Russification (in Russian: русификация rusifikátsiya)is an adoption of the Russian language or some other Russian attribute (whether voluntarily or not) by non-Russian communities. In a narrow sense, Russification is used to denote the influence of the Russian language on Slavic, Baltic and other languages, spoken in areas currently or formerly controlled by Russia, which led to emerging of russianisms, trasianka and surzhyk. In a historical sense, the term refers to both official and unofficial policies of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union with respect to their national constituents and to national minorities in Russia, aimed at Russian domination.
The major areas of Russification are politics and culture. In politics, an element of Russification is assigning Russian nationals to leading administrative positions in national institutions. In culture, Russification primarily amounts to domination of the Russian language in official business and strong influence of Russian language on the national ones. The shifts in demographics in favour of Russian population are sometimes considered as a form of Russification as well.
Russification, as a process of changing one's ethnic self-label or identity from a non-Russian ethnonym to Russian has been distinguished from Russianization, the spread of Russian language, culture, and people into non-Russian cultures and regions, distinct also from Sovietization. In this sense, Russification is usually conflated across Russification, Russianization, and Russian-led Sovietization with regard to the policies of the former Soviet Union—although each can be considered a distinct process with separate results.
A similar development took place in Lithuania. Its Governor General, Mikhail Muravyov, prohibited the public use of spoken Lithuanian and closed Lithuanian and Polish schools; teachers from other parts of Russia who did not speak these languages were moved in to teach pupils. Muravyov also banned the use of Latin and Gothic scripts in publishing. He was reported saying, "What the Russian bayonet didn't accomplish, the Russian school will." ("что не доделал русский штык — доделает русская школа.") This ban, which was only lifted in 1904, was disregarded by the Knygnešiai, the Lithuanian book smugglers, who brought Lithuanian publications printed in the Latin alphabet, the historic orthography of the Lithuanian language, from Lithuania Minor, a part of East Prussia, and from the United States into the Lithuanian-speaking areas of Imperial Russia. The knygnešiai became a symbol of the resistance of the Lithuanians against Russification.
The campaign also promoted the Russian Orthodox faith over Catholicism. The measures used included closing down Catholic monasteries, officially banning the building of new churches and giving many of the old ones to the Russian Orthodox church, banning Catholic schools and establishing state schools which taught only the Orthodox religion, requiring Catholic priests to preach only officially approved sermons, requiring that Catholics who married members of the Orthodox church convert, requiring Catholic nobles to pay an additional tax in the amount of 10% of their profits, limiting the amount of land a Catholic peasant could own, and switching from the Gregorian calendar (used by Catholics) to the Julian one (used by members of the Orthodox church).
After the uprising, many manors and great chunks of land were confiscated from nobles of Polish and Lithuanian descent who were accused of helping the uprising; these properties were later given or sold to Russian nobles. Villages where supporters of the uprising lived were repopulated by ethnic Russians. Vilnius University, where the language of instruction had been Polish rather than Russian, was closed in 1832. Lithuanians and Poles were banned from holding any public jobs (including professional positions, such as teachers and doctors) in Lithuania; this forced educated Lithuanians to move to other parts of the Russian Empire. The old legal code was dismantled and a new one based on the Russian code and written in the Russian language was enacted; Russian became the only administrative and juridical language in the area. Most of these actions ended at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War, but others took longer to be reversed; Vilnius University was reopened only after Russia had lost control of the city in 1919.
The Moldovan language introduced then by the Soviet authorities in Moldavian SSR was actually Romanian language but written with a version of the Cyrillic alphabet derived from the Russian alphabet. Proponents of Cyrillic orthography argue that the Romanian language was historically written with the Cyrillic script, albeit a different version of it (see Moldovan alphabet and Romanian Cyrillic alphabet for a discussion of this controversy).
