Derussification (or derussianization) is a process or public policy in different states of the former Russian Empire and the Soviet Union or certain parts of them, aimed at restoring national identity of indigenous peoples: their language, culture and historical memory, lost due to Russification. The term can be also used to describe the marginalization of the language, culture and other attributes of the Russian-speaking society through the promotion of other, usually autochthonous, languages and cultures.
For the first time, Derussification manifested itself in the newly independent states that emerged after the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, such as Poland, Finland, Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Main article: Kars Oblast
After the Treaty of Moscow (1921) transferred the Kars Oblast and a number of adjacent territories to Turkey, almost all Christians, who made up 47% of the population according to the 1897 census, left these territories. The share of Slavs in the region, which at that time was 10.6% of the population (including 7.7% of Russians proper), dropped to zero. The Greek, Armenian and Georgian communities ceased to exist.
Main article: Harbin Russians
In the period between 1945 and 1969, the derussification of Harbin ended, which at the peak of White emigration during the 1920s had an almost 300-thousand Russian-speaking population in Northeast China. Most of the remaining Russian residents chose to migrate to the United States, Australia, or returned to the USSR.
Korenizatsiia was an early policy of the Soviet government for the integration of non-Russian nationalities into the governments of their specific Soviet republics. In the 1920s, the policy promoted representatives of the titular nation, and their national minorities, into the lower administrative levels of the local government, bureaucracy, and nomenklatura of their Soviet republics. The main idea of the korenizatsiia was to grow communist cadres for every nationality. In Russian, the term korenizatsiia derives from korennoe naselenie (коренное население, "native population"). The policy practically ended in the mid-1930s with the deportations of various nationalities.
By the mid-1930s, with purges in some of the national areas, the policy of korenizatsiia took a new turn, and by the end of the 1930s the policy of promoting local languages began to be balanced by greater Russianization. Moreover, Stalin seemed set on greatly reducing the number of officially recognized nationalities by contracting the official list of nationalities in the 1939 census, compared with the 1926 census. The term korenizatsiia went out of use in the latter half of the 1930s, replaced by more bureaucratic expressions, such as "selection and placement of national cadres" (подбор и расстановка национальных кадров). From 1937, the central press started to praise Russian language and Russian culture. Mass campaigns were organized to denounce the "enemies of the people". "Bourgeois nationalists" were new enemies of the Russian people which had suppressed the Russian language. The policy of indigenization was abandoned. In the following years, the Russian language became a compulsory subject in all Soviet schools.
The pre-revolution Russian nationalism was also rehabilitated. Many of the heroes of Russian history were re-appropriated for glorification. The Russian people became the "elder brother" of the "Socialist family of nations". A new kind of patriotism, Soviet patriotism, was declared to mean a willingness to fight for the Socialist fatherland. In 1938, Russian became a mandatory subject of study in all non-Russian schools. In general, the cultural and linguistic russification reflected the overall centralization imposed by Stalin. The Cyrillic script was instituted for a number of Soviet languages, including the languages of Central Asia that in the late 1920s had been given Latin alphabets to replace Arabic ones.
During the Soviet era, a significant number of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians migrated to other Soviet republics, and many of them settled there. According to the last census in 1989, the Russian 'diaspora' in the Soviet republics had reached 25 million. Some historians evaluating the Soviet Union as a colonial empire, applied the "prison of nations" idea to the USSR. Thomas Winderl wrote "The USSR became in a certain sense more a prison-house of nations than the old Empire had ever been."
After the Sino-Soviet split, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping in 1963 issued the document "Notice on Requesting Investigation and Research on Issues Existing in Russian Place Names and Proposing Handling Opinions", demanded Heilongjiang Province to derussify place names within its jurisdiction. Subsequently, the Heilongjiang Provincial Department of Civil Affairs conducted studies and identified 20 Russian place names that were used in the past but now have Chinese names (mainly streets in Harbin, and islands on Amur River) and 9 place names without Chinese names; then sent a written report to Beijing on December 27, 1963, containing suggestions for renaming Russian place names, as well as a note that some place names needed further study. On December 26, 1964, the State Council of the People's Republic of China approved the proposal for the derussification of place names.
In most of the Central Asian and Transcaucasian republics of the former Soviet Union, the share and size of the Russian population fell particularly rapidly due to mass emigration, natural decline, and a prolonged population explosion among indigenous peoples who began to increase their presence in Russia as migrant workers.
Thus, in Tajikistan during the first ten years of independence, the number of Russians decreased from 400,000 to 60,000. In 2010, the Russian language in the republic was deprived of the status of a language of interethnic communication. The rapid derussification of many other cities and regions of Kazakhstan and Central Asia continues.
