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IWPR Held an Expert Meeting on the Role and Status of the Russian Language in Central Asian Countries

On March 15, 2019, a regional expert meeting “The Role and Status of the Russian Language in Central Asia” was held at the IWPR Office in Tajikistan. Independent experts, employees of state bodies and universities, representatives of research centers, political scientists and journalists discussed the status of the Russian language in the region, its place in the linguistic landscape of Central Asian countries, and offered their vision and suggestions for the future fruitful coexistence of Russian and national languages ​​of Central Asian countries.

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The Main Highlights: 

  • While the Russian language is still popular among the population of Central Asian countries, its distribution continues to decrease;
  • Labor migration remains one of the key factors motivating the population of the region for Russian language studies;
  • The Russian language knowledge remains important for the population, since it increases competitive advantage;
  • Support is required for the Russian language existence in the region, which should include improvements of the teaching quality, usage the potential of public-private partnerships and interstate cooperation.

Analysts of Central Asian countries disagree in opinions on the current situation of the Russian language in the region. While some experts say that Russian is still popular among the population, others argue that during the period of independence, Russian has steadily continued to lose its popularity, and in the future, its distribution may narrow even more.

Studying the status of the Russian language in Central Asian countries, analysts also differ in normative approach. Some advocate provision of more opportunities for the Russian language in order to develop the environment and argue that the academic, literary and business potential of the Russian language is significant. At the same time, others often criticize such ideas, considering the further development of the Russian language as a threat to the existence and development of the national languages ​​of the countries of the region. There are also those who advocate the harmonious development of Russian, national and other languages ​​of international communication (primarily English and Chinese) in the region.

Taking into account the experts and analysts’ disagreements described above, CABAR.asia has tried to clarify, crystallize and make experts’ points to the public by publishing a series of analytical articles on the situation of the Russian language in particular countries of the region and in the region as a whole. The next articles were published:

Considering some isolation of the authors of articles, analysts and experts from each other, on March 15, 2019, the IWPR Office in Tajikistan held a regional expert meeting “The Role and Status of the Russian Language in Central Asia”, where experts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan joined gathered in Dushanbe experts online.

Participants of the expert meeting “The Role and Status of the Russian Language in Central Asia”. Photo: cabar.asia

IWPR’s program manager in Tajikistan, Lola Olimova, opened the discussion by defining the CABAR.asia approach to the theme and the task of the discussion: to determine the status of the Russian language in the region, its role, and to find out whether its further progress is needed.

Muslimbek Buriev. Photo: cabar.asia

Muslimbek Buriev, an independent political analyst from Tajikistan, the author of the article «How Popular Is the Russian Language in Tajikistan?”, noted in his speech that there is a great demand for Russian in Tajikistan. However, according to him, in order to understand whether efforts should be made to develop the Russian language in Tajikistan further, a survey among citizens of the country should be made. At present moment, the citizens of Tajikistan need the Russian language, because Russian language knowledge opens up labor migration possibilities. The speaker summed up his position, noting that, considering the flows of labor migration, “it is necessary to create conditions so that migrants can easily integrate into Russian society”.

Ibrahim Usmonov. Photo: cabar.asia

The second speaker, Doctor of Historical Sciences, an expert from Tajikistan, Ibrahim Usmonov, sharply criticized the widespread opinion that the Russian language was a victim of national identity construction projects in the region. On the contrary, the expert believes that the construction of national self-consciousness cannot and should not play down the role and importance of the Russian language. He also criticized Muslimbek Buriev’s idea that the Russian language takes a strong position in country’s education sphere. Usmonov said that the Russian language had lost its role in education, while earlier “Russian for us [Tajiks] was an international language, thanks to which our [Tajik] literature reached the international level”.

Jaloliddin Amirov. Photo: cabar.asia

Jaloliddin Amirov, Chief Specialist of the Department of General Education Schools of the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Tajikistan, spoke about the state policy in the field of education. According to Amirov, foreign languages ignorance, in particular, Russian and English, does not allow students of the Republic of Tajikistan to be internationally competitive. The state policy in the field of education takes into account this fact, and language courses are available at all levels of education – starting from preschool institutions to higher education institutions. In addition, the Ministry of Education of Tajikistan supports the study of the Russian language by other methods, including the creation of Russian language study clubs and the journals issue. Answering a question about the number of Russian schools operating in Tajikistan, the government official said that there are 29 Russian schools (schools with Russian as the language of instruction) and about 140 bilingual schools (where teaching is partly in Russian, partly in Tajik) currently operating in Tajikistan.

