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Sociolingüística internacional
Spring 2002

Language policy in the Russian Federation: language diversity and national identity, by Marc Leprêtre

This paper gives an overview on the different language policies implemented in the Russian Federation, stressing the relevance of the historical background, the relations between language and nationalism, and language promotion as a tool for preventing inter-ethnic conflicts and for ensuring a peaceful and balanced linguistic diversity. The text is structured in four sections: historical overview (language policy and nation-building in the USSR); interethnic tensions in the Russian Federation in the post-Soviet context; the awakening of national groups in Russia; and strategies for a peaceful and balanced management of linguistic diversity in the Russian Federation and the Soviet successor states. (1)

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1. Historical overview: language policy and nation-building in the USSR
2. Interethnic tensions in the Russian Federation in the post-Soviet context
3. The awakening of national groups in Russia
4. Conclusion: strategies for a peaceful and balanced management of linguistic diversity in the Russian Federation and the Soviet successor states
5. Bibliography

1. Historical overview: language policy and nation-building in the USSR

The processes of language planning and language policy carried on since 1991 in the Russian Federation can't be explained without a short reference to the historical, political and social outcomes raised by the nationality and language policies implemented during decades in the former USSR. Nevertheless, insofar as the topic of this paper is what is going on nowadays regarding the management of language diversity, I will try to summarize this historical background. (2)

The ideological bases of the Soviet nationality policies and the process of nationalization (3) implemented in the republics had a rather paradoxical character as far as on the one hand the Soviet regime entitled the nationalities with a well-defined political and territorial status -even for those which had not yet reached a pre-capitalist level of development- which led to a process of nation-building where political and territorial units were created on the basis of nations that constituted themselves as historical cultural communities during the Tsarist period, contrary to what had been the usual pattern in Western Europe. On the other hand, these processes took place in a parallel way with a gradual policy of repression of national historical cultures that only preserved the most ethnographic and folkloric elements. Furthermore, and according to the analysis proposed by Gellner regarding the formation of nations during the processes of modernization, (4) we can argue that Soviet Marxism-Leninism did not consider the peripheral nationalities has deep rooted societies in the modern economic and politic structures, but rather as 'folkloric' or 'ethnographic' nations. Noneless, the logical ground of Bolshevik policy towards nationalities after the Revolution - the korenizatsiia- (5) constituted a formula according to which those nations whose collective rights had been denied and repressed during the Tsarist period should have access to the free exercise of these rights within the general framework of the building of socialism in order to reach by themselves the conclusion that national sovereignty was not by itself a solution to all the national, cultural, social, politic and economic problems of development. The final goal was therefore the merger of all nations into a single socialist community, once all national cultures had had the opportunity to bloom during the period of construction of socialism as stressed by Stalin at the XVI Congress of the CP(b)SU (6) in 1930. (7)

This policy was likewise aimed to be a lenitive for the social, political and national tensions that emerged successively in the cities, the rural areas and the periphery of the State during the Revolution, the Civil War and the process of building of the Soviet state. In order to solve these tensions, the Bolsheviks implemented simultaneously three kinds of policies: the application of the principle of national-territorial autonomy as the cornerstone of the recently created Socialist Federative Soviet Republic of Russia; the formation of autonomous territorial units in peripheral regions; and the implementation of korenizatsiia at large scale. At the same time, these policies were followed by two corollaries to ensure full support from peasants and urban workers to the regime: the NEP and the massive enlistment of proletarians into the Party. From a sociolinguistic point of view, the outcomes of the Soviet nationality policies can be summed up as follows: "La politique linguistique est sans aucun doute le plus original de l’action menée par le pouvoir en matière nationale. C’est aussi, cela est certain, sa plus parfaite réussite". (8)

Actually the different language policies implemented in the Soviet Union are for sure one of the most salient achievements of the regime insofar as we can't detach them from the political, social and economic events which took place during seven decades neither from the changes in the correlations of forces within the top ranks of the State and of the federated republics. The changes in the demographic structure of the population during the process of modernization of Soviet economy and society contributed likewise to strengthen, especially in the urban areas, the tensions raised by the contacts between languages together with other factors as the size of linguistic and national groups, the experience (historical o recent) of contacts with other ethnic groups, the geographic location or concrete linguistic, religious and cultural kinships.



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