Russian MFA Spokesman Mikhail Kamynin Interview with RIA Novosti Regarding Upcoming Conference on Status of Russian Language Abroad
(Moscow, May 28, 2007)
Question: There have been media reports of the preparations being made for a forum of compatriots with a view to discussing the status of the Russian language in foreign countries. Why is this the theme chosen for discussion now? How urgent and relevant is it for our compatriots living abroad?
Mikhail Kamynin: Our Conference figures prominently among the events and activities being organized by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in connection with the Year of the Russian Language. It will be the largest and most representative in a series of such meetings and round tables that are being held under the auspices of the Government Commission on the Affairs of Compatriots Abroad in our country, in the CIS and the Baltic states.
The Conference will help exchange views on such an important matter for Russia and our compatriots as the status of the Russian language in their countries of residence. Assessments of the situation will be generalized, and new ideas, suggestions and considerations of compatriots recorded. I think that the discussion will allow the Conference participants to also formulate some recommendations to Russia's state entities. Having said that, it can be expected that the upcoming Conference will be one of the most effective and high-quality undertakings being conducted as part of the Year of the Russian Language.
Question: Please tell us how will the Conference be organized?
Mikhail Kamynin: The Conference will be held in Moscow on May 29-30. It is planned that Sergey Lavrov, Chairman of the Government Commission on the Affairs of Compatriots Abroad and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, will open it and deliver a keynote address. It is expected that Dmitry Medvedev, Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the Year of the Russian Language and First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, will present the main report.
The Conference will gather Russian language specialists, representatives of compatriots' organizations, political scientists, members of parliaments and journalists who will discuss problems of the status of the Russian language, in particular, with reference to the fields of education, culture and media. The delegates to the Conference, numbering 53 in all, will come from all the near abroad countries. This is the most numerous group of participants. For example, there will be 6 persons from Ukraine, 5 from Kazakhstan, 3 from each of the Baltic states, and 2-3 from each of the rest of the countries. From the far abroad, delegates will represent 11 countries; primarily states with a numerous Russian-speaking diaspora: Germany, the US, Israel, France and Belgium.
Invited to the Conference on the Russian side are a whole array of the country's leading politicians, representatives of federal legislative and executive bodies, directors of scientific institutes, leaders of Russian NGOs and a number of media.
Apart from plenary meetings, work will be organized in three sections. Questions of the status of the Russian language abroad are going to be examined by the first section, which will be held in the conference hall of the Zolotoye Koltso Hotel. The second section is dedicated to Russian-language media. It will take place in the Foreign Ministry skyscraper. The third section will examine problems in Russian-language education abroad. It is scheduled to be held at Roszarubezhtsentr.
The second day of the Conference will open with a plenary meeting, where delegates' statements will continue, the work of the sections will be summed up and an appropriate resolution will be prepared. The work will end with a final press conference. A cultural program for our guests is envisaged.
Question: Are there any statistics available of the use of the Russian language in foreign countries and what is its status there?
Mikhail Kamynin: The most precise figures are for the near abroad countries and the Baltic states. Russians and Russian speakers in Kazakhstan and Ukraine number more than 30 percent; in Estonia and Latvia about 30 percent; there are more than 10 percent Russians in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova; 5 to 10 percent in Uzbekistan and Lithuania. The smallest diasporas: less than 1 percent in Tajikistan; less than 0.5 percent in Armenia; less than 0.5 percent in Turkmenistan and slightly more than 1 percent in Georgia. This is another pole, where the number of Russians or those who consider Russian their native tongue is very small.
We see that, unfortunately, the number of Russian speakers has gradually dwindled in a number of near abroad countries over recent years, but at the same time it has increased in the far abroad countries. In some countries the number of Russians or Russian speakers has changed very substantially. If we take the near abroad countries that saw a significant reduction in their Russian-speaking inhabitants, those are the countries of Central Asia and Georgia. In the case of the far abroad we undoubtedly can speak of three countries: Germany, Israel and the United States. Israel has 1.5 million, Germany 3.5 million, and the United States about 3 million Russian speakers. They are mainly those who immigrated on the 90s wave.
Now some facts about the status of the Russian language abroad. It has a state language status only in one country, Belarus, where in accordance with Article 17 of the Constitution Russian shares the same status with the Belarusian language. In Kyrgyzstan, Russian has been assigned official-language status. Although there is no official status in Kazakhstan, Russian is used on a par with the Kazakh language in state organizations and local bodies in accordance with the constitution. In Tajikistan Russia has the status of a language of inter-nationality communication. In Armenia, Moldova, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia it is either a national minority language, or without an official status at all. Actually, though, Russian in these countries and regions performs the function of a national minority language and that of inter-nationality communication.
As to Ukraine, the status of Russian there is the official language of a national minority. Ukraine's parliament (Verkhovna Rada) has ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In a number of regions Russian has the status of a regional language: the Donetsk, Lugansk, Odessa, Kharkiv, Kherson Regions and also a number of cities, including Sevastopol.
Finally, the Baltic area. The only country in the near abroad where the Russian language has the status of a foreign language is Latvia. In Latvia Russian has been assigned the status of a foreign language, although you know that Russians and Russian speakers in Latvia form almost 30 percent. In Estonia, where the number of Russian speakers are on the same level, and in Lithuania, where it is about 6.5 percent, the Russian language has no official status, but performs the function of a minority language and that of inter-nationality communication.
Question: What is Russia doing to preserve and enhance the status of the Russian language abroad?
Mikhail Kamynin: Russia has supported and will continue to support the Russian-speaking space abroad. That's normal. Other countries act similarly; for example, the same France and Germany, which try to support their languages and their compatriots in all countries, big and small. In our country we have federal support as well as considerable support at the regional level, this being, undoubtedly, basic, principal assistance. Another big reserve is Russian business, whose possibilities are being used by no means everywhere.
It should be stressed that in upholding the positions of the Russian language, we regard it as a factor unifying and mutually enriching the peoples and cultures of different countries. On the other hand, intellectual losses resulting from the cutting off of foreign states from one of the world languages and one of the world civilizational centers, which Russia undoubtedly is, appear unnecessary. The upcoming Conference will be very useful for comprehending and interpreting all these realities.