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Derussification is the policy of the governments and others directed to reverse Russification. De-Russification took place in newly independent countries after the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917; in non-ethnic-Russian regions of the Soviet Union itself in the 1920s; in Romania in the 1960s; and most recently in different degrees, speeds, and intensities across the newly independent states that arose after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After the collapse of the Russian Empire[edit]

After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, de-Russification occurred in newly independent Finland, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and in the Kars Oblast which became part of Turkey. When Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were retaken by the Soviet Union during World War II, they were not re-Russified at an onomastic level, though in practice Russian became the official language and many ethnic Russians were brought into the general population (see below).

De-Russification within the Soviet Union[edit]

Main article: Korenizatsiya

Within the new Soviet Union, a policy of Korenizatsiya was followed, a form of de-Russification of the non-Russian areas of the country.[1] Korenizatsiya meaning "nativization" or "indigenization", literally "putting down roots", was the early Soviet nationalities policy promoted mostly in the 1920s but with a continuing legacy in later years. The primary policy consisted of promoting representatives of titular nations of Soviet republics and national minorities on lower levels of the administrative subdivision of the state, into local government, management, bureaucracy and nomenklatura in the corresponding national entities. Stalin mostly reversed the implementation of Korenizatsiya, not so much in changing the letter of the law but in reducing its practical effects and introducing de facto Russification.

Romania 1960s[edit]

In Romania in the 1960s, a political break with the Soviet Union resulted in removal of elements of Russian cultural influence in Romania. Russian-language signs were removed from the Bucharest airport, Russian street names were changed to Romanian, Russian bookstores were closed, and Soviet plays, films, and radio broadcasts became rare. Russian was no longer a compulsory language in schools and more time was given to English and French. The Gorki Institute for the Russian language was closed.[2]

After the collapse of the Soviet Union[edit]

South Caucasus[edit]


Compared to neighboring Georgia, Russian had a strong position in Armenia, being the preferred language of most of the intelligentsia, a position it holds to some degree to this day. However after independence Armenianization was pursued including changing the medium of instruction to Armenian in all public schools in the early 1990s. Russian retained a strong position as a second language, strengthened by the large Armenian diaspora which moved back and forth to Russia, Moscow in particular. Russian continues to be a common second language on private signs and in advertising, and Armenia never systematically replaced official signs which were in Armenian and Russian, meaning many such bilingual signs still remain. In 2010 in a significant pullback to de-Russification, Armenia voted to re-introduce Russian-medium schools.[3]


Research in 2005-2006 concluded that government officials did not consider Russian to be a threat to the strengthening role of the Azerbaijani language in independent Azerbaijan. Rather, Russian continued to have value given the proximity of Russia and strong economic and political ties. However, it was seen as self-evident that in order to be successful, citizens needed to be proficient in Azerbaijani.[4]


Georgianization has been pursued with most official and private signs only in the Georgian language, with English being the favored foreign language. Exceptions are older signs remaining from Soviet times, which are generally bilingual Georgian and Russian. Private signs and advertising in Samtskhe-Javakheti region which has a majority Armenian population are generally in Russian only or Georgian and Russian. In the Borchali region which has a majority ethnic Azerbaijani population, signs and advertising are often in Russian only, in Georgian and Azerbaijani, or Georgian and Russian. De-Russification has not been pursued in areas outside Georgian government control, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Baltic States[edit]

Estonia and Latvia[edit]

Estonia and Latvia already started pursuing intense de-Russification in the last years of the Soviet Union. For example, already in 1988 the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic declared Latvian the sole official language of Soviet Latvia.[5]

Despite large Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia (26.9% ethnic Russians, 2011)[6] and Estonia (24.8% ethnic Russians, 2011),[7] Russian is considered a foreign language in those countries.

