstan and a co-founder of the Kloop news website; and Sevara Khamidova, a women’s rights activist from Uzbekistan. The talk was moderated by RFE/RL contributor Bermet Talant.

Some key takeaways:

Issatay Minuarov: “For the Kazakh government, especially after the Ukrainian case, it's too fragile to remove the Russian language from the constitution. It’s the issue of national security. But I think the nation-building project, which includes the promotion of Kazakh culture and the Kazakhization of the northern part of the country is going to be reinforced and accelerated. But it will not affect the Russian language.”

Bektour Iskender: “Earlier in my life, I was one of the defenders of the Russian language, but I saw it through the prism of a minority language. I think when you have a limited view of what Kyrgyzstan is, when you do it without a historical context, without a colonial context, then Russian really kind of looks like a minority language that should be preserved and defended. Being born in a Russian-language community, I was feeling like a minority in my country but then after learning more, especially when this new colonization was started by Russia, and seeing the war in Ukraine myself, that was a very important eye-opener.”

Sevara Khamidova: “To me, it was very difficult to find any educational program to learn Uzbek. When you try, you cannot find the proper school that would teach you the Uzbek language as native. And this is one of the factors why Russian is more preferable. But at the same time, English is becoming more and more popular among Uzbek-speaking people who find it difficult to learn Russian.”

Listen to the full conversation here:

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Read more on the subject from RFE/RL:

'Neanderthal Russophobes': Kremlin Complaints Turn To Language

No Shortage Of Students As Tajikistan Builds New Russian Schools

Language A Sensitive Issue In Kyrgyzstan

“Kazakhs Suffer The Most Discrimination In Our Country”: Why The Question Of The National Language Has Become A Burning Issue In Kazakhstan (By Current Time, in Russian)

Follow @RFERL on Twitter so as not to miss our regular conversations on life and social change in Central Asia every Thursday at 7 p.m. local time in Bishkek (3 p.m. CET/9 a.m. EST).

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    Bermet Talant

    Bermet Talant is a journalist from Kyrgyzstan who is currently based in Sydney. She previously worked as a political reporter for the Kyiv Post and completed a Reuters Institute fellowship at Oxford University. She has also written for The Guardian, the Lowy Institute, Eurasianet, openDemocracy, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.