The Soviet nationalities policy from its early years sought to counter these two tendencies by assuring a modicum of cultural autonomy to non-Russian nationalities within a federal system or structure of government, though maintaining that the ruling Communist Party was monolithic, not federal. The federal system conferred highest status to the titular nationalities of union republics, and lower status to titular nationalities of autonomous republics, autonomous provinces, and autonomous okrugs. In all, some 50 nationalities had a republic, province, or okrug of which they held nominal control in the federal system. Federalism and the provision of native-language education ultimately left as a legacy a large non-Russian public that was educated in the languages of their ethnic groups and that identified a particular homeland on the territory of the Soviet Union.
By the late 1930s, however, there was a notable policy shift. Purges in some of the national regions, such as Ukraine, had occurred already in the early 1930s. Before the turnabout in Ukraine in 1933, a purge of Veli Ibrahimov and his leadership in the Crimean ASSR in 1929 for "national deviation" led to Russianization of government, education, and the media and to the creation of a special alphabet for Crimean Tatar to replace the Latin alphabet. Of the two dangers that Stalin had identified in 1923, now bourgeois nationalism (local nationalism) was said to be a greater threat than Great Russian chauvinism (great power chauvinism). In 1937, Faizullah Khojaev and Akmal Ikramov were removed as leaders of the Uzbek SSR and in 1938, during the third great Moscow show trial, convicted and subsequently put to death for alleged anti-Soviet nationalist activities.
Russian language gained greater emphasis. In 1938, Russian became a required subject of study in every Soviet school, including those in which a non-Russian language was the principal medium of instruction for other subjects (e.g., mathematics, science, and social studies). In 1939, non-Russian languages that had been given Latin-based scripts in the late 1920s were given new scripts based on the Cyrillic alphabet. One likely rationale for these decisions was the sense of impending war and that Russian was the language of command in the Red Army.
Before and during World War II, Stalin deported to Central Asia and Siberia several entire nationalities for their suspected collaboration with the German invaders: Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Kalmyks, and others. Shortly after the war, he deported many Ukrainians and Balts to Siberia as well.
After the war the leading role of the Russian people in the Soviet family of nations and nationalities was promoted by Stalin and his successors. This shift was most clearly underscored by Communist Party General Secretary Stalin's Victory Day toast to the Russian people in May 1945:
I would like to raise a toast to the health of our Soviet people and, before all, the Russian people.
I drink, before all, to the health of the Russian people, because in this war they earned general recognition as the leading force of the Soviet Union among all the nationalities of our country.
Naming the Russian nation the primus inter pares was a total turnabout from Stalin's declaration 20 years earlier (heralding the korenizatsiya policy) that "the first immediate task of our Party is vigorously to combat the survivals of Great-Russian chauvinism." Although the official literature on nationalities and languages in subsequent years continued to speak of there being 130 equal languages in the USSR, in practice a hierarchy was endorsed in which some nationalities and languages were given special roles or viewed as having different long-term futures.
Moreover, in most of these languages schooling was not offered for the complete 10-year curriculum. For example, within the RSFSR in 1958-59, full 10-year schooling in the native language was offered in only three languages: Russian, Tatar, and Bashkir. And some nationalities had minimal or no native-language schooling. By 1962–1963, among non-Russian nationalities that were indigenous to the RSFSR, whereas 27% of children in classes I-IV (primary school) studied in Russian-language schools, 53% of those in classes V-VIII (incomplete secondary school) studied in Russian-language schools, and 66% of those in classes IX-X studied in Russian-language schools. Although many non-Russian languages were still offered as a subject of study at a higher class level (in some cases through complete general secondary school – the 10th class), the pattern of using Russian language as the main medium of instruction accelerated after Khrushchev's parental choice program got under way.
Pressure to convert the main medium of instruction to Russian was evidently higher in urban areas. For example, in 1961-62, reportedly only 6% of Tatar children living in urban areas attended schools in which Tatar was the main medium of instruction. Similarly in Dagestan in 1965, schools in which the indigenous language was the medium of instruction existed only in rural areas. The pattern was probably similar, if less extreme, in most of the non-Russian union republics, although in Belarus and Ukraine schooling in urban areas was highly Russianized.
