Geopolitics of Russian language
Not by chance, an etymological connection between the basic terms that express the idea of the word can be found in many languages: Logos (λόγος) is a Greek word, meaning, and statement at the same time, and in the Church Slavonic and Old Russian languages, the word "language" is synonymous with "the people" (or nation). i.e. "God is with us! Understand this, O nations, and submit yourselves, for God is with us. " (Isaiah 8, 9).
The image of the house is used in various sciences as representing the state, nation, ethnic group, geographic area, etc. Eminent German philosopher Martin Heidegger used this metaphor when dealing with language, calling it the House of the Being (das Haus des Seins). Language is not only a means of expression and communication, but it is a kind of distillation of ethnic psychology, culture, spatial images, religion, and ideology from the ancient times. Incorporating foreign terminology in the pursuit of modernizing a language often undermines the ontological foundations of the people. If globalization eliminates differences, then linguistic adoptions gradually squeeze them out. They borrow cultural idioms from a certain historical context and replace them with simulacras, which have no connection with the native landscape (not only geographically, but also in the broader sense – social, philological, ethnic, philosophical).
Languages were previously divided along racial and ethnic lines, but in the second half of the twentieth century, the impact of languages on people as political subjects (i.e. the study of ethno-national factors associated with linguistics) began to be talked about. As noted by Ferguson, the nation is an object that usually does not attract the attention of linguists, although it is ultimately a normal base for “communication networks, systems of education and language planning” . In addition to the utilitarian value of language, one should also note its mythopoetical, semiotic, and archetypal features that affect people’s perception of the world. Spatio-temporal categories are directly related to the place of development and the linguistic basics of the language of the people. "Nature, among which the people grows and makes its own history, is the first and obvious that determines a person's national integrity. It is a permanent factor. The landmass: forests / ... /, mountains, sea, deserts, grasslands, tundra, permafrost or jungle, whether the climate is temperate or subject to catastrophic fractures / ... /, wildlife, vegetation - all of this predetermines the generation of work and life / ... / and the model of the world ...
Thus, each people (nation) has its own particular view of the world, a matrix according to which reality is structured.
For Russian speakers, it must be said that over the centuries, the Slavs partook in extensive production and, more importantly, were the only people who began the expansion to the East, breaking the resistance of the Asian nomads. Prior to that, beginning from the invasions of the Huns in the VII century (which led to the Great Migration) and ending with the campaigns of the Horde in the XIII-XV centuries, the European part of the Eurasian continent faced massive pressure from the East. This forced the people to leave the European peninsula and venture out into the Atlantic.
It is obvious that this, together with the natural landscape and seasonal patterns, influenced the formation of the Russian mentality and the codes of the Russian language. In Russia, space is more important than time. Distance, breadth, the steppe, and the horizon, qualitatively, are more important than speed and the accuracy of time.
In modern political science, language pertains to soft power in world politics, where language is used to influence the political process of a state or group of countries, as well as colonies.
In history, there are a number of examples where a language-based people, which was a state, formed a dialect of imperial education or language that was imposed on the occupied and conquered countries, which over time eventually became their mother language. The example of the Roman Empire shows how the Latin language in its time, together with the conquests of the Roman Legions, transformed the Celtic language and formed modern French. Another example is how the transformed Spanish language spread far beyond Europe to Latin America, and the use of English in the British Empire as the language of administration, lead to the fact that it became the state language (or one of them) in many of its colonies – the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, etc.
As for the development of the Russian language, it is necessary here to draw attention to the role of the Byzantine Empire, which by transferring its knowledge and skills, contributed to the emergence of a writing system for the Western and Eastern Slavs (before the reform of Cyril and Methodius, who were originally Thessalonica Slavs, a different runic alphabet had been extended throughout the territory of contemporary Russia). The Cyrillic alphabet was not sustainable for the Western Slavs, who were Catholics, but it became entrenched in the Eastern Slavs and some of the Turkic and Finno-Ugric peoples. “At the same time, the blueprint of the Christian Greek rationality was superimposed on the pre-existing field of the ancient Slavic rationality, which has its own structure, semantics, rules, and laws. The new way of thinking was not created out of nothing, but rather it build upon the elements of the old existing one. Therefore, Old Russian culture after the Baptism of Russia should be interpreted as a two-layer rationality, which must provide at least the pre-Christian, pre-Greek layer together with another one which was projected on it and on whose basis it is decorated."
