From Ukraine to Uzbekistan, going through Kazakhstan and the Baltic states, we are witnessing to the rise of culture wars against Russia and the fundamental elements of the so-called Russian World (Russkij Mir).
Author: Emanuel Pietrobon – 31/05/2020
From Ukraine to Uzbekistan, going through Kazakhstan and the Baltic states, we are witnessing to the rise of culture wars against Russia and the fundamental elements of the so-called Russian World (Russkij Mir). Whereas in Ukraine the traditionally Russian-related national identity is being quickly replaced by the Western paradigm, in Central Asia the former Soviet –stans are embracing Ankara-sponsored pan-Turkic chimera and gradually moving towards the building of Russia-free identities.
Uzbekistan’s and Kazakhstan’s recent attempts to marginalize the Russian language are the best example of it and have little to do with the desire of emancipation since this is another chapter of the Russo-Turkish confrontation for hegemony over the Turkic world.
May has been a very hot month in Tashkent and not for the weather. The new government is trying to de-Russify the country via initiatives envisaging the marginalization of Russian language in internal affairs and daily life despite the fact that a speedy change from Russian to Uzbek would be as traumatic as counter-productive. The government is so convinced of this nationalist policy that has warned Russia’s Foreign Ministry not to interfere in the country’s domestic affairs after having received an official complaint concerning the rights of minority communities from Maria Zakharova.
The bill we are speaking about is going to strengthen the primacy of Uzbek language in daily life and working environments via the introduction of fines up to $110 for whoever is found guilty of “doing office work in languages other than Uzbek” and although Russian isn’t mentioned it’s very clear that it is not Japanese, for instance, to be targeted by this exclusionary bill.
The first implication is that Russian speakers living in the country are going to be penalized, literally, and we’re speaking of important numbers according to the 2017 census: 750,000 Russians, 70,000 Ukrainians, 800,000 Kazakhs, 1,300,000 Tajiks. The Russian language is the lingua franca for these ethnic minorities and even for tens of thousands of Uzbeks, who have started discovering their native language only recently.
The preservation of Russian language in the –stans is the best sign to check the health status of Russian hegemony in the region and Uzbekistan’s moves are to be considered worrisome. Remaining in Tashkent, this is merely the latest hostile and ambiguous initiative taken by the post-Karimov government towards Russia and this fresh agenda is largely due to the ever-growing regional influence exerted by Ankara.
The Turkic Council is one of the main geopolitical tools through which Ankara is promoting its foreign agenda in the post-soviet space and is trying to drive Russia and the -stan countries apart. Surprisingly, it’s having quite success – and the US is thankful.
The White House is fully aware of Ankara’s ever-growing protagonism in the -stan countries via the intense network based on pan-Turkic and pan-Islamic initiatives, organizations, entities, universities, NGOs, and lobbying groups, and the Trump administration is trying to take advantage of this revolutionary paradigm shift to lessen Russia’s influence in the region.
Mike Pompeo’s recent visit in the -stans has to be contextualized in this panorama of wider competition among Asia’s biggest players, with the US-Turkey axis on one side and the Russian-Chinese axis on the other side. It was Pompeo himself to show Trump’s ambitions: pressures over Tashkent not to join the Economic Eurasian Union and pressures over Nur-Sultan to join the pro-Uighur agenda.
The Turkish-American’s capabilities to influence Central Asian policies have so far been being widely and culpably underevaluated. First of all, let’s think of Uzbekistan‘s bothersome play for game with the Kremlin as regard to joining the Eurasian Economic Union: after 4-year talks, last March the government announced it would join the organization as an observer member to understand whether the benefits exceed the risks or not.
But back in September 2019, when it was about to enter the Ankara-backed Turkic Council, the Uzbek government didn’t think twice: it sent the request for full membership.
And it precisely via the Turkic Council that Erdogan is seeking to expand his country’s influence in the region. Tons of aid have been already sent to any -stan, which are supporting Hungary as well in sign of turanist brotherhood, and the entity has played a pivotal role in managing the delivery of goods, gotting to receive praise from Ankara’s foreign ministry.
In short, the war on Russian language has to be contextualized in the wider context of renewed great power competition in the the region and just like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan is going through the same path: the starting point will be the forthcoming transition from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet.
The influence played by the Turkic Council can no longer be overlooked, attractive alternatives have to be set up, Russia has still both the time, the soft power and the resources to stop the de-Russification process, which is the first step towards political decoupling.
Ultimately, the recent announcement that the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) is going to launch a Russian-language channel destined to the Russian-speaking Turkic world is another alarm signal. This move is going to strengthen Ankara’s soft power in the region, and also within Russia’s itself, and it is likely to further already-existing inter-ethnic and inter-religious divisions.