Russian language use in post-Soviet space declining precipitously

A new signpost in Kyiv, Ukraine installed in 2016. Similar Ukrainian-English language signs are finally replacing the common Russian-language signs, a remnant of Ukraine's three and half centuries-long status as a colony of the Russian monarchic empire that later transformed into a communist one. (Image: UNIAN)

A new signpost in Kyiv, Ukraine installed in 2016. Similar Ukrainian-English language signs are finally replacing the common Russian-language signs, a remnant of Ukraine's three and half centuries-long status as a colony of the Russian monarchic empire that later transformed into a communist one. (Image: UNIAN) 

2017/04/15 - 11:27 • Analysis & Opinion, Russia

The Euromonitor group, using UN and national data sets, reports that the number of people using Russian in the post-Soviet states has declined by ten percent or more since 1994, a decline that reflects the re-orientation of these nations away from Moscow and puts paid to Vladimir Putin’s efforts to base his “Russian world” on the Russian language.

In Kazakhstan in 1994, 33.7 percent of residents mainly spoke Russian; as of last year, only 20.7 percent do. In Latvia and Estonia, the corresponding figures are 40.5 percent to 29.8 percent and from 33.3 percent to 23.4 percent, while in Ukraine the number declined from 33.9 percent to 24.4 percent (kommersant.rubelaruspartisan.org and sobkorr.ru).

Some of this reflects the declining share of the ethnic Russian populations there as a result of out-migration and dying out of aging groups as well as the higher birthrates and lower death rates among the titular non-Russian nations. But much of this reflects a desire to participate in the broader world, English- or Chinese-speaking, directly rather than via Russian.

It is still true that older members of the elites speak Russian. After all, those over 50 grew up and were educated in a Russian-dominated environment. But younger people – and they are entering and will soon dominate the elites now – speak much less Russian even than the national figures suggest.

On the one hand, Moscow must come to terms with what other former imperial centers have: Some in its former colonies will continue to look to it and its language. But over time, ever fewer will, preferring instead to use their national language or to learn international languages that are more useful to them than Russian.

And on the other, Western countries which interact with these countries are increasingly going to have to devote the resources to provide training in these non-Russian languages for diplomats and businessmen rather than continuing to assume, as many still do, that they can “get by” with Russian.

That may be true in some places and for a while yet. But it is rapidly ceasing to be the case.


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Dagwood Bumstead

    Announcements in the Kyiv metro have been in Ukrainian for years so it was a matter of time before public signs became Ukrainian as well. Pedo Putolini’s aggression has backfired here as well as it has accelerated the switch away from Russian to the bilingual Ukrainian/English signs as in the photo above. And children are now educated with Ukrainian as the primary language, with English as secondary language. In my experience many of the older generation speak only Russian and Ukrainian, but the under 50s speak at least some English, and the younger they are the better their English is.
    Within a generation Russian will be largely irrelevant in most post-Soviet states, and there’s nothing the dwarf can do to stop the transition.

    • veth

      What will sooner disappear, Russia or the Russian language………………hahaha..my 2 cents.

      • zorbatheturk

        One day a meteor will hit the Krumlin. Cosmic justice.

    • Oknemfrod

      Interestingly, the station names and announcements in the metro have been in Ukrainian from day one, that is November 6, 1960, when the first 5 stations from Vokzal’na to Dnipro were opened – just the day before the October revolt anniversary celebration – obviously, intentionally. As irony would have it, the metro opening turned out to be a much more important event for the kyivites, totally dwarfing the celebration of the next day. I remember distinctly that people, my family included, would just go for a ride, with no other specific purpose.

      As I’ve learned from certain credible personal accounts thereafter, the decision to go Ukrainian on the metro wholesale met with stiff opposition in Moscow and Kyiv alike and eventually prevailed due to two factors: (a) the still continuing thaw and accompanying mild liberalization in the national policy and (b) unrelenting efforts on part of Petro Shelest, at the time was the party chief of the Kyiv oblast.

      p.s. Despite being a staunch communist and acting accordingly – in particular, ruthlessly persecuting dissidents, Shelest was a true Ukrainian at heart and did a lot for the national revival in the 1960s, especially for derussifying education and public life. His overt insistence that the Ukrainians are a stand-alone people with its own history, culture, language, etc. was driving the “internationalists” in Moscow up the wall. Should be no surprise that eventually (in 1973) he paid for this not only with his job but the ban on living in Ukraine and permanent KGB surveillance. For its “excessive nationalism”, his book “Our Soviet Ukraine” (1970) was banned, eliminated from the libraries, and most of the 100,000 originally printed copies were destroyed.

