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How Popular Is The Russian Language In Tajikistan?

«Russian language still occupies in Tajikistan a very important place. It is used in many professional spheres, but the proficiency level is being reduced in comparison with other Central Asian countries», -notes a political analyst Muslimbek Buriev in his article written specifically for analytical platform CABAR.asia.


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Summary of the article:

  • During the USSR, knowledge of Russian was a prime advantage for a career and was providing an opportunity to join the world culture;
  • Now, Russian in Tajikistan is the language of interethnic communication;
  • Russian language has a solid status in the field of education; hours for learning Russian are allocated on a mandatory basis;
  • Teaching of Russian language is not only as a compulsory subject, but also as part of additional training for those who plan to leave for work in Russia;
  • Russian language has become a cultural and educational tool of soft power, aimed at preserving Russia’s influence;
  • Despite rather positive assessments regarding the official status of Russian language, there is a shortage in terms of language environment for its more effective learning in Tajikistan.

In order to fully assess the position of language, the number of people who actively use it in everyday life and the number of Russian language schools are usually analyzed. But to get the whole picture we should not forget about the internal state policy, and external interactions with Russia, and how this affects the language relations within the country. In this article, the author will try to assess the main trends in the development of Russian language in Tajikistan, identify problems and discuss possible solutions.

Language of interethnic communication

During the USSR, knowledge of Russian was a prime advantage for a career and was providing an opportunity to join the world culture. Russian language served as a kind of mediator connecting Tajikistan and the rest of the world, since literature and scientific works of foreign authors were published mainly in Russian throughout the territory of the Soviet Union[1].

Now, Russian in Tajikistan is the language of interethnic communication[2]. This status is formalized in the Constitution of the country. This means that Russian language is used in Tajikistan, not limited in any way, and anyone who speaks it can freely use it in all aspects of their life activities.

However, Russian language in the country has lost its position in comparison to the Soviet period. This is due to the outflow of Russian-speaking population after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the civil war that followed, and with the nation building policy in general. The formation of a new approach to the language issue began in 1989, when the Law of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic “On Language” was adopted[3]. The document obliged officials and civil servants to use only Tajik language in the records management and documentation as a whole[4].

This process marked the beginning of nation building, which was promoted by the activity of national democratic forces during the glasnost period, including intelligentsia, clergy and youth. However, no one was going to abandon Russian language and the government that gave it the status of interethnic communication language understood this. In fact, it is still the same now, as in Soviet times and in the period of independence, Russian remains the main language for many other ethnic groups living in the country, including Tatars, Ossetians, Ukrainians, Koreans and remaining contingent of ethnic Russians.

Russian is still relevant

Despite the fact that about 70% of Russian-speaking population left Tajikistan in the early 1990s, Russian language is used inside the country in many areas, including business, arts and journalism. Russian-language media, local newspapers, online platforms and radio stations, as well as Russian television channels are popular in the country.

Russian language has a key importance in the academic sphere, since the scientific and qualification works of Tajik academicians have the right to pass a commission through the All-Russian Certifying Commission[5]. In accordance with this, all such works must be submitted in Russian. Such an approach is highly popular among local scientists, since Russian education is highly valued, and the scientific expertise awarded by All-Russian Certifying Commission adds prestige.

The local All-Russian Certifying Commission has been functioning since 2011. Since 2017 it accepts works only in Russian or in English at the order of the Tajik Ministry of Education and Science[6].
About 68% of Tajik population claims that they are fluent in Russian in one way or another[7]. According to another survey, 69% of respondents indicated Russian along with Tajik and English as a desired instruction language for their children[8].
Russian language has a solid status in the field of education. In every school hours for learning the Russian language are allocated on a mandatory basis, regardless of the main language of instruction. In so-called “Tajik schools” – schools where subjects are taught in Tajik, Russian is compulsory for learning from the second grade, unlike other foreign languages[9], which are taught from the fifth grade and at the choice of a student.