Eduard Poletaev. Photo: cabar.asia

An expert from Kazakhstan, Eduard Poletaev, spoke about the role of the Russian language in Kazakhstan. He noted that Kazakhstan is the most Russian-speaking country in Central Asia, in which the Russian language has the status equal to the official language. Nevertheless, the Russian language in Kazakhstan exists in the context of the trilingualism program development, marking by the transition of the Kazakh language to the Latin. Poletaev believes that despite the fact that Russian is still in demand, the population sees more benefit in learning English or Chinese for better employment.

Bakhtiyor Alimjanov. Personal photo

The independent expert from Uzbekistan Bakhtiyor Alimjanov also joined the meeting online. He shared his vision of the position of the Russian language in the Republic of Uzbekistan with the meeting participants. The expert emphasized, “The Russian language remains the language of politics, academia and the authorities in Uzbekistan”. In addition, Russian is necessary for citizens of Uzbekistan who are in labor migration. According to the expert, Russian language knowledge makes it possible for labor migrants from Uzbekistan that are more than three million in Russia, to adapt quicker.

Umed Jaihani. Photo: moskvichmag.ru

Independent expert from Tajikistan Umed Jaihani joined the participants in Dushanbe online from the heart of Moscow, Red Square. Having carefully listened to the previous speakers, Jaihani agreed with the position that the quality of Russian language knowledge is deteriorating, in particular among journalists in Tajikistan. The expert sees the reason for this in a declining number of native Russian language speakers. At the same time, Jaihani does not see a decrease in distribution of the Russian language in Tajikistan – he stressed that the Russian language holds the same place as Tajik. He defined his position on the issue, stating that he fully supports the improvement of the Tajik language, but not against Russian.

Ermek Baisalov. Photo: cabar.asia

CABAR.asia editor Ermek Baisalov shared with the participants his own vision of the Russian language position in his country, Kyrgyzstan. According to Baisalov, the Russian language in Kyrgyzstan remains in demand due to labor migration. The expert noted, “The demand for the Russian language in the educational, scientific and cultural spheres, as well as the opportunity to participate in large integration projects makes the Russian language an attractive and necessary mean of communication.” Baisalov compared the situation in Kyrgyzstan with the situation in neighboring countries, “Unlike most regional neighbors, who take active steps for alphabet Latinization, in Kyrgyzstan, apart from some sporadic statements, the issue of changing the alphabet is not on the agenda”.

Lola Olimova. Photo: cabar.asia

Concluding the series of speeches, IWPR’s program manager in Tajikistan, Lola Olimova noted, “The language issue is always delicate, since the construction of the Tower of Babel”. She expressed her own opinion that the Russian language remains for her, as well as for many others, the language of communication with the world. “The status of the Russian language will depend on demand of it in our countries”, Olimova concluded.

The participants of the meeting agreed that it is necessary to put efforts to maintain the level of Russian language knowledge in the region. Both during the speeches and during the debates, the participants of the meeting expressed a number of important proposals to support the Russian language studies in Central Asian countries, including the following:

  • It is necessary to improve the quality of teaching in educational institutions of Central Asian countries, which should include the following measures:
    • Increasing the study time of Russian in general education and higher education institutions;
    • Reconsideration of the teaching program, its adaptation for accelerated, but deep learning of the language, taking into account local specifics;
    • Increasing the potential of Russian language teachers by organizing trainings;
    • Repatriation of highly qualified language teachers from labor migration to their homeland.
  • It is necessary to strengthen public-private partnership in the field of Russian language teaching, which may include:
    • New schools opening with Russian language of instruction;
    • New schools opening with bilingual instruction (in Russian and national languages).
  • It is necessary to strengthen interstate cooperation, including:
    • Strengthening cooperation with Russian universities, possibilities of internship programs there for students of Central Asian universities;
    • Reforming the Russian cultural centers activities in order to increase their influence.

It should be noted that official representatives of Russian state bodies did not attend the meeting. Considering that meeting was free from any pro-Russian rhetoric, the recommendations of local experts should be particularly interesting to decision makers in both Central Asia and the Russian Federation.

Central Asian countries’ expert meetings will be continued in order to promote the stability, peace and reconciliation in the region.