In an effort to cleanse the Russian language of all Western influences, ultra-nationalist legislators have introduced a proposed ban on foreign words (particularly English ones). The bill stipulates that offenders would be fined up to $1700 for not using existing Russian equivalents of foreign words in public. The majority United Russia party has already dismissed the proposal as a “populist stunt” and the bill has little chance of passing through the Russian State Duma. (Considering the ease with which foreign words, and not merely Anglicisms, migrate into other languages, linguists have also been quick to question the proposed law’s feasibility.)
Nonetheless, the proposal from the minority Liberal Democratic Party illustrates the acceleration of an anti-foreign campaign in Russia aimed, in large part, at solidifying President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power. In recent months, this has translated as a ban on the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans, increasingly strict regulations on foreign NGOs, and the Kremlin-enforced departure of USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development) last fall. Putin has also successfully framed political dissenters — namely feminist punk-rockers Pussy Riot — as “radical, offensive troublemakers” corrupted by the West.
Although Duma lawmakers are evidently eager to “Rid the Russian language of garbage!”, they might want to take a closer look at the strict language regulations currently on the books in some of the Western countries they cite as influences. In France, for example, a 1994 law to eradicate “franglais” from the country was met with widespread ridicule and piddling results: today, the French casually use English words like “email,” “cool,” “le weekend,” and — the most recent target of French language zealots — “hashtag.” And while you can lock up three punk feminists or several hundred protesters, enforcing a law against something as ubiquitous as the word “wow” (one of the culprits) would require an authoritarian focus to rival Joseph Stalin’s. It seems Putin, ex-secret-policeman though he is, is not quite there yet.