69% of respondents indicated Russian along with Tajik and English as a desired instruction language for their children. Photo: gumilev-center.ru
In the field of higher education in the country, there are three universities with full instruction in Russian. These are branches of Moscow State University, Russian-Tajik Slavic University and Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys. Many other institutions also have departments with instruction in Russian. In the 2008-2009 academic year 33,495 students in all universities were trained in Russian, which accounted for 28% of the total number of students[10].

There is a tendency that Russian language confidently occupies certain niches. Representatives of individual professions, including artists and academicians actively used Russian, preserving it in the period of independence. Therefore, we can conclude that despite some limitations Russian language has a strong position in general.

The intermediary connection that Russian language was performing over the past century remained, but rather regional in scope. Russian language including in the CIS has acquired a peculiar political status at the level of interethnic economic and political relations. But due to some political factors, its importance also has increased for internal processes in Tajikistan.

Connection with Russia

Migration is another factor associated with the use of Russian language in Tajikistan[11]. Teaching of Russian language is not only as a compulsory subject, but also as part of additional training for those who plan to leave for work in Russia. There are language centers in the country where future migrants are trained in order to adapt to new conditions and pass certification to obtain a work permit.

Migration to Russia determines the importance of knowing Russian for citizens who plan to live and work in a country where this language is a state one. Photo: e1.ru
This provides cheap labor resources for Russia, so the aspect of teaching citizens Russian language is also important for it. Such preparation is important for controlling migration flows, a process that has been problematic in Russia since the early 2000s, when migration from the CIS countries rapidly began to grow.

At the moment, Russia remains an important strategic partner for Tajikistan, especially in the field of security. Therefore, the presence of migrant workers in Russia remains one of the factors for maintaining stable relationship between states. However, the diversity of spheres in Tajikistan where Russian language is used makes it clear that connection between the two states is wider.

The spread of Russian language is a part of Russia’s broad political course, in particular, in terms of maintaining the status of Russian in the territories of the former Soviet republics[12]. Besides, Russia provides students from CIS countries, including from Tajikistan, with quotas for studying at Russian universities[13]. Thus, Russian language has become a cultural and educational tool of soft power, aimed at preserving Russia’s influence.

Experts and government officials of Russia use the number of educational institutions teaching in Russian as an indicator of Russian language position[14]. At the same time, the target benchmark for such a policy is the status and level of proficiency in Russian language in Belarus and Kazakhstan[15], as well as Kyrgyzstan, where Russian is official. Its status is high In Tajikistan, but not as in Belarus. The number of schools with Russian language instruction is much lower, and the proficiency language level is behind Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. This explains what measures the Russian government is trying to use to strengthen Russian language in Tajikistan and the CIS as a whole.

Annually, schools receive new textbooks, especially for students and teachers from Tajik-teaching schools through the local representative office of the Russian state cultural-humanitarian organization “Rossotrudnichestvo”. In 2017 and in September 2018, 60 Russian language teachers were sent from Russia to Tajikistan to work in local schools[16]. In addition to this, the Russian Ministry of Education announced that 5 new schools with Russian instruction language are being developed. They are planned to be built in five most densely populated cities of Tajikistan, where the demand for Russian is the highest[17]. The local government is gradually conducting a policy of increasing a number of hours to teach Russian in Tajik schools[18].

A branch of the Russian Center for Science and Culture is opened in “Rossotrudnichestvo” representative office in Khujand, Tajikistan in 2017. Photo: ozodi.org
Thus, Russia shows how it is concerned about Russian proficiency level in Tajikistan, and indeed this fits well into the strategy for setting up soft power tools. At the same time, the Government of Tajikistan contributes to this situation, understanding how high the demand for Russian language and for its teaching in the country.


Despite rather positive assessments regarding the official status of Russian language, there is a shortage in terms of language environment for its more effective learning in Tajikistan. It was noted that the number of hours devoted to teaching Russian in schools is not enough. It should be noted that such an assessment of the situation arises when considering how much Russian language is in demand. Knowledge of Russian language was a plus in Soviet times and now. Parents are aware of this, so they are trying to send their children to schools where instruction is entirely in Russian. At the same time, these schools are not enough for everyone, and often they are overcrowded.