Khrushchev's formula of rapprochement-fusing (sblizhenie-sliyanie) was moderated slightly, however, when Leonid Brezhnev replaced Khrushchev as General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1964 (a post he held until his death in 1982). Brezhnev asserted that sblizhenie would lead ultimately to the complete "unity" (единство – yedinstvo) of nationalities. "Unity" was an ambiguous term because it could imply either the maintenance of separate national identities but a higher stage of mutual attraction or similarity between nationalities, or the total disappearance of ethnic differences. In the political context of the time, sblizheniye-yedinstvo was regarded as a softening of the pressure toward Russification that Khrushchev had promoted with his endorsement of sliyanie. The 24th Party Congress in 1971, however, launched the idea that a new "Soviet people" (Советский народ) was forming on the territory of the USSR, a community for which the common language – the language of the "Soviet people" – was the Russian language, consistent with the role that Russian was playing for the fraternal nations and nationalities in the territory already. This new community was labeled a people (народ – narod), not a nation (нация – natsiya), but in that context narod implied an ethnic community, not just a civic or political community.
Thus, until the end of the Soviet era, a doctrinal rationalization had been provided for some of the practical policy steps that were taken in areas of education and the media. First of all, the transfer of many "national schools" (национальные школы) to Russian as a medium of instruction accelerated under Khrushchev in the late 1950s and continued into the 1980s. Second, the new doctrine was used to justify the special place of the Russian language as the "language of internationality communication" (язык межнационального общения) in the USSR. Use of the term "internationality" (межнациональное) rather than the more conventional "international" (международное) focused on the special internal role of Russian language rather than on its role as a language of international discourse. That Russian was the most widely spoken language, and that Russians were the majority of the population of the country, were also cited in justification of the special place of Russian language in government, education, and the media.
At the 27th CPSU Party Congress in 1986, presided over by Mikhail Gorbachev, the 4th Party Program reiterated the formulas of the previous program:
Characteristic of the national relations in our country are both the continued flourishing of the nations and nationalities and the fact that they are steadily and voluntarily drawing closer together on the basis of equality and fraternal cooperation. Neither artificial prodding nor holding back of the objective trends of development is admissible here. In the long term historical perspective this development will lead to complete unity of the nations. . . .
The equal right of all citizens of the USSR to use their native languages and the free development of these languages will be ensured in the future as well. At the same time learning the Russian language, which has been voluntarily accepted by the Soviet people as a medium of communication between different nationalities, besides the language of one's nationality, broadens one's access to the achievements of science and technology and of Soviet and world culture.
Each of the official homelands within the Soviet Union was regarded as the eternal and only homeland of the titular nationality and its language, while the Russian language was regarded as the language for interethnic communication for the whole Soviet Union. As such, for most of the Soviet era, especially after the korenizatsiya (indigenization) policy ended in the 1930s, schools in which non-Russian Soviet languages would be taught were not generally available outside the respective ethnically based administrational units of these ethnicities; the same could be said about the cultural institutions. Some exceptions appeared to involve cases of historic rivalries or patterns of assimilation between neighboring non-Russian groups, such as between Tatars and Bashkirs in Russia or among major Central Asian nationalities. For example, even in the 1970s schooling was offered in at least six languages in Uzbekistan: Russian, Uzbek, Tajik, Kazakh, Turkmenian, and Karakalpak.
While formally all languages were equal, in almost all Soviet republics the Russian/local bilingualism was "asymmetric," as in India: the titular nation learned Russian, whereas immigrant Russians generally did not learn the local language.
