Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 11/2008

The Russian World—Changing Meanings and Strategies

Valery Tishkov

August 2008

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted not only in new borders for Russia, but left millions of ethnic Russians in former Soviet republics. For these people, the Russian language remains a defining influence in their lives, even where local nationalist agendas seek to downplay and underestimate its prevalence. Many remain members of the "Russian world"-preserving ties of culture and identity with Russia, hold Russian citizenship, and consider themselves Russian, even if they live outside Russia's boundaries.

In The Russian World: Changing Strategies and Meanings, Valery Tishkov lays out a framework for understanding the ways in which those connected to the Russian language and culture relate to one another and to Russia. Writing for an English-speaking audience, he explains how and why Russian intellectuals began to press the government of the Russian Federation to embrace the idea of a "Russian world" and support its members.   Tishkov argues that conventional estimates of the prevalence and social importance of the Russian language in post-Soviet countries such as Georgia, Latvia, and some Central Asian states are distorted by skewed self-reporting, willful suppression of Russian by the governments, and other biases. For this reason he believes that Russian should become an official language in several former Soviet republics, including Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Latvia, due to the high proportion of Russian speakers there.   The changing status and perception of the Russian language in the newly independent states reflect ongoing processes of national consolidation and self-understanding. Tishkov's analysis helps to shed light on how Russians are navigating these challenging questions.   Valery Tishkov has served as director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences, since 1989. He is also director of the IEA Center for the Study and Management of Conflicts, and serves as chairman of the Commission on Tolerance and Freedom of Conscience of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation. He is a prolific writer, having published more than twenty books, including two encyclopedias on Russian ethnicity. He is a member of the Public Chamber of Russia and the Global Commission on International Migration.