There is no language environment in “Tajik schools” where Russian language can be practiced in everyday situations. Despite the fact that it is a compulsory foreign language, the number of students is too large, unlike the conditions in which other foreign languages are taught. For example, the class is divided into several groups for learning English; this facilitates teacher’s work with schoolchildren. As for Russian language, teacher cannot pay attention to each student, which reduces both quality of teaching and understanding of language by the students.

Taking into account that similar difficulties arise in cities or villages, where there are no Russian-language schools, the problem assumes a nationwide scope. Measures taken by both the local and the Russian governments show how much both parties are interested in solving the problem, however, it is not yet possible to evaluate the effectiveness of these measures. There are alternative proposals for changing the situation and more intensive training of internal personnel is among them. It can make a problem solving strategy more sustainable in the future. Local teachers will be able to improve the quality of teaching, and dependence on the Russian contingent of teachers will eventually disappear.

However, this alternative shows us more serious problems. Unfortunately, low salaries, lack of social benefits for teachers together with a huge workload, make the profession of a teacher not very attractive. In particular, it concerns young graduates of philological departments of the country universities.

Another problem relates to the availability of learning Russian throughout the country.
According to the assessment of 2017, which was provided by the Ministry of Education and Science of Tajikistan, the capital, Dushanbe lacked 8 teachers, but Khatlon region and areas of republican subordination lacked 138 and 168 teachers respectively, “especially there is a shortage of Russian language and literature teachers”[19].
At the moment it is difficult to give a general assessment of Russian proficiency level in whole Tajikistan. Larger cities tend to have a higher level of Russian language prevalence[20]. Language environment may be completely absent in smaller and remote cities and villages. Taking to account that a larger number of labor migrants are leaving the countryside[21], the importance of teaching Russian and creating an appropriate language environment in the regions is very high.


The level of proficiency in Russian still remains a problematic issue in the modern realities of Tajikistan. But this problem comes only from an understanding of how high the demand is for it. In the understanding of the population, just as in the times of the Soviet Union, Russian language remains an instrument that opens up career opportunities. Another aspect of its relevance is Migration to Russia which determines the importance of knowing Russian for citizens who plan to live and work in a country where this language is a state one.

Russian government takes certain steps in this direction, since it is an important strategic element of its foreign policy in the post-Soviet space.

Tajik authorities are also interested in this, and cooperation with Russian government proves this. However, if such issues are among the priorities, the local government should play a key role in the future.

Options for measures aimed at increasing Russian proficiency level among the population of Tajikistan may be as follows:

  • Increase the number of hours for teaching Russian in Tajik-language schools. The work in this direction is already underway; however, it should be assessed how effective such a measure would be. It requires some time to identify changes.
  • Improve the training of Russian language teachers among local students of pedagogical departments. A possible option is to allocate scholarships for training in such disciplines, including in Russian universities.
  • With this option, the mechanism of graduates’ distribution to ready positions should be strengthened. A job guarantee can be quite attractive, including for those who have studied outside the country.

Considering the topic of this article outside the above perspective, one can say that Russian language with a relatively low proficiency level among the population plays an important role in Tajikistan’s life. It is used in many areas, and it still plays a kind of intermediary role, as in Soviet times. Russian language is quite firmly rooted in urban environments, and the demand for Russian-language education is quite high. It is not necessary to talk about its fading situation. However, it is not yet possible to talk about returning to the previous practice of its use. Russian language in Tajikistan remains the language of interethnic communication and is used mainly in those areas where it rooted.