In addition, many non-Russians who lived outside their respective administrative units tended to become Russified linguistically; that is, they not only learned Russian as a second language but they also adopted it as their home language or mother tongue – although some still retained their sense of ethnic identity or origins even after shifting their native language to Russian. This includes both the traditional communities (e.g. Lithuanians in the northwestern Belarus (see Eastern Vilnius region) or the Kaliningrad Oblast (see Lithuania Minor)) and the communities that appeared during Soviet times (e.g. Ukrainian or Belarusian workers in Kazakhstan or Latvia, whose children attended primarily the Russian-language schools and thus the further generations are primarily speaking Russian as their native language; for example, for 57% of Estonia's Ukrainians, 70% of Estonia's Belarusians and 37% of Estonia's Latvians claimed Russian is the native language in the last Soviet census of 1989. Russian language as well changed the Yiddish and other languages as the main language of many Jewish communities inside the Soviet Union.
Another consequence of the mixing of nationalities and the spread of bilingualism and linguistic Russification was the growth of ethnic intermarriage and a process of ethnic Russification -- coming to call oneself Russian by nationality or ethnicity, not just speaking Russian as a second language or using it as a primary language. In the last decades of the Soviet Union, ethnic Russification (or ethnic assimilation) was moving very rapidly for a few nationalities such as the Karelians and Mordvinians. However, whether children born in mixed families where one of the parents was Russian were likely to be raised as Russians depended on the context. For example, the majority of children in families where one parent was Russian and the other Ukrainian living in North Kazakstan chose Russian as their nationality on their internal passport at age 16. However, children of mixed Russian and Estonian parents living in Tallinn (the capital city of Estonia), or mixed Russian and Latvian parents living in Riga (the capital of Latvia), or mixed Russian and Lithuanian parents living in Vilnius (the capital of Lithuania) most often chose as their own nationality that of the titular nationality of their republic – not Russian. More generally, patterns of linguistic and ethnic assimilation (Russification) were complex and cannot be accounted for by any single factor such as educational policy. Also relevant were the traditional cultures and religions of the groups, their residence in urban or rural areas, their contact with and exposure to Russian language and to ethnic Russians, and other factors.
Another factor that may also have begun to reduce pressure toward ethnic Russification was that beginning in the late 1960s immigration of Russians to some of the non-Russian republics slowed down or reversed. There was a net outmigration of Russians from Armenia and Georgia in the 1960s (though because of natural increase the number of Russians still increased during this decade). There was also essentially no net immigration or outmigration of Russians in Central Asia in the 1970s, and by the 1980s there was a net outmigration. To the Baltic republics and in the Soviet west (Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldavia), there was only a trickle of net immigration of Russians by the 1980s. Furthermore, because of differential fertility rates among ethnic groups, the Russian share of the population of the Soviet Union as a whole declined to just 51 percent by the time of the 1989 census. In the preceding decade Russians had comprised just 33 percent of the net increase in the Soviet population. Assuming that these trends continued, Russians were likely to lose their status as a majority of the Soviet population around the turn of the 21st century.
Tatarstan republic tried to switch its alphabet to Latin, however the Latin alphabet was officially banned for Russia's official languages. This position was officially explained with two reasons:
Russian is the language of higher education, trade and business in all regions of Russia. In Kazakhstan, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan Russian has been declared an official language (in Kazakhstan its official status is "Language of interethnic communication"). In Ukraine, this was an issue in the 2004 presidential election: Viktor Yanukovich supported making Russian a state language while Viktor Yushchenko opposed it. The current government is unwilling to make Russian a state language. However, despite official government policies, the Russian language is widely used on television and the circulation of Russian language newspapers is high all over the country (in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine Russian is the dominant language). The situation is similar in Kazakhstan. In both Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, Kazakhstan, there have been attempts to make the titular languages the main languages for the media and the press (this is referred to as derussification in those countries), but these have had limited success. In Belarus, such attempts stopped in 1994, with the ascent of Alexander Lukashenko; most of the administrative, educational and legislative business in Belarus is carried out in Russian.