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A question of language

Posted by Helen Sunday, July 08, 2007 , ,

2007, in case our readers have not realized it, is the Year of the Russian Language, as officially announced some time ago by President Putin. Because nobody has noticed it, it had to be announced again and the campaign strengthened as Reuters reported several days ago

One assumes these latest pronouncements and reports had something to do with the meeting between President Putin and President Bush, the last one, most probably, as both are due to depart from office. Or so we think.

There are no doubts about President Bush. Next November there will be presidential elections in the United States and in January a new President will be sworn in. What all the sufferers from Bush Derangement Syndrome will do is a mystery. Of course, if the new President is a Republican, they will simply acquire a new derangement syndrome.

What is likely to happen in Russia, where there is no opposition to the two leading parties in the Duma, both supporters of Putin and whoever he might push forward as his successor, is unclear. Could the constitution be changed to give him another term? Putin maintains that it will not happen. But what if the number enemies inside and outside keep increasing and the Duma will plead with him to remain? This is a not unfamiliar scenario in Russian history.

The presidential meeting came to no very important conclusions. Russia, however, has decided to use the opportunity to promote the Russian language.

In Moscow this week, ministers announced a series of plans, such as expansion of an international cultural foundation comparable with Germany's Goethe Institute or the Alliance Francaise.

"Russian was the first language spoken in space," said Education Minister Andrei Fursenko referring to the first cosmonauts and their Cold War-era space race against English-speaking U.S. astronauts.
Anyone who knows anything about developments in Russia itself would argue that first and foremost the language should be promoted inside the country, where in ever more cases perfectly good Russian words and phrases have been substituted by foreign, mostly English ones. (While I do not think this sort of thing can be stopped through legislation, as the French have found, I tend to seethe with fury and the destruction of a supple and beautiful language.)

It is not really clear what is envisaged here. There is a website and a possible promotion of Russian culture abroad. There are demands that people who want jobs in Russia should be able to speak the language, which is not unreasonable, though decisions of that kind should be left to individual firms, particularly to international ones.

Nevertheless, it all sounds very exciting and in line with President Putin’s swaggering on the international scene to no great purpose. For some reason, it is assumed that this campaign has been set up
“to match the country's increasing economic and political confidence”.
With respect, a country that is genuinely confident does not need to campaign to promote its language – it promotes itself. The new Russian economic and political strength, so often repeated by commentators in the West is little more than bluff.

The economy, as we have mentioned numerous times before, relies heavily on the sale of oil and gas, with the production of the former going down. Without that, Russia’s economy will barely outstrip that of Vietnam.

There are no lasting political structures in the country. This is not entirely Putin’s fault as none had been set up under Yeltsin either. Elections for regional governors have been abolished and the media has been brought almost entirely under government control. Any attempt at disagreement or opposition has been met by show of force.

Above all, it is unclear how Russia is showing confidence on the international scene, as mostly it does nothing but bullies countries on its borders and sells arms to dubious regimes. The bullying has not, so far, produced any results beyond a sense of unease inside the country, which may well be the purpose, while the sale of arms to countries like Iran, suspended according to some reports, is unlikely to do Russia any good at all, given that it is fighting Islamist groups in various places around the borders of the old Soviet Union.

Present day Russia does not even attract people in the way the Soviet Union did for a while. It is not a beacon to misguided or dishonest so-called progressives or, come to think of it, to anyone else.

It remains a country with an enormous potential, which has, once again, been frittered away and the fate of her language reflects that sad reality.

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