Russian language as a tool of soft power projection

In an article in Digital Icons (no 5, 2011) Linguist Michael Gorham details the efforts to use Russian language as a tool to harness the Russian diaspora and project Russian state influence in the neighboring countries of the former Soviet Union.

Gorham notes that about 10 years ago Moscow switched from a defensive to more assertive policy regarding Russian language use. Rather than focusing on defending the interests of the 12 million Russians living in the ‘near abroad’ as an ethnic group, by focusing on language use the new policy appeared less threatening, more inclusive.

A new concept arose of Russkii Mir, or ‘Russian World’.  Gorham argues “russkii mir was a protean concept with little baggage from the past, but a store of symbolic potential that could be used to justify cultural patriotic visions of ‘Russianness’, more exclusionary, nationalistic notions, and even more liberal, economic and transnational sentiments.” The Kremlin sponsored the formation of a Russian World Foundation in June 2007 headed by Viacheslav Nikonov (Molotov’s grandson).

Gorham also discusses the role of the Internet and Russia’s extraordinarily active blogging community, which some suggest has turned the internet into a ‘virtual kitchen’ for free debate. However, May 2010 saw the launch of the Cyrillic language .rf web name domain, part of a broader range of government proposals (as yet mostly unimplemented) to make cyberspace ‘more Russian’ behind a ‘Cyillic curtain.’

 

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