It should be noted that along with language, religion is also the second foundation of national identity and often a “cramp” for statehood. Together with language, religion and tradition create a so-called strategic culture that is an imperative for action (or inaction) for any nation in the sense of the state or for any empire in the sense of providing a unifying basis for its many constituent peoples.
In Russia and ancient Muscovy, Church Slavonic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity were a complex identity matrix for the Slavic population, affecting all classes from the highest political elite to the lowest level individuals. The dual function of language and religion formed the core of identity, which further contributed to the analysis and synthesis of public policy. This included the examples of war with European countries, relationships with fellow co-religionists, “Slavic brothers”, and the development of new lands in the eastern borders of the state.
The schism in the second half of the XVII century demonstrated the important role of language and religion in the Russian state. Beginning with the reform of the liturgical books and disputes affecting the etymological meaning of terms, it led to serious geopolitical consequences. As the authorities took the side of the group that supported the innovations against the opponents from the conservative camp, massive repression occurred. All adherents of the pre-reform strand of Orthodoxy (the Old Believers) were expelled, regardless of their social and class status. Many times, these individuals were executed, as was the case with the siege of the Solovetskiy Monastery’s monks who did not accept the new changes, as well as with a number of individual people. Some examples of the latter are priest Habakkuk and others who continued to denounce the New Believers, chiefly Patriarch Nikon and Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich Romanov. Large groups of Old Believers moved deep into the woods and to the outskirts of the Russian state. In a way, this promoted the development of new lands (Cossack Old Believers moved to the Caucasus and Siberia) and the development of mining, metallurgy, and so on (the Old Believers’ closely adhered to a vigorous labor discipline).
The Russian language was also affected by modernization. Together with the other reforms in the era of Peter the Great, the fields of diplomacy and science were also affected (e.g. Peter the Great founded the first European-style university, whose successor is the Moscow State University). The first reform of the Russian language was undertaken during Peter’s government, the second one was carried out by Mikhail Lomonosov, and the third and last one occurred in 1918.
But the Russian language has some problematic aspects associated with its foreign and domestic policies. The Russification of the Empire faced challenges from the remote areas and new territorial additions. This was due to two reasons. On the one hand, a clear political culture was still not developed and sufficiently formed in a number of places, and many ethnic groups were still in a state of transition. Some of them had a common history with Muscovy and had a quite familiar patois (home language), as was the case with the residents of Ukraine and Belarus, while others laid claim to a unique culture, such as the peoples of the Caucasus. On the other hand, a number of regions already pass through the process of nation-building, such as the cases of Finland (attached in 1909 after the Treaty of Hamina ended the war with Sweden) and Poland (which joined six years later). In order to differentiate between the various peoples of the Russian Empire, it was necessary to develop a specific legal term to separate the state-forming Russian (Slavic) people from other ethnic groups. Realizing the futility of rapid Russification for the people on the western outskirts of the empire, the word “foreigner” (inorodets), previously used in relation to Asians, began to be used in the early XX century. In a broader sense, the Encyclopedia of Brockhaus and Efron defined them as "Russian citizens" of non-Slavic tribes.
However, the Slavic component also had a potential problem. It once more raised the question of religious identification – the majority of Poles are Roman Catholic, and in Ukraine and Belarus, there are also numerous Catholics, as well as the strong influence of the Greek-Catholics.
The wave of political nationalism sweeping Western Europe at the time eventually approached the borders of the Russian Empire.
Ukraine has a particular specificity with regard to the Russian language. Since the right-bank territory of the Dnepr River was under the control of Poland and Austria-Hungary for many years, there were repeated attempts to eradicate both Orthodoxy and the Russian language. Despite five centuries of violence committed by Poland and Austria up until the late XIX century, Little Russian (Malorussia – a special term for Ukraine) culture in general did not show any anti-Russian tendencies, even in the Galicia and Carpathian regions. This is evidenced by the 100,000 inhabitants of Galicia who petitioned the parliament in Vienna in 1880 for the right to learn the Russian language. However, the efforts of Austria-Hungary to create a new Ukrainian identity had both political and scientific aspects, and the “Galician project” at the beginning of the 20th century began to exercise significant influence on affairs.
