chapter  6
40 Pages

Census and Sociology: Evaluating the Language Situation in Soviet Central Asia

BySimon Crisp

Recent decades in the Soviet Union have seen a rise in the role of Russian and an increase in the measures taken to maintain this which may be described as little short of dramatic. Even the barest summary of the census figures speaks clearly enough: between 1926 and 1959 the number of non-Russians claiming Russian as their native language increased by 3.3 million, between 1959 and 1970 (11 as against 33 years) by 2.8 million — and between 1970 and 1979 by a further 3.3 million. At the same time, according to the census of 1979, the proportion of the non-Russian population of the Soviet Union speaking Russian as second language or claiming it as mother tongue has reached 62.2% (as against 48.7% in 1970). Furthermore, since the end of the period of what might be termed 'positive discrimination' in favour of the national languages (which may be said to have come with the school reforms of the late 1950s) a whole string of measures has been enacted specifically to strengthen the position and improve the command of Russian among the non-Russian population: the use and teaching of Russian at all educational levels — from university to kindergarten — has been debated at length and copiously legislated, the role of Russian in the Soviet armed forces has been discussed openly and in detail for the first time, and the ideology of supra-national or supra-ethnic consciousness has been developed in great detail and some complexity as writing on nationality questions has been dominated by the concept of the 'Soviet people'.