Language and ethnic identity in post-Soviet Russia:a historical perspective

Submitting Institution

University of Central Lancashire

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Language, Communication and Culture: Linguistics
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Research on the history and effects of language and ethnic policy during the Soviet and post-Soviet era, specifically with respect to the Udmurt Republic, has had a significant impact on the re- development of policy towards, and a resurgence of, minority language and culture in Udmurtia. The project:

  • Provided the basis of policy briefings with government ministers and media representatives, which
  • Informed the development of Udmurt language and cultural policy, and thereby
  • Contributed to the emergence of new Udmurt language educational and media materials

Underpinning research

Over many years, Williams (in post at UCLan 1991 - 2013) has researched extensively on the history of cultural and ethnic diversity in the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russian republics, and its contemporary policy implications. Following previous research by Williams and Luchinskaya on education among minority ethnic groups in Russia, a two-year (2006 - 2008), EU-funded Human and Social sciences INTAS grant of £71,000 (99,938 Euros) sought to investigate a relatively neglected aspect of cultural diversity in the study of minority languages. The project: `Linguistic and ethnic revival in Russia: From policy to cultural diversity' was an inter-disciplinary one incorporating historians, psychologists and specialists in linguistics from Udmurt State University, Russia, and geographers from Joensuu University, Finland. The historical dimension on the development of language policy during the Soviet and post-Soviet eras, was intended to contribute to policy debates through increasing awareness within and beyond Russia of the threat to certain minority languages, such as Udmurt.

The historical research demonstrated some of the reasons for the low esteem and status of the Udmurt language; primarily that under Stalinism Udmurt autonomy and language were practically extinguished in the late and post-Soviet eras. Analysing one component of this through school history text books, Williams and Archer (2013) combined historical perspectives with corpus linguistic analysis. They demonstrate that Udmurt speakers are consistently framed in certain stereotypical ways and that there is little attempt to highlight the importance of language to ethnic identity. By comparison, another Russian republic, Tatarstan, managed to negotiate the political and cultural shifts in Soviet and post-Soviet attitudes and has been able more positively to promote Tatar language, with a result that ethnic mobilisation and state building are well underway (Williams 2011). Thus, there seemed little prospect for language revival unless urgent measures to reverse Udmurt language decline were taken (Williams 2013). Drawing upon lessons from policies and planning to enhance the revival of the Welsh language (Williams 2008), Williams' research encouraged Udmurt policy and decision makers to promote Udmurt children's language books, the development of minority language medium schools, TV and radio and to increase the visibility of Udmurt in the public sphere. Progress has been slow, however changes are now starting to take place.

References to the research

1. C. Williams et al (ed.), Yazykovoe i etnicheskoe vozrozhdenie v Udmurtii: Ot politiki k kul'turnomu mnogoobrazhii (Linguistic and ethnic revival in Russia: From policy to cultural diversity) (Izd, Udmurtskii gosudarstvennyi universitet, Izhevsk, 2008).

2. C. Williams, `Valliiskogo yazyka: opyt, poleznyi dlya udmurtskogo yazyka' (Welsh language planning and policies: Some lessons for the Udmurt language), in C. Williams et al (ed.), Yazykovoe i etnicheskoe vozrozhdenie v Udmurtii: Ot politiki k kul'turnomu mnogoobrazhii (Linguistic and ethnic revival in Russia: From policy to cultural diversity) (Izd, Udmurtskii gosudarstvennyi universitet, Izhevsk, 2008), pp. 185-217.

3. C. Williams, "Tatar nation building since 1991: Ethnic mobilisation in historical perspective', Journal of Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe Vol. 10, No. 1, (2011): 94-123

4. C. Williams, `From a restricted to full linguistic space: an `affirmative action' strategy for the Udmurt language' in C. Williams and D. Archer (eds), Space for all? Perspectives on minority language and identity across the European continent. Pragmatics and Society Special Issue, 4 (2013): 200 - 220.


5. C. Williams & Dawn Archer, `Constructing the "ethnic" other in two history school books: re-colonialisation (Udmurtia) versus de-colonialisation (Tatarstan)'' Skhid/Zakhid: Istoryko-kyl `turolohichnyi zbirnyk 16-17 (2013): 323-40.

All references have appeared in peer-reviewed journals or books subject to rigorous editorial process.

Details of the impact

A key aim of the research was to brief government ministers on the historical and cultural context of the development of language policies over time and their implications for minority languages and their communities of speakers. Also to indicate potential avenues for ameliorative policy-making and, to this end, besides the academic publications, a series of recommendations was produced. (See end of project report). Briefings were achieved through a series of meetings with key ministers of the Udmurt Republic, including N. A. Sudakova who is responsible for Education, Science and Youth Policy in the State Council (Gosovet) (see; Z. V. Suvorova, deputy Minister of Education, L. Baranova, Deputy Minister of Nationalities (see, and Sergei Vasilev, the Minister for the Press and Information. As a result of these meetings, some of the research (Williams 2008) was published in Russian to aid further dissemination. Williams also discussed the need to support minority language publishing with the chief editor of an Udmurt language publisher, Udmurtiya.

Since completion of the research, some of the project's recommendations have been incorporated into republic-level language policy-making and planning. The most significant development has been the formulation of a programme in 2009 to promote the Udmurt language to run between 2010 and 2014. This programme aims to enhance the production of more children's books and audio visual material in the Udmurt language. These are designed to reach existing Udmurt language speakers (28% of the Udmurt republic population at the last All Russia 2010 census) and thus benefit Udmurt society, culture, inter-ethnic harmony and the quality of life. This was followed in 2010 by the "year of Udmurt" demonstrating a more pro-active role on the part of the Udmurt parliament and government (see Programme of 11th Congress of All-Udmurt Association Udmurt Kenesh from 2009-12 at; and the Language programme at

The findings of the research were also communicated more widely and directly through various Udmurt media. Williams participated in the TV programme "Shundybergan" on the "Moya Udmurtiya" (My Udmurtia) channel and in the radio programme "Lymshor bere" (see He also discussed the plight of the Udmurt language with journalists from the Udmurt children's newspaper Zechbur. Since then, various cultural and youth groups in the Udmurt Republic have made attempts to increase the visibility of Udmurt language via the production of a romantic comedy in Udmurt called "Berry-Strawberry" (Uzy-Bory) (see and an Udmurt café "Perepechkin" has been established that promotes Udmurt language, music and songs and well as culture and food. This café is gaining in popularity in the social media (see htttp:// format/_myvideo/161.html).

Sources to corroborate the impact

For the recommendations arising from the project, see the confidential end of INTAS project report (available from UCLan upon request).

For evidence of the briefing meetings with ministers see:;

For new government policies to promote Udmurt language and culture since 2009 see:

Programme of11th Congress of All-Udmurt Association Udmurt Kenesh from 2009-12 at

For details of the new 19 October 2009 Language programme see:

For the media appearances, see: