Vienna, December 13 – Beginning in Soviet times, Russians have often pointed to the percentage of non-Russians speaking Russian and the number of marriages between Russians and non-Russians as key indicators of the level of integration and the potential for assimilation of non-Russian groups.
Over the last year, Russian commentators have focused on the often dramatic declines in Russian-language instruction and use in the former Soviet republics and called on Moscow to do more to defend Russian speakers and to promote Russian language knowledge in these countries as part of a broader effort to defend what they call “the Russian world.”
But now new data show that the number of Russian citizens marrying foreigners is declining as well, a trend that reflects both shifts in attitudes toward foreigners and toward particular countries and nationalities and also changes in relative opportunity as the numbers of those communities with whom Russians come in contact with evolve.
These statistics, it should be emphasized, concern citizenship rather than nationality, and thus at least some of the marriages involved are between ethnic Russians who have citizenship in other countries but who have returned or between non-Russians inside the Russian Federation with co-ethnics who may have returned.
Consequently, it is not possible to draw sweeping conclusions about the ethnic consequences of the trend of these marriages for the ethnic composition of the Russian Federation in the future or even to predict the direction of ethnic assimilation in such “mixed” marriages.
At a Duma roundtable last Monday, Vice Speaker Nadezhda Gerasimova, who is a member of the ruling United Russia Party, provided some statistics. In 2007, she said, Russians contracted 68,499 marriages with foreigners in the Russian Federation. Last year, that number declined to 60,627, and this year it appears set to fall further (regnum.ru/news/1232568.html).
Of the 29,317 marriages in the first half of 2009, she said, Russians “preferred former compatriots—the citizens of the former USSR.” There were 7298 marriages between Russians and citizens of Ukraine, 4144 between Russians and citizens of Armenia, and 3473 between Russians and citizens of Tajikistan.
Russians also married during the first six months of this year, 3033 Azerbaijani citizens, 2881 Uzbekistanis, 2439 Moldovans, 1239 Kazakhstanis, 1228 Belarusians, 346 Kyrgyzstanis, and 88 Turkmenistanis. The number of marriages between Russians and citizens of Georgia not surprisingly continued to fall, from 1233 last year to 431 in the first half of 2009.
Gerasimova also provided data on marriages between Russians and citizens of three of the four unrecognized or only partially recognized republics on the territory of the CIS. In 2007, there were five marriages between Russian citizens and Abkhaz citizens, but in the first half of 2009, there were seven, for an annual rate of 14.
For South Ossetia, the Duma vice speaker said, the situation was “approximately the same: In 2007, there was not a single such marriage; in 2008, there were three, and in the first half of 2009, two. But for Transdniestria, while there was one such marriage in each of the two previous years, there was none in the first six months of this year.
As far as the Baltic countries are concerned, Russian citizens concluded 267 marriages with citizens of Lithuania in 2008 but only 97 in the first half of 2009. They concluded 282 marriages with citizens of Latvia last year but only 69 in the first six months of this. And Russians married 105 citizens of Estonia in 2008 but only 28 in the first half of this year.
Regarding marriages with citizens from what Russians call “the far abroad,” the Duma leader provided the following statistics for Russian marriages with citizens from the following countries during the first six months of this year: 361 with citizens of Germany, 261 with Turks, 180 with Israelis, 123 with Chinese, 91 with US citizens, and 12 with Czechs.
Among countries where there were no marriages were concluded in the Russian Federation during the first half of this year between their citizens and Russian citizens year were Gabon, Guyana, the Gambia, Guatemala, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kuwait, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Lichtenstein and Luxembourg.