In 1914, Deputy A. Savenko, speaking at the State Duma, said: “The Ukrainian movement is a serious political movement that represents a threat to the unity and integrity of the Russian Empire”. This was due not only to the common roots of the Velikorussians (a term for the inhabitants of Russia itself) and Malorussians (the inhabitants of Ukraine), but also to the fact that for centuries the Russian Empire had elites that immigrated from Ukraine and there was a large flow of inhabitants from Little Russia to the deep outskirts of Siberia and the Far East. At the same time, Savenko pointed out that the loss of the non-Russian periphery (the Caucasus and Central Asia) would not be as much of a threat to Russia as a split within the Russian nation itself. Peter Struve, the author of the idea of “Greater Russia”, refers to both groups collectively as the ‘national Russian state’. He also believed that if the Ukrainian intelligentsia’s idea of separate nationality became a working ideal and the people’s will united behind it, then this would be fraught with "the greatest and unprecedented split in the Russian nation, which would be a real state ... and national disaster." On the other hand, even in the same Ukraine, Russian identity is much more prevalent than Ukrainian identity. For example, in 1917, only 11% of Kiev students considered themselves as Ukrainians. The next peak of Ukrainization occurred during the 1920s and the period of the New Economic Policy. The ideas of communism were often distributed together with cultural and linguistic national projects, which in turn led to paradoxical changes inside of Russia. The project was only abandoned in 1932.
The next stage of Ukrainization took place during World War II and was carried out by the German occupational authorities (who also promoted similar policies of national separatism in other conquered areas under the tutelage of the Third Reich). The success of Hitler’s army led to almost all of Ukraine falling under German occupation by the end of 1942, which in turn gave new opportunities to the radical supporters of Ukrainization. With the help of the Germans, they banned the use of the Russian language in the press and introduced exclusively Ukrainian ones. Changes were also made in the educational system, and only those who knew the Ukrainian language were allowed to work. Those who did not know it were fired. Such discriminatory actions were financed by Germany and partaken with the active participation of German experts.
The next wave of Ukrainization occurred with Nikita Khrushchev, but by the time Leonid Brezhnev came to power, it had already passed. Without support from the state, the Ukrainian language was experiencing a “natural death”.
The last wave of Ukrainization in Little Russia came after Ukraine’s declaration of independence as a “democratic” state. It is not just the fact that Ukraine was left without Russia, but that the beliefs of this “new” nation had a clear anti-Russian tinge.
Returning to the policy of the Russian Empire, it should be noted that because of the threat of separatism in the early XX century, the leadership of the Empire became more interested in the policy of economic integration for the outskirts and the harmonization of its legal and administration systems to the Great Russian core. This continued to increase after the 1906 colonization of the easternmost remote areas of the Russian Empire and the spread of the Russian language and culture to its “foreign” outskirts. However, the social and national mobilization of this period covered not only Russians, but also the different “nations” of Russia, especially in the western regions (Poland, Finland, the Baltic States, etc.). It was earlier mentioned that these people had previously and gradually created their own modern nations with new elites, including their own literary language and highly developed professional cultures. "These counterclaims, the opposing tendencies of homogenization, and diversification strengthened unity and intensified the differences in political and social tension in the multinational Empire of the late monarch period."
The Russian language was thus considered as the most reliable tool for the unification of the imperial space, including the Russian-speaking elite (as the nobility was not ethnically Russian). It must be said that the Russian nation itself, until the fall of the monarchy, had a much inferior standard of living and education when compared to the German, Polies, Jewish, Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Belarussian, and even Tatar and Bashkir inhabitants . The non-Russian native people of the Empire were actively involved in the local administration, sometimes even having significant influence and becoming the highest ranking government officials and senior military commanders. By fitting into the single state hierarchy, they became “Russian authorities”. “Loris Medikov is not an Armenian General – exclaimed the publicist – but a Russian General of Armenian origin." On the other hand, the term Russian and Rossiyskiy (it is the same word in English – L.S.) have been synonymous for centuries, which introduced some confusion in their definitions in relation to linguistic, ethnic, political, and administrative issues. Until the beginning of the October Revolution of 1917, the terms were not accurately used in the “national” context, whereas in the Soviet times, they came to refer to ethnic origin.
An important milestone in the role of the Russian language was the major state legislation that was passed. The legislative act approved on April 23, 1906 summed up the reform of the political system of Russia throughout the period of 1905-1906. It secured the state system of the Russian Empire, decreed the official language, created a supreme governing power, refined the order of law, laid out the principles of organizations and the operation of central government agencies, described the rights and obligations of Russian citizens and the Orthodox church, etc.
The Russian language was recognized as nationally encompassing in the Army, Navy, and “public and social institutions”. The use of local languages and dialects within these establishments were regulated by special laws.