As a result, the Council of Europe's European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages does not apply to Russian, since, due to Latvian and Estonian laws, it is not considered a historical minority language such as Latgalian (165,000 users), and Livonian (no more than several hundred users), which are supported officially. This gives Russian similar status to, for example, Turkish in Germany or Arabic in France - but the percentage of Russian-language speakers in both Estonia and Latvia is by far the highest percent of any minority speaking a language with no official or regional status in any EU member state — for example Turks in Germany form no more than 5% of the German population.[citation needed]

The European Union so far mostly supports this policy of Estonia and Latvia to prevent any official status for Russian, going so far as to have apologized to the Latvian government for printing brochures in Russian in 2010.[8]

In 2007, Amnesty International harshly criticized what it termed Estonia's "harassment" of Russian speakers.[9] In 2010, Estonian language inspectorate stepped up inspections at workplaces to ensure that state employees spoke Estonian at an acceptable level. This included inspections of teachers at Russian-medium schools.[10] Amnesty International continues to criticize Estonian policies stating "Non-Estonian speakers, mainly from the Russian-speaking minority, were denied employment due to official language requirements for various professions in the private sector and almost all professions in the public sector. Most did not have access to affordable language training that would enable them to qualify for employment."[11]

In February 2012 proposed amendments to Constitution that would make Russian the second state language of Latvia was put to referendum, but 821,722 (75%) of the voters voted against compared to 273,347 (25%). There has been criticism that about 290,000 of the 557,119 (2011) ethnic Russians in Latvia are non-citizens and do not have the right to vote, however even assuming they all had voted for the amendments proposed still would not have passed.[12]


In contrast to the other two Baltic states, Lithuania has a relatively small Russian-speaking minority (5.0%, 2008 as well as a 6.2% ethnic Polish minority)[13] and Russian speakers may become citizens upon simple request without a requirement to pass a test of fluency in the Lithuanian language.

On January 25, 1989 the presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Lithuanian SSR decreed Lithuanian as “the main means of official communication” for all companies, institutions and organizations in the Lithuanian SSR with the exception of the Soviet Army. In the Constitution passed in 1992, Lithuanian was explicitly stated as the state language.[13]


Initially, when Belarus became independent in 1991 and the Belarusian language became the only state language, some de-russification began. However, after the pro-Russian Alexander Lukashenko became President of Belarus in 1994, Russian was made a state language along with Belarusian. A referendum on the topic, considered fraudulent by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, was held in 1995, after which Russification was continued. In most spheres in the country the Russian language is by far the dominant one. In fact, almost all government information and websites are in Russian only.

Central Asia[edit]


Russian remained co-official with Kazakh as a national language, with Kazakh in the role of state language and Russian in the role as language of interethnic communication. Russian continued to dominate as the language of business, with Kazakh increasing in importance in the spheres of government and media.


Other than Russia itself and Belarus, the Russian language has the strongest position in Kyrgyzstan of all the post-Soviet states. Russian remains co-official with Kyrgyz, which remains written in Cyrillic script. Russian remains the dominant language of business and upper levels of government. Parliament sessions are only rarely conducted in Kyrgyz and mostly take place in Russian. In 2011 President Roza Otunbaeva controversially reopened the debate about Kyrgyz getting a more dominant position in the country.[14]


In Tajikistan, ethnic Uzbeks make up 15% of the population, ethnic Russians and Kyrgyz each about 1%. After independence Tajik was declared the sole state language and until 2009, Russian was designated the "language for interethnic communication". The 2009 law stated that all official papers and education in the country should be conducted only in the Tajik language. However, the law also stated that all minority ethnic groups in the country have the right to choose in which language they want their children to be educated.[15] Tajik remains written in the Cyrillic alphabet.


