Carrefour Asia | Diplomacy | Central Asia
Among Russian officials, 2021 has been a year of heightened awareness of the Russian language in Central Asia.
Without exaggeration, 2021 was the year of the Russian language in relations between Central Asia and Russia. No other issue seemed to dominate bilateral diplomatic relations as regularly as the Russian language. Senior Russian government officials have repeatedly reminded their colleagues in Central Asia of the importance of maintaining and increasing support for the Russian language in their respective countries.
During the last bilateral meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon on December 28, 2021, Russian President noted that the best way to help migrant workers from Tajikistan to adapt to life in Russia and to ensure comfortable living conditions and stable work would be to study the Russian language. Russia is a top destination for labor migration from Tajikistan and for the first nine months of 2021, more than 1.59 million Tajik citizens Between the country for work purposes. Tajikistan’s economy relies heavily on remittances from these migrants.
Putin sent a similar message to Uzbek President Shavkat Miziyoyev during their last bilateral meeting in November. Putin reported that his Uzbek colleague agreed with the proposal to prepare migrant workers before their trip to Russia by teaching Russian language and legislation so that migrants know their rights and respect the laws and regulations of the Russian Federation. Like Tajikistan, Russia is a prime destination for Uzbek citizens for temporary work. In the first nine months of 2021, more than 3 million Uzbek citizens Between Russia as migrant workers.
Ahead of these two meetings, Putin had another opportunity to speak on the same topic to a larger audience: leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent Countries (CIS) at the annual CIS summit in October. He noted then: “We all understand well and know how many migrant workers work in Russia from the CIS countries. It is important for you and for us that people adapt easily and enter normal Russian life. At a minimum, knowledge of the Russian language is essential. You have to understand what Russia is.
Kazakhstan is not a large country for sending migrant workers to Russia, so it is not possible for Moscow to similarly emphasize the importance of the Russian language in relation to Nour-Sultan. But Kazakhstan has a large number of ethnic Russians living on its territory. This demographic composition serves as an easy and convenient pretext for Moscow.
Since early December 2021, when Kazakh lawmakers adopted a law that exclusively required that the Kazakh language be used first on all visual information, such as street advertising, signs, price tags, headers and the like. In the previous version of the law, Kazakh and Russian were the two compulsory languages. The change has caused great consternation among some Russian lawmakers.
A Russian legislator called the movement in Kazakhstan a sign of nationalism and called on Moscow to show force in response, claiming that only the language of power would be understood. Another lawmaker said the decision would inevitably lead to a reduction in the use of the Russian language, which would affect diplomatic relations. Russian lawmakers decided to investigate the matter further in early 2022 by requesting more information from their Kazakh colleagues.
Putin had the chance to focus on that the Russian language was an important factor in Kazakhstan-Russia relations, during its annual marathon press conference on December 23. While describing the state of bilateral relations, he replied, “I am very grateful to the leaders of Kazakhstan for their attentive attitude towards the maintenance and development of the Russian language… Many people in Kazakhstan study Russian. It is a Russian-speaking country in the full sense of the term.
2021 was not the only year Moscow has highlighted the Russian language as a major foreign policy issue with its neighbors. Nonetheless, the constant statements made in 2021 to the Central Asian states indicate the extent of Moscow’s “fixation” on the Russian language. Moscow has indicated that it will not refrain from using this permanent heightened sensitivity to the Russian language as a lever to put pressure on migrant workers from Central Asia, indispensable to the countries of origin, in addition to protecting the ethnic populations. Russian people of alleged linguistic discrimination.