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        My first trip to Kyiv included visits to Sofia, Lavra and Mikhailovsky- the latter had recently been rebuilt and opened. The guide book to Sofia was bilingual, Ukrainian and English, despite being a 1970s publication; I doubt whether many foreign tourists would have visited Kyiv in those days. A school friend of my father’s was a microbiologist and was once invited to a conference in Leningrad but despite the official invite still had considerable trouble in getting a visa from the Soviet Embassy- this was around 1972. A visa for visiting Kyiv would probably have been impossible to get then, I would imagine.
        Lavra’s guide book was in Ukrainian only; Mikhalovsky had no proper guide book yet, only a leaflet which was also Ukrainian only.

        • Oknemfrod

          You’re right about that – Kyiv wasn’t flooded with foreign tourists those days circa 1970. There was enough of them, nevertheless, to fill up a few “Intourist” hotels in Kyiv (from which the local populace was outright banned). Lavra and Sophia were the chief tourist destinations just the same. Normally, foreign tourists would visit them in guided groups. Running into “wild” tourists roaming Kiyv on their own was extremely rare, though sometimes it did happen. Nowadays, nobody in Kyiv pays any attention to foreign speech being overheard; then, it absolutely turned heads. Funny you mentioned 1972 because it was the year when a couple from NYC – a surgeon-oncologist and his better half – visited us in our dingy flat five minutes of walk away from Lavra. My Dad (a surgeon-oncologist himself and versed in English) had befriended him earlier at a conference in Leningrad. Twas’ a memorable experience – the first time I met a native English speaker in person. The couple, now in their 80s, still dwells in NYC.

      • Alex George

        I hope that book is reprinted and still studied.

        • Oknemfrod

          In this day and age, there’s no reason to reprint it:

          artradiolab.ru/Ukraina.htm

          But be mindful, just in case you value your time, that it’s hardly worth reading. The opus is full of commie dung, through whose semi-transparent prism Ukraine is viewed – according with the author’s convictions. My point was rather that even an oblique hint at the Ukraine’s distinct character percolating through that commie prism was enough to infuriate Moscow beyond measure. You can imagine how what’s been happening in Ukraine now drives them up the wall.

          • Dagwood Bumstead

            It shouldn’t have driven them up the wall then, and it shouldn’t do so now. Vladimir Ilyich himself stated in 1914 that “the interests of the world proletariat in general and the Russian proletariat in particular require that the Ukraine regains its independence.” Note Lenins use of the word “regains”.

            And at the 10th Party Congress in March 1921 then People’s Commisar for the Nationalities Stalin, Pedo Putolini’s Great Hero and Shining Example, against the wishes of other early Bolshevik leaders who wanted to suppress all nationalism openly advocated supporting and using it, especially in the case of the Ukraine: “Clearly, the Ukrainian nation exists and the development of its culture is a duty of Communists. One cannot go against history.”

          • Oknemfrod

            Agreed on all points. And notice for the Russians (including the Bolsheviks) independence of the Ukrainian nation and/or recognition of its existence – or denying it thereof – has always been a matter of some sort of expediency. Both Lenin and Stalin have done U-turns on it more than once.

          • Dagwood Bumstead

            True, but isn’t it fun to use such quotes against the dwarf’s trolls when they deny that Ukrainians are not Russians and spout other nonsense?

            Several years ago I saw a series on the USSR on TV and in one episode a woman was interviewed who as a girl of about 17 had written an essay at school which was Pure Heresy according to the Official Views of the Day. She was summoned to the Head who gave her a severe dressing down and then asked where she had got such ideas from. She calmly replied “From Vladimir Ilyich” which resulted in a further tongue-lashing and statements such as “Vladimir Ilyich never said that!” whereupon she took a volume of “Lenin’s Collected Works” (or whatever the official title is) from her bag and showed the Head the quotes she had used for her essay.

            Nothing more was said.

          • Oknemfrod

            Has happened to me more than once. Usually, the argument would end in the admonition “you interpret it incorrectly”. Their idiocy was that they portrayed that orc universally as “grandfather Lenin” and the kindest person who had ever lived, not to mention “the greatest genius of all time” and at the same time they were collecting everything their idol had ever said and every minor note he had written scrupulously, and every library was stuffed with his “complete collected works” chock full of his orders to kill, hang, burn, raze, etc. But they also knew that an average person would never read his garbage unless forced to in school, which in turn fostered further aversion for reading any more than was absolutely necessary to pass an exam.

            p.s. The monument to him at the T-section of Khreshchatyk St. and Shevchenko Blvd. bore his quote carved into the pedestal, which I remember pretty much verbatim: “Only through the unity of the proletarians Russian and Ukrainian free Ukraine is possible; without such unity, it’s futile to talk about it”. The monument was toppled during the Maidan revolution.

          • Andrew Chmile

            “Their idiocy was that they portrayed that orc universally as
            “grandfather Lenin” and the kindest person who had ever lived, not to
            mention “the greatest genius of all time” and at the same time they were
            collecting everything their idol had ever said and every minor note he
            had written scrupulously,,,”

            In terms of Lenin, yeah, one Ruski seemed annoyed that someone called Lenin — LENIN !!!! — A murderer!!!.

            Stalin … well … but LENIN!!

            Amazingly ignorant Ruski are!

          • Oknemfrod

            Lenin’s letter to Dzerzhinski from 5/1/1919: “Priests must be arrested as counterrevolutionaries and saboteurs, shot without mercy and everywhere and as many as possible”.

            Same time period. In another missive to the same respondent who had suggested that “hostages should be taken and sent to concentration camps”, Lenin disagrees: “Not taken but appointed by name … and then hanged (by all means, hanged!) for everyone to see”.

            1905. Lenin (from Switzerland!) gives a sage advice to St. Pete’s youth: “douse police in the crowd with acid, pour boiling water on soldiers’ heads, pelt the streets with hand grenades”.

            1920. Lenin recommends penetrating into Latvia and Estonia (then bound with Russia by peace treaties) under the guise of “bands of greens” detected on the border: “Under the guise of “greens” (afterward, we’ll blame it on them) we’ll go in … and hang kulaks, priests, and landowners. Bonus: 100000 rubles per hanged”.

            And I’ve just scratched the surface.

            p.s. They don’t consider Stalin a murderer, either.

          • Andrew Chmile

            Hmm… odd that a Sovok would know that …. Have you been stealing my books from years ago!?

            Most sovoks (MOST) don’t know much … Pan Roman. in retrospect was a rare bird — was the guy that told me Sovok army ate sh*t …

            Also told me, if you wanted to know, you would know … Ruski it seems to me, LOVE being HONESTLY & TRULY ignorant. Most curious!

          • Andrew Chmile

            So did Trotsky ….. he was for Ukraine … when he was in exile.

            A hero for some … Neo-cons esp…. but an amazingly EVIL scumbag!

          • Oknemfrod

            Yup. His quarrel with others of his ilk was about whose way of screwing mankind up would be more succesful.

          • Andrew Chmile

            A power tripper …. A total HERO to the Neo-cons …. who are called “conservatives” — yet are pro-Israel … & socialist …. Crazy sh*t!

            His statement to Ukes was: “You say you have famine and are hungry? When your women eat your children, then say you are hungry.”

            Pretty accurate quote here, going by memory,
            Funny thing was, his family made their living & money by farming in Ukieland as you know.

            Played a bit part as an actor playing the role of “a Russian revolutionary” in a film made in NYC. Lived in the Bronx like me for awhile! :)

            Among left wing Jews, Trotsky is *GOD* I found out. I’m serious!
            Funny thing, as they were blowing up churches all over, they never touched a single synagogue.

            Amazing all that occurred. Could never have happened save by NYC financing & taking over the STUPID Ruski “sheep-people” who were ALWAYS “horde-like” & stupid & evil.

            As before, Leonard Shapiro is The Man on THE PARTY. (the 2nd edition)
            Solzhenitsyn. the “Apostate Uke” — his Gulag book is a good “human account:.

            For “horrors” there are a number of books.

            Amazing that (perhaps not! :) Solzhenitsyn’s _Two Hundred Years Among Friends_ has never been translated into English. Jews say it’s “anti-Semitic” — which is of course. IMPOSSIBLE! Show me “semitism” FIRST! :))

            But it (the book) paints Jews as NOT being innocent victims & holy martyrs, & goes into the REAL 200 year history of Jews in “Russia”. So that won’t “sell”. :)

            IF — there could be such a thing as a “holy & innocent people” — Ukes would be in the running for that title, it seems to me. Most certainly most people don’t know about Ukes. My Jew friend 😉 Victor — born in Kyiv, doesn’t know sh*t. He does now … a bit more anyway… Pity he “feels” — a “need” to attempt to always try to fool me, with his ethnocentric BS narrative.

            Unnecessary!

            Ultimately, JUDGEMENT is individual anyway.
            Of course friend Victor is an atheist — & he tells me he believes in Logic… but does not & runs away from it. Not my problem.

            But he avoids discussing certain topics with me, like “evolution” for one, along with Big Bang stuff. :)

            How it is …. HEY! Lemmie give you this!
            To make amends for my “sins” — i.e & Re: Serbo-Croation :)

            This is intellectual, scientific stuff … but you have a weakness for such, so:

            NA! 😉

            William Lane Craig: The Evidence for God. Imperial College, London, October 2011
            ReasonableFaithTour

            5 years ago
            31,197 views
            Prof. William Lane Craig was invited by the undergraduate Christian Union at Imperial College, London to give a lunch-time …

          • Andrew Chmile

            “whose way of screwing mankind up would be more succesful.”

            Such was foreordained.

            Proverbs 6:18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick …
            biblehub.com/proverbs/6-18.htm
            a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift to run to evil, New Heart English … For their feet run to evil And they hasten to shed blood. Proverbs 24:2

            Proverbs 6:18 KJV: An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet …
            biblehub.com/kjv/proverbs/6-18.htm
            a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are swift in running to mischief, Young’s Literal … For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. Proverbs …

            Isaiah 59:7 Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent …
            biblehub.com/isaiah/59-7.htmTheir feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways.

          • Andrew Chmile

            “Alex George” doesn’t mind! :)

            HE IS A RUSSO-MONGOLIAN ***MOLE*** .

            Most RUSKI are STILL STALIN FANS — those sh*ts!!
            ALMOST ALL are SOVIET UNION fans!! :)))

          • Alex George

            Ah, and Andrew the Putintroll is back – always looking for a chance to attack friends of Ukraine. Pity everyone is wise to him now. ;o)

          • Andrew Chmile

            “Alex George” IS “commie dung” as you would put it!

            The on going trend BTW, is for the “mole-trolls” to hide their posting profiles for the most part these days. :)

            Our “Serbian:mental case” friend is most quick to copy the latest “party lines” etc…

            Save when I, evidently, “excite” him. :)

            Lots of “Ruski moles” though … interesting!
            They are the would be “opinion molders” of strategic value it would appear.

            “Coming out” — as it were, when “important”.
            As when they “defend” THEIR “disqus channels” from such as me :)

            Still trolling and not just “moleing” in their other accounts of course,,,, Dam*! They put a LOT of resources into this BS!

            Still …. they got a president out of it so….

            Think of ALL THE NOISE about that BS “missile strike” where the U.S. TOLD the Syrians & Russians about it ahead of time! :)))

          • Alex George

            Yes, you don’t like the truth being told about you, do you Andrew?

            You are a Putin supporter who tries to make trouble among those who support Ukraine. You rarely post anything against any real Russian troll (except one in particular, whom many of us suspect is your own bogus account) but you spend a lot of time attacking Ukrainians and those who are friends of Ukraine.

            You have been booted off numerous pro-Ukrainian blogs, for precisely this reason.

        • Andrew Chmile

          SHUDD_UP !!! RUSKI POS ***LYING** MOLE!!!

          YOU KNOW NOTHING OF UKRAINIAN STUDIES OR HISTORY, CULTURE, LANGUAGE — YOU RUSSO-MONGOLIAN **LIAR**!!

          EVERYTHING WITH YOU IS IN TERMS OF BS RUSKI **MOLE** GENERALITIES!!! — ALWAYS!!

          IGNORANT RUSKI!!

          YOU-A FOLLOW-A MY SUGGESTION & STUDY MORE DA ANGLISH? 😉

          Faqqot! :)))

          • Alex George

            And neither do you.

            You aren’t Ukrainian and you don’t know the language.

            The difference between us is that I don’t pretend to, and I genuinely support Ukraine. You do not.

          • Andrew Chmile

            “You aren’t Ukrainian and you don’t know the language.”

            :)
            stupid faqqot you indeed are!
            BOLDLY STUPID in point of fact! :))

            Real monhol I see … BLUFF is their thing … esp when they have nothing to lose.