Turkmenistan pursued intense de-Russification and was the first in Central Asia (in 1991) to change the local language's alphabet (in this case Turkmen) to Latin script. The situation in Turkmenistan differs from other countries in Central Asia: while hundreds of Turkmen students do attend school in Russia, favorable visa conditions have attracted a much larger number of Turkmens to Turkey, both as illegal workers and as students. Turkmen is closely related to Turkish. While Russian TV channels have mostly been shut down inside Turkmenistan, Turkish satellite programming is widely available. Turkish schools now fill the gap left by the closing of Russian-language schools, and over 600 Turkish companies operate in Turkmenistan.[16]


After the independence of Uzbekistan in 1991, Uzbek culture underwent the three trends of de-Russification, the creation of an Uzbek national identity, and westernization. The Uzbek state has primarily promoted these trends through the educational system, which is particularly effective because nearly half the Uzbek population is of school age or younger.[17] Since the Uzbek language became official and privileged in hiring and firing, there has been a brain drain of ethnic Russians in Uzbekistan.The displacement of the Russian-speaking population from the industrial sphere, science and education has weakened these spheres. As a result of this emigration, participation in Russian cultural centers like the State Academy Bolshoi Theatre in Uzbekistan has seriously declined.[17] In the capital Tashkent, statues of the leaders of the Russian Revolution were taken down and replaced with local heroes like Timur, and urban street names in the Russian style were Uzbekified. In 1995, Uzbekistan ordered the Uzbek alphabet changed from a Russian-based Cyrillic script to a modified Latin alphabet, and in 1997, Uzbek became the sole language of state administration.[17]


When Moldova became independent in 1991, Moldovan (Romanian) language became the only state language.


Before 1991 Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and both Russian and Ukrainian were official languages in the Soviet Union.[18] In 1991 independent Ukraine made Ukrainian the only official state language and implemented government policies to broaden the use of Ukrainian language. The educational system in Ukraine has been transformed over the first decade of independence from a system that was overwhelmingly Russian into one where over 75% of tuition is in Ukrainian. The government has also mandated a progressively increased role for Ukrainian in the media and commerce. In some cases[quantify], the abrupt changing of the language of instruction in institutions of secondary and higher education, led to the charges of assimilation, raised mostly by the Russian-speaking population. In a July 2012 poll by RATING 55% of the surveyed (Ukrainians older than 18 years) believed that their native language was rather Ukrainian and 40% rather Russian, 5% could not decide which language was their native one[19]). However, the transition lacked most of the controversies that surrounded the derussification in several of the other former Soviet Republics.

Attempts towards reversal of de-Russification in Ukrainian politics[edit]

Party of Regions 2012 election poster in Crimea stating "Russian: (upgrade it) from a regional language to the second official language"

In various elections the adoption of Russian as an official language was an election promise by one of the main candidates (Leonid Kuchma in 1994, Viktor Yanukovych in 2004 and Party of Regions in 2012).[20][21][22][23] 2012 legislation on languages in Ukraine made Russian a "regional language" in several southern and eastern parts of Ukraine.[24]

Republics within the Russian Federation[edit]

North Caucasus[edit]

In Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia, De-Russification is understood not so much directly in the disappearance of Russian language and culture but rather by the exodus of Russian speaking people themselves, which intensified after the First and Second Chechen Wars, Islamization and by 2010 had reached a critical point. The displacement of the Russian-speaking population from the industrial sphere, science and education has weakened these spheres.[25]


After 1990 the Tatarstan Republic of the Russian Federation saw a large resurgence of Tatar nationalism and the formation of an ethnically Tatar government that aggressively promoted the resurgence of Tatar language and culture and a consistent de-Russification of Tatarstan. One element of accomplishing this was by transitioning the Tatar language from the Cyrillic alphabet to the Latin alphabet. The decision to do so was ratified in 1999, with the intention of a ten-year transition period beginning with street signs and school programs in the fall of 2001, with the hope for completion of the transition by 2011.[26]

However, that effort was aborted in 2004 when the Constitutional Court ruled that the 15 November 2002 federal law mandating the use of Cyrillic for the state languages of the republics of the Russian Federation[27] does not contradict the Russian constitution.[28] In accordance with this Constitutional Court ruling, on 28 December 2004, the Tatar Supreme Court overturned the Tatarstani law that made the Latin alphabet official.[29]