After the outbreak of the First World War, the debate about the role of language in policy intensified. The emergence of new rightwing parties and movements and the increased tendencies of Russian (imperial) nationalism among moderates and liberals displayed a new phase of public policy. The imperial identity was eroded by a typically European bourgeois nationalism in a new “Russian” form because it betted on a conglomerate of languages and cultures.
The government set itself the goal of achieving complete unification of the empire after the war. It was required that what the government viewed as separatism (the control of differentiated supply networks by the outskirt areas) be relinquished. A further condition for national unity was that the state language was to be exclusively Russian.
These plans were implemented by the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, and the revolutionary government was far more radical and far-sighted than the Tsarist regime. Under the Soviet Minister of People’s Education Anatoliy Lunacharsky, the Russian language was reformed in 1918, which resulted in the removal of some letters. A general education program was launched along with this project, which made it so that all citizens of the new Soviet state, regardless of gender or age, would be able to read and write. In the new Soviet republics where the primary language was not Russian (Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia), it was still necessary for the regional elites to learn it in order to facilitate political communication with the center.
The national press, the main newspapers of the Communist Party, and the radio were also agents of spreading the Russian language in the regions. The beginning of the industrial area in the Soviet Union also necessitated a standard language to conduct technical documentation, and Russian was selected for this role.
The post-revolutionary situation also had another important factor – large migration flows from Russia to the countries of Europe, Asia, Latin American, and the US. White immigration included the Army Corps, the nobility, and the aristocracy who did not wish to remain in Soviet Russia. Together with their migration, their native language itself also migrated and surged abroad. These individuals also took with them various cultural artifacts (e.g. a wide variety of rare editions of manuscripts and liturgical books, as well as fictional works from the Russian Empire that were owned by Russian migrants, can be found in the Slavic Department of the Czech National Library in Prague). In sum, this led to the emergence of a Russian diaspora that has multiple levels. Along with the monarchists, liberals, religious fundamentalists, and various experts and professionals who were not accepted into the new Soviet government also traveled abroad. This unique phenomenon not only contributed to the spread of the foci of Russian culture, but it also had an opposite effect sui generis. Part of the migrants became actively involved in the political struggle against the Soviet state, broadcasting propaganda through the Russian language. On the other hand, groups of Russian-speaking migrants also promoted ethnic separatism (Ukrainians, Armenians, etc.).
A Tool in Geopolitical Turbulence
Throughout the history of both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, the Russian language was more than a tool for communication and interaction between the elites and a means of relations with the masses of the Russian population. It served as a link between the non-Russian people in both political entities. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian language remains the language of dialogue between politicians, businessmen, and the average townsfolk in all post-Soviet states. Its status is regulated differently in the republics of the former Soviet Union, but in fact, even in the states that preach a Russophobe policy, its leaders used Russian, not English, to communicate with each other (e.g. the odious former presidents of Georgia and Ukraine – Mikhail Saakashvili and Viktor Yushcheko – privately communicated with each other in Russian).
The Russian language is not solely connected with the contemporary Russian and Russian-speaking population of some of the former Soviet republics and the Russian diaspora. The peoples of Northern Eurasia are united by history, culture, a common fate, their work ethic, similar moral and religious structures, and importantly, the Russian language. Central Asia and the Caucasus are also automatically included in this area, where there is still an historical memory of the Russian language and the imperial culture . In general, there are still 275 million people who speak Russian throughout the world, placing it in 4th place for the most popular language behind Chinese, English, and Spanish languages.
The Russian language might play a significant role amidst the contemporary geopolitical turbulence.
One of the latest examples is Ukraine. The crisis started because of many reasons, but the revolt of the Ukrainian Southeast began after the junta’s attempts to implement a discriminative law against the Russian-speaking population there. Any reverses that Kiev attempted were not able to save the situation, and the conflict was quickly polarized. A branching tree of intentions, reflections, and political ambitions arose from the language question: federalism, the call for justice, self-representation, the question of a different identity than the Ukrainian one, a turn to Russia, etc.
As the Russian philosopher and geopolitican Alexander Dugin wrote in his book “The Fourth Political Theory”: “Our language expresses meaning, beauty, truth, and correctness. But this is not just a gift, it gave us a debt that we must return. And therefore, we must carefully keep learning how to speak the sacred Russian language. This is the meaning of the Eurasian philosophy (not coincidentally, the first leader of the Eurasians was a linguist, Prince Trubutskoy), and this is not only a love for the language, it is a cult, a holy reverence to what is said in Russian."