            This is why you monhols are just sh*t — and always will be such! 😉

            Genetically INFERIOR!!!

          • Alex George

            Good to see you aren’t arguing with anything I wrote about you above. Because you can’t

          • Andrew Chmile

            faqqot “talk” …. just like a little b*tch…. KUNT!

      • Ihor Dawydiak

        To elaborate even further, the historical era under Shelest (who was officially branded as a “national deviationist” by the Kremlin) saw not only the advent of an unstoppable dissident movement (along with an abundance of uncensored literature/aka Samvydav/aka Samizdat) but it also and ironically brought into play open criticisms from Ukrainian Marxist-Leninists who decried the discrimination against national minorities in the Soviet Union. A primary example of this criticism could be found in the highly acclaimed treatise by the Ukrainian writer and academic, Ivan Dziuba, titled “Internationalism or Russification”. Another noted critique, although non Marxist-Leninist in nature, was written by the celebrated dissident, Valentyn Moroz, titled “Report From The Beria Reserve”. The subsequent reaction from the Kremlin was not totally unexpected. Shelest was removed from power only to be replaced by the Russophile, Volodymyr Shcherbytskyi who then launched a massive wave of repressions including the jailing and exiling of anyone who dared to criticize Russification or anything that could be deemed as anti-Soviet. Alas, this was to no avail. The Genie was out of the bottle and Putin’s never ending nightmare became a reality.

        • Oknemfrod

          Yes, and thank you for an informative post!

          You’re exactly right that the genie was already let out of the bottle – and not only in terms of the Ukrainian dissident movement. The seeds sown during the reign of Shelest had sprouted by the time the muscovite derriere-wiper Shcherbytsky was installed strongly enough to resist any weed-wacker attacks, notably in higher education. When I started in the KU’s school of radio physics in 1973, most disciplines (and math wholesale) were taught in Ukrainian, and I can personally attest that it continued unabated at least through 1980. In turn, it bred a generation of Ukrainian-versed educated svidomites who went on to become the basis of Rukh some 6-7 years later and who, together with their children, dumbfounded Moscow by two Maidans – the developments WRT which “alas” is the aptest word as far as the Kremlin is concerned – not me!

          • Dagwood Bumstead

            I’d say that the dissident nationalist movement was already bubbling under the surface even before Shelest, certainly in Western Ukraine. The survivors of the UPA and other nationalist organisations would hardly have abandoned their beliefs and aspirations- on the contrary, especially those who had been in the Gulag would only have had their views strengthened: we are better off without Moscow.

          • Ihor Dawydiak

            That is 100% correct. Almost every Ukrainian or even non-Ukrainian dissident living in Ukraine primarily from the 1960’s through to the 1990’s was either directly or indirectly affected by both the actions of the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army in revolt from 1942-1957) and the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists active from 1929 to the present). I found this to be of great interest and subsequently dedicated a great amount of detailed research while writing my thesis in my final year at Carleton University under the tutelage of the internationally renowned Sovietologist, Professor Bohdan Bociurkiw. The title of my thesis was, “The Origins and Development of Ukrainian Samvydav (uncensored literature), 1960-1976”.

  • zorbatheturk

    A good news story. I hope the Easter Bunny bypassed the Krumlin. No chocolate eggs for the Putinator. He can eat toadstool soup with a raw porcupine garnish.

    • Alex George

      That would indeed be fair.

      Unfortunately it’s more likely to be the best French wine and imported meats, while most of his people are lucky to get palm oil “cheese”.

      • zorbatheturk

        Putin will feed them. He creates Putella every morning.

        • Alex George

          Good point.

          • zorbatheturk

            Once some RuSSian scientists found a frozen mammoth so they ate parts of it.

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        The dwarf doesn’t drink if we are to believe the propaganda. But he will definitely be stuffing himself with “banned for the rabble” western goodies- REAL Italian Parma ham, French Camambert and Brie, English Cheddar and Stilton, Dutch Gouda and Edam, Bavarian Weißwurst, Norwegian and Scottish salmon, Canadian maple syrup etc etc. Oh, and fresh Belarusian shrimp, of course.

        Medvedev will be feeding beluga caviar to his ducks.

  • Vadim Shirkozhukhov

    Normally, I’m all for helping dying languages, Ukrainian included. But somehow this page makes me feel better about its imminent death.