Non-Derussifying Republics[edit]

  • In Karelia, in 2007 it was announced that the Karelian language was to be used at certain national events,[30] however Russian is still the only official language (Karelian is one of several "national" languages) and virtually all business and education is conducted in Russian. In 2010 less than 8% of the republic's population was ethnic Karelian.
  • Russification is reported to be continuing in Mari El.[31]


  2. ^ Henry Shapiro, "Red Cultural Influence Vanishing in Romania", United Press International published in the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News, July 16, 1965
  3. ^ "Armenia introduces Russian-language education", Russkiy Mir, Dec, 10, 2010
  4. ^ "Nation-Building and Language Policy in post-Soviet Azerbaijan", Kyle L. Marquardt, PhD Student, Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy
  5. ^ Decision on status of the Latvian language (Supreme Council of Latvian SSR, 06.10.1988.)(Latvian)
  6. ^ Population Census 2011 - Key Indicators
  7. ^ "Population by ethnic nationality, 1 January, years", Statistics Estonia
  8. ^ "Russian speakers 'excluded' from EU brochures in Latvia",, March 17, 2010
  9. ^ "ESTONIA: LANGUAGE POLICE GETS MORE POWERS TO HARASS", 27 February 2007, Amnesty International
  10. ^ "Estonia Raises Its Pencils to Erase Russian", CLIFFORD J. LEVY, New York Times, June 7, 2010
  11. ^ "Estonia Human Rights", Amnesty International
  12. ^ "Latvians Reject Russian as Second Language", DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, New York Times, February 19, 2012
  13. ^ a b Ethnic and Language Policy of the Republic of Lithuania: Basis and Practice, Jan Andrlík
  14. ^ "Language A Sensitive Issue In Kyrgyzstan", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, June 25, 2011
  15. ^ "Tajikistan Drops Russian As Official Language", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, October 7, 2009
  16. ^ "In Post-Soviet Central Asia, Russian Takes A Backseat", Muhammad Tahir, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 28, 2011
  17. ^ a b c Dollerup, Cay. "Language and Culture in Transition in Uzbekistan". In Atabaki, Touraj; O'Kane, John. Post-Soviet Central Asia. Tauris Academic Studies. pp. 144–147. 
  18. ^ Language Policy in the Soviet Union by L.A. Grenoble
  19. ^ The language question, the results of recent research in 2012, RATING (25 May 2012)
  20. ^ Migration, Refugee Policy, and State Building in Postcommunist Europe by Oxana Shevel, Cambridge University Press, 2011,ISBN 0521764793
  21. ^ Ukraine's war of the words, The Guardian (5 July 2012)
  22. ^ FROM STABILITY TO PROSPERITY Draft Campaign Program of the Party of Regions, Party of Regions Official Information Portal (27 August 2012)
  23. ^ "Яценюк считает, что если Партия регионов победит, может возникнуть «второй Майдан»", Novosti Mira (Ukraine)
  24. ^ Yanukovych signs language bill into law. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
    Russian spreads like wildfires in dry Ukrainian forest. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
    Romanian becomes regional language in Bila Tserkva in Zakarpattia region (24 September 2012)
    All news articles by Kyiv Post
  25. ^ "How many Russians are left in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia?", 3 May 2010, Vestnik Kavkaza
  26. ^ "Bilingual Education in the Republic of Tatarstan; Russian and Tatar: The Quest for a National identity",Martin Spitznagel
  27. ^ Spolsky, Bernard (2004). Language Policy. Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-521-01175-4. 
  28. ^ "Russia court sticks to letter law". BBC News. 16 November 2004. Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  29. ^ "The Tatar language will continue to be written through the Cyrillic alphabet". U.S. English Foundation. February 2005. Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  30. ^ "Karelian language to be used for all national events", Republic of Karelia website
  31. ^ "Russification Efforts in Mari El Disturb Hungarians", DECEMBER 17, 2008, Paul Goble, Georgian Daily

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