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I sometimes hear statements about fluent Russian speakers abroad that are based on certain incorrect assumptions. Some of our readers know better, but others may discover something new from this post.
Because this post touches upon deeply personal aspects of identity, language, ancestry, and political affiliation, it is quite natural that people will have different reactions to it. Please be respectful of the blog team and your fellow readers in your comments.If a person speaks Russian natively, it does not necessarily mean that…
As we wrote before on this blog, Russian is spoken in multiple countries outside Russia, sometimes by people who have only been to Russia as a tourist (турист), during an airport layover (пересадка), or not at all.
Because of both voluntary and forced migration and the policy of Russification (русификация) in the Soviet Union, people born or long established in other former Soviet republics will sometimes speak Russian as their first language to the point where you could not tell that person’s accent apart from that of a person in Russia. Many of these people will also speak the primary language of their country of residence or citizenship (гражданство), which has been encouraged since the fall of the USSR as a means of promoting independence (независимость) and limiting the influence (влияние) of Russian media (СМИ, pronounced сми).
It is, therefore, unwise to assume that a native speaker of Russian comes from Russia.
“Oh, so they are a member of the Russian diaspora in their country?” Again, not necessarily. People who claim no Russian ancestry (русское происхождение) do sometimes speak Russian as their first language (родной язык).
According to Wikipedia, 16% of the population in Moldova “speak it as first language in daily use, including 130,000 ethnic Moldovans.” This post does not mean to gloss over the forced Russification of these territories under Tsarist or Soviet Russia; however, one of the consequences of these policies is that there are non-Russian speakers of Russian abroad.
In other words, a native speaker of Russian outside Russia is not always of Russian ancestry.
“Surely people who speak Russian in other countries align themselves with the Russian government?” Yet again, this is not always the case.
Even though the Russian government (правительство) may “[count] some 35 million Russians and Russian speakers abroad as compatriots” and justify foreign policy (внешняя политика) decisions by the need to “protect” their interests, these people do not always share that outlook. For instance, a 2014 study found that “In Ukraine, among Russian-speakers, 74 percent were supportive of the [Euromaidan] protests, and only a quarter were opposed.”
Basically, you cannot assume a person supports the Russian government just because they speak Russian natively.
Do you have any examples of any of these cases from your life?
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