[1] Usmonov, R. 2011, Russian language in culture and politics of Tajikistan, Language. Language arts. Culture http://publishing-vak.ru/file/archive-philology-2011-2/1-usmonov.pdf

[2] Constitution of the Republic of Tajikistan, Article 2, http://www.president.tj/ru/taxonomy/term/5/112 

[3] Law of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic “on language”, http://www.medialaw.asia/document/-261 

[4] Law of the Republic of Tajikistan on the State Language of the Republic of Tajikistan, http://www.kumitaizabon.tj/ru/content/zakon-respubliki-tadzhikistan-o-gosudarstvennom-yazyke-respubliki-tadzhikistan 

[5] Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan and the Government of Russian Federation on cooperation in the field of certification of highly qualified scientific personnel, http://www.anrt.tj/ru/ob-akademii/attestatsionnaya-komissiya-rt

[6] A dissertation in Tajikistan will have to be defended in Russian or English, Radio Ozodi, 09.11.2017, http://rus.ozodi.org/a/28843841.html

[7] Borishpolets, K., RUSSIAN LANGUAGE IN THE CENTRAL ASIAN REGION, MGIMO University Bulletin, 2 (35) http://www.vestnik.mgimo.ru/sites/default/files/pdf/borishpolec.pdf

[8] Nagzibekova, M.B. 2008, Russian language in Tajikistan, Slavica Helsingiensia 35. With love to word / Festschriftin Honor of the Arto Mustajoki on the Occasion of his 60th Birthday. Ed. by Jouko Lindstedt et al. – Helsinki, http://www.helsinki.fi/slavicahelsingiensia/preview/sh35/pdf/20.pdf

[9] Ibid.

[10] Usmonov, R. 2011, Russian language in culture and politics of Tajikistan, Language. Language arts. Culture http://publishing-vak.ru/file/archive-philology-2011-2/1-usmonov.pdf 

[11] The great and mighty Russian language in Tajik realities, Asia-Plus, 05/24/2017 https://news.tj/en/news/tajikistan/society/20170524/velikii-i-moguchii-russkii-yazik-v-tadzhikskih-realiyah

[12] Lebedeva, M., 2014 “SOFT POWER” IN REGARD TO CENTRAL ASIA: PARTICIPANTS AND THEIR ACTIONS, MGIMO Bulletin, №2 (35) http://www.vestnik.mgimo.ru/sites/default/files/pdf /lebedeva.pdf

[13] Torkunov, A., 2012, Education as a tool of “soft power” in Russian foreign policy, MGIMO University Bulletin, 4 (25) http://www.vestnik.mgimo.ru/sites/default/files/pdf/ 74217507.pdf  

[14] Pyanov, A., 2011, STATUS OF RUSSIAN LANGUAGE IN THE CIS COUNTRIES, Bulletin of KemSU No. 3 (47), http://www.philology.ru/linguistics2/pyanov-11.htm 

[15] Ibid.

[16] 60 teachers from Russia will teach children in schools of Tajikistan since September 1, 2018, Sputnik, 05.23.2018 https://tj.sputniknews.ru/main/20180523/1025655671/rossiya-uvelichit-chislo-uchiteley-prepodavat- tajikistan.html 

[17] Russia will open five schools in Tajikistan to promote Russian language, Russia for all, 07.08.2018 https://tjk.rus4all.ru/education/20180807/728728926.html

[18] Faskhutdinov, G., There will be more Russian language in Tajikistan: teachers remain to be found, Deutsche Welle 07/09/2015  https://www.dw.com/ru/russkogo-yazyka-v-tadzhikistane-stanet-bol’she-ostalos’-nayti-uchiteley /a-18572263 

[19] Asia-Plus, 12/01/2017, “Expert: After the collapse of the USSR, about 1% of 1.5 million Tajik schoolchildren got education in Russian” https://news.tj/news/tajikistan/society/20170112/ekspert-posle-raspada-sssr-poluchili-obrazovanie-na-russkom-yazike-okolo-1-iz-15-mln-tadzhikskih-shkolnikov 

[20] Kudoyarova, 2010 T. PROBLEMS OF FUNCTIONING AND LEARNING RUSSIAN LANGUAGE IN POST-SOVIET TAJIKISTAN, RUDN Bulletin, Russian and foreign languages ​​and training methods, No. 1, https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/problemy-funktsionirovaniya- i-izucheniya-russkogo-yazyka-v-postsovetskom-tadzhikistane  

[21] Olimova S., 2010 The Capital of Migration on Human Capital: The Case of Tajikistan, Rev. européenne des migrations internationals vol.26 No. 3 https://journals.openedition.org/remi/5239?lang=en

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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