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The Caucasus Network: In Blogs, Russian is the Common Language

9 June 2013, photo by Sergey Ponomarev.

9 June 2013, photo by Sergey Ponomarev.

This article is part of an extensive RuNet Echo study of the North Caucasus blogosphere. Explore the complete report and personal stories on The Caucasus Network page.

Russian is the lingua franca that bridges the republics of the North Caucasus. None of the many indigenous non-Russian languages dominate any of the blogging platforms in the North Caucasus, even the forums dedicated exclusively to regions’ internal issues operate in Russian.

Judging by the media they share in social networks, netizens throughout the North Caucasus tend to read online news in Russian—indeed, it is the working language of most information outlets in the region. Only in Dagestan has there been a concerted effort to develop outlets not based in Russian. Two of the most prominent outlets are the local Radio Liberty branch and Ria-News division, both working in the Avar language. Additionally, a new online video portal, AVAR TV, recently launched, which offers netizens channels for self-expression in the opportunity to produce original content in Avar.

When I informally surveyed several bloggers active in the North Caucasus, many explained the choice to blog in Russian as the most efficient means of reaching a wider audience—particularly as a way to speak to other bloggers in the region’s neighboring republics.

Timur Agirov, known on LiveJournal as Timag82, has done groundbreaking work to quantify the presence of non-Russian blogging in the North Caucasus, compiling a personal archive of statistics to map the various language enclaves. Of the top one hundred bloggers on Agirov’s list, every single one writes exclusively in Russian.

The language barriers that necessitate the use of Russian as a lingua franca across the North Caucasus are also present within individual republics. In Dagestan, for instance, there are over thirty unique languages spoken by different groups of the population.

The blogosphere in Chechnya resembles Dagestan’s, though there are a few notable exceptions that do feature non-Russian writing, like bilingual work by Gilani Lamaro, LiveJournal user svd-1986, and Mukhammed Yusupov.

In Ingushetia, bloggers use the native language even less frequently. One rare example of mixed-language blogging includes Abu-Umar Sakhabi’s LiveJournal. Bloggers in Circassia also favor Russian, though you can find exceptions there, too, like Circassian-language blogging by Astemir Shibzukho and Avraham Shmulevich.

The popularity of Russian owes largely to the North Caucasus’ place in the Russian Federation (and its longer history in the Soviet Union and Tsarist Empire). Curiously, however, bloggers in the North Caucasus tend to defend their use of Russian as a means of reaching one another within the Caucasus, rather than as a way to affiliate with the wider Russian Internet.

It is also the case that Russian, as the language of a larger, more developed society, carries certain advantages in various scientific and technical fields. Shmulevich, for instance, has complained that indigenous languages face an uphill battle:

[...] лексика на некоторые специальные темы на местных языках мало разработана. Писать по вопросам экономики или теории искусств или квантовой физики на табасаранском или даже аварском все же трудно.

[...] the vocabulary and terminology in local languages is poorly developed. Writing about matters concerning economics or the theory of art, or quantum physics, is quite difficult in Tabasaran or even Avar.

Blogger Ramazan Radzhabov disagrees, suggesting that explanations lie elsewhere. He argues that that languages can develop new vocabularies to communicate complex subjects. Another blogger, Mukhamed Avarski, adds:

Популяризация и продвижение родных языков очень не модная тема. Ресурсы по этой теме так же трудно продвигать в сети, за отсутствием посетителей большинство из них быстро затухают. Всевозможные форумы и годеканы начинали свою деятельность по данной тематике но быстренько превращались в обычные флудодромы. Ни кому не интересно напрягать извилины и думать о том что станет с народами потерявшими свой язык. А общекавказских ресурсов занимающихся данной проблематикой я вообще не встречал в сети. 

The popularization and promotion of native languages is a very unfashionable topic [in the North Caucasus]. It’s so difficult to provide [the necessary] online resources on this subject that most [websites] die out for a lack of visitors. All kinds of forums and [online] godekans [public squares in the Caucasus] began their activities on this subject, but quickly turned into the usual fludodroms [a portmanteau composed of the English word “flood” and the Russian word “aerodrom” for “airfield,” meant to describe a website inundated with spam]. No one is interested in exercising their minds and thinking about what will become of people who have lost their [native] language, and I’ve certainly never encountered pan-Caucasian resources dedicated to this problem.

It’s difficult to explain why North Caucasian native languages have failed to take root online. In fact, according to Agirov’s database, it seems that bloggers throughout the region are turning increasingly to English as a new lingua franca, displacing Russian and creating new obstacles to an expansion of native-language blogging.

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