The number of Russian speakers in Central Asia has declined since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, mainly due to socio-demographic factors such as the migration of ethnic Russians and the population growth of dominant ethnic groups.
But Russian remains strong, especially in the cities. It is still the language of education, science, services and, often, official documents. And many parents still believe that their children have a better chance of succeeding in life by knowing Russian. These language divisions – often between people of the same ethnicity – have led to cultural clashes and resentment over unequal opportunity and discrimination.
But government policies and public attitudes among Russian speakers are gradually shifting towards a greater 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, Kyrgyz journalist and co-founder of the Kloop news site; and Sevara Khamidova, a women’s rights activist from Uzbekistan. The conference was moderated by RFE/RL contributor Bermet Talant.
Isatay Minuarov: “For the Kazakh government, especially after the Ukrainian affair, it is too fragile to remove the Russian language from the constitution. This is the question 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, will be strengthened 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 historical context, without colonial context, then Russian really feels like a minority language that should be preserved and defended. Being born in a Russian-speaking community, I felt like a minority in my country, but after learning more about it, especially when this new colonization was started by Russia, and seeing the war in Ukraine myself, it was a very important revelation. .”
Sevara Khamidova: “For me, it was very difficult to find an educational program to learn Uzbek. When you try, you cannot find the right school that would teach you Uzbek language as your mother tongue. And this is one of the factors why Russian is more preferable. But at the same time, English is becoming increasingly popular among Uzbek-speaking people who find it difficult to learn Russian.
Listen to the full conversation here:
Learn more about the subject from RFE/RL:
“Russophobic Neanderthals”: 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 national language issue has become a hot issue in Kazakhstan (Per current time, in Russian)
Follow @RFERL on Twitterr so you don’t miss our regular conversations about life and social change in Central Asia every Thursday at 8 p.m. local time in Bishkek (3:00 p.m. CET/9:00 a.m. EST).