A long article by Vera Ryklina in Русский Newsweek (in Russian, obviously) describes the rapid and probably irreversible decline in the use of the Russian language. Since the collapse of the USSR, it is studied and spoken less and less in the countries that have won their independence; even within the Russian Federation, there are regions where it is less used. Ryklina says Russian is needed by only half of those who now know it, and still less will it be needed by their children. She quotes a number of academics who compare it to the languages of other vanished empires; English, obviously, has been a tremendous success, French less so. I was particularly struck by the comparison to Dutch. Historian Ivan Belenkii is quoted as saying:
But Russia’s situation is more or less like Holland’s. A century later, there will remain not a trace of our presence over half the globe, just as happened with the many colonies of that great maritime empire. People without much education aren’t even aware that Holland had those colonies; the language has remained only in Suriname. And yet only 60 years ago Holland ruled Indonesia, a country with a population greater than that of Russia. Today absolutely nobody there wants to study Dutch.
There is much discussion of causes; the article suggests that Russian might have had a longer shelf life if the USSR had promoted it as an attractive cultural language rather than an administrative tool (the way France has promoted French abroad), but frankly I doubt anything would have changed the desire of the ex-colonials to reject everything having to do with the Soviet regime. Anyway, it’s a good read if you know Russian, and I thank bulbul for the link. (His latest two posts are an interesting discussion of “blue blood,” in which he laments the lack of an etymological dictionary of the Slovak language, and an annotated list of Books He Hasn’t Read, inspired by this.)