For example, the share of the Russian population in Astana between 1989 and 2009 fell from 54.5% to 24.9%; in Almaty from 59.1% to 33.2%; in Bishkek from 55.8% to 26.1%.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the number of countries officially using the Cyrillic script shrank, which can also be considered a sign of derussification. The script ceased to be used in Azerbaijan, Moldova, Turkmenistan and partly in Uzbekistan. In Kazakhstan, a complete transition of the Kazakh language from Cyrillic to Latin is scheduled by 2025.
See also: Turkmenization
All dedicated Russian-language schools were closed down, and their students sent to Turkmen schools across the country. The Turkmen government reduced Russian-language instruction to one hour a week, blocked most Russian-language media, and later curtailed access to Russian-language material in the national library.
Kazakhstan used Latin letters from 1929 to 1940, after which the country switched to Cyrillic during a reform. Prior to that, the Arabic script was used there.
On September 28, 2017, the Parliament of Kazakhstan held a hearing at which the draft of the new alphabet based on Latin was presented. The alphabet will consist of 25 characters. The project of the alphabet was presented by the director of the Coordination and Methodological Center of Language Development, Erbol Tleshev. According to him, the alphabet was compiled taking into account the language system of the Kazakh language and the opinions of experts. The Director of the Institute of Linguistics, Erden Kazybek, said that each letter of the alphabet will mean one sound and will not include additional graphic characters.
On October 27, 2017, president Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a decree on the translation of the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin. The document, published on October 27, envisages a gradual transition to Latin graphics by 2025. The decree also approved a new alphabet.
On February 26, 2018, during a meeting with the Minister of Information and Communications, Dauren Abayev, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered to translate the activities of the state authorities exclusively into the Kazakh language. This transition will take place in stages.
Moldova became part of the USSR as a consequence of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Soon after, the language of the country was renamed from "Romanian" to "Moldavian" and it ceased being written in the Latin alphabet, changing to Cyrillic. This policy would only be reversed in 1989, after large demonstrations imbued with patriotic feeling. Romanian is an official language in the Moldovan constitution since its independence, and it is Moldova's sole official language today. Russian is still in use but not as important as it was in the Soviet era, since it has no special status in the country and its usage as mother tongue has been declining for some time.
Main article: Derussification in Ukraine
Not to be confused with Decommunization in Ukraine.
See also: Ukrainization
Derussification in Ukraine began in the aftermath of the Collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when Ukraine became independent. However, in their first years after independence, decommunisation, and the creation of a free market capitalist economy took precedent. However, the processes of derussification and decommunisation are intimately linked, and some key steps were made spontaneously and unsystematically. As of 2022, the decommunisation process is largely complete within Ukraine, and so more energies have been devoted recently to derussification. This process was compounded and accelerated by the escalation in the Russo-Ukrainian War starting on February 24th 2022.
Against the background of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, de-Russification began in earnest in Ukraine. In villages and towns, street names were changed and Soviet-Russian monuments were demolished. Not only architectural structures but also street names related to Russia have been de-Russified. Changes were made in Lviv, Dnipro, Kyiv and Kharkiv. In turn, Ivano-Frankivsk became the first city in Ukraine to be completely free of Russian place names.
As of April 8, 2022, according to a poll by the sociological group Rating, 76% of Ukrainians support the initiative to rename streets and other objects whose names are associated with Russia or the Soviet Union.
The Baltic states (Lithunania, Latvia, and Estonia) have also undergone a process of derussification since their independence from the Soviet Union since their independence in 1991. Each of the Baltic states has a significant ethnic Russian minority, who, almost without exception, only speak Russian. Derussification efforts began with switching the language of official business from Russian to the local Baltic language, and restoring traditional nationality and citizenship laws. In parallel with the situation in Ukraine, however, more energies were devoted to decommunisation than to derussification in the early years of independence.
However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine also accelerated derussification in the Baltic states as well. One change of note was the Latvian decision to convert all existing public schools to Latvian-only, beginning in September of 2023. While policies have previously been in place to encourage the use of Latvian over Russian in education settings, these rules were inconsistently enforced and schools were not monitored. All public schools in Latvia will use Latvian as the language of education by September of 2025.
Elsewhere in the USSR, the late 1930s and the outbreak of World War II also saw some significant changes: elements of korenizatsiya were phased out... the Russians were officially anointed as the 'elder brothers' of the Soviet family of nations, whilst among historians Tsarist imperialism was rehabilitated as having had a 'progressive significance'