Linguistic and Cultural Genocide: Russification
August 24, 2014
August 24, 2014
There is a common misconception that the Soviet Union and Russia are synonymous. This false understanding can be partially credited to the shared policy of Russification. Russia has long exerted its influence wherever it can - over its minorities, over its neighboring countries in Eastern Europe, even over the world to some extent. However, the most culturally devastating of Russia’s practices has been Russification: a political ideology that has sought to promote oneness and unity within Russia. Up until the assassination of Alexander II, Russification had relatively peaceful, nationalistic undertones. Once Alexander III took the title of the tsar in 1881, however, the process of Russification became completely radicalized and incredibly deadly for many cultures and, by extension, their languages.
Alexander III rejected his father’s favorable attitude towards Western tradition. He firmly believed that Western interference was the source of all strife in his tsardom. Consequently, he sought to snuff out diversity and recognize only one culture, one nationality, one language, one religion, and one political system in order to bring out “the natural pride of every Russian patriot” (Alexander III and the Policy of "Russification, Gale Archives). This “pride” was extracted by systematic violence and the forceful assimilation of those who were not mainstream Russians. Germans, Poles, Swedes and other non-Russian subjects were torn away from their traditions, their cultures, and their languages.
In many instances, immigrant groups and ethnic minorities alike were banned from speaking their native languages in public and were no longer allowed to participate in their traditional events. Bilingual government workers lost their jobs to those who could solely speak Russian. Ancient and renowned German and Swedish educational institutes were converted into Russian establishments so the youth of the country were exposed to Russian and Russian only. The Tatars, who were one of the most educated and culturally advanced groups, suffered from Russification were also stripped of their language and culture.
The cultural and linguistic genocide brought on by Russification continued with the advent of the Soviet Union. In 1917, the USSR banned the Arabic alphabet in favor of the Cyrillic scripts. Similarly, Yiddish was beaten out of many Jewish communities to make room for Russian. Russian was implemented as a mandatory language to be taught in all of the Eastern Bloc countries. As generations passed, many people from countries ranging from Latvia to Estonia began to refer to Russian as their native tongue while their own languages were forsaken on behalf of conformity.
In a broader sense, the immigrant groups that were Russified were not put in such a critical situation when compared to the ethnic minorities as the languages and cultures of the immigrants still flourished elsewhere. However, for the minorities such as the Dargins, the Siberian Yupiks, and the Dolgans who had lived in Russia for centuries, Russification proved devastating. According to UNESCO, Russia is home to 148 endangered languages, most of which were given the endangered status as a direct result of Russification. As of 2010, well over a dozen languages are critically endangered - the youngest speakers are in seniority - and will most likely become extinct in coming years.
Russian is an inter-ethnic language, much like what English is to the Western World. As such, it is only pragmatic for those residing within Russia to understand the vernacular. However, this does not mean that the multitude of cultures within the country should discard their own tongues. The easiest way to destroy a culture is by turning its language obsolete. Regardless of its political motives, what occurred was a terrible crime against cultural and linguistic diversity with little in the way of coming back. If the current administration is regretful of the country’s past actions, then it would be wise of them to try and make amends by supporting linguistic preservation organizations or actively promoting the study of these languages in schools so something can be salvaged from the ruins of Russification.
"Alexander III and the Policy of "Russification," 1883–1886." Archives Unbound. GALE: CENGAGE Learning. Web. 20 August 2014.
"Alexander III & the Policy of "Russification", 1883-1886." University of St. Thomas, Houston. Web. 20 August 2014.
"Russification". HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2005. Web. 20 August 2014
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Russification." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 20 August 2014.
UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Web. 20 August 2014.