Does Melania Trump and other former Eastern Bloc citizens speak Russian?

Melania is from Slovenia.

Was Russian the official state language in Eastern Bloc countries? For example would any government business be in Russian? Like apply for a passport or drivers license? Were schools required to teach Russian?

I found it odd that they didn’t mention Russian in this article. Obviously her work as a model took Melania to many countries.

Melania was shown seated next to Putin at a dinner during the G20. Melania’s ability to understand Russian might be an asset to our President.

She would understand the staff conversations.

Yugoslavia was not part of the Eastern Bloc or even friendly with the USSR during her lifetime (after 1948). Tito and Stalin did not like each other, and after Stalin died things didn’t cool down much.

I don’t think that the Soviets implemented a policy of having Russian as the only official language (for example, wiki lists German as the official language of East Germany). I seem to remember hearing that the Soviets had a policy of settling Russians in some eastern block countries as a method of assimilating them, but as thelurkinghorror mentioned, Yugoslavia (which Slovenia was part of at the time) was not all that friendly with the USSR.

I had forgotten that Yugoslavia and Russia weren’t closely aligned.

Russian may not have been compulsory in school.

I seem to recall hearing that Putin understands English but doesn’t speak it well. He insists on interpreters.

In all my travels to the SSRs (East Berlin, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia), I never heard people speaking anything other than their native languages. Not that I have any nuanced understanding of those languages, but signs, menus, etc. were in local languages.

I had a couple kayaking friends from Lithuania. One told me their language was totally different from Russian but that when they met Russians they could make themselves understood better than with English speakers. This may have meant there were similarities between the languages or maybe Russians and Lithuanians might know a little of each others language like an American might know a few words of Spanish without being fluent in Spanish and Mexicans may know a little English.

My Lithuanian friend’s English was fairly spotty so I didn’t get thorough understanding.

I know Russia is a big place and this may only apply to Russians from close to Lithuania.

Among the non-USSR states, teaching of Russian varied. I know some people studied it in East Germany. In Yugoslavia, particularly the period 1948 - 1955, learning Russian might have even put someone on a watch list as suspected Soviet sympathizers were persecuted.

That’s an understatement, and it allows me to share one of my favorite badass quotes:

“To Joseph Stalin: Stop sending people to kill me! We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle… If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send a very fast working one to Moscow and I certainly won’t have to send another.” - Josip Broz Tito

None of those were SSRs; those were the -stans, Baltic countries, Ukraine, etc. The rest were aligned with USSR, except perhaps for Czechoslovakia and Hungary for periods of liberalization which were soon brutally repressed. And Romania sort of went their own way, without directly antagonizing Russia.

ETA: so she speaks 4 languages, and technically more, as Serbian is rather highly mutually intelligible with Croatian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin.

In the Warsaw Pact nations AFAIK there was no policy of Russian as a co-official language. What there was, were on the one hand programs for grooming the promising up-and-comers to be good communist leaders by having them attend universities and institutes in the USSR, which would include putting them in prep tracks in school that would teach Russian; and on the other hand, for specialized workers, senior technocrats and officers in the military and the Secret Police to learn and use Russian in order to function well under Soviet direction and using Soviet technology.

Resettlement was a policy for the non-Russian republics of the USSR, partly to assimilate, partly to have a reliable workforce for some government/military and key industrial sectors rather than invest in building up the “backward” natives, and partly to have a reliable resident population to count on if the natives got ideas. This is what creates worries about whether large ethnic-Russian populations in Estonia or Latvia could be whipped up to act out like their compatriots in Transdnistria or East Ukraine.

I had believed Easter Europe during the Soviet Era learned Russian in school as a second language much like we in the west were taught English as a second language.

There is a story that he is quite fluent in Swedish though. It may be apocryphal.

Putin has reportedly been taking English lessons since becoming President. He feels it’s a useful language for a head of state to have.

Here’s a video of him speaking English in 2013. Of course, this was a prepared speech.

Genuine Latvian joke here:

A Latvian is walking down a street in Riga when he sees a commotion up ahead. He asks a passerby coming from there what’s happened. The passerby says that a brick fell off from a building and hit a man in the street, killing him instantly.

The Latvian says sadly, “How terrible! So few Latvians in the world, and now there’s even fewer.”

The passerby says, “No, I knew the guy. He’s not Latvian; he’s Russian.”

The Latvian shakes his head with even more sorrow. “It’s so, so terrible. There’s so many Russians in Latvia that a brick can’t fall off a building without killing one.”

People in Eastern Europe often learned Russian in school to varying degrees of proficiency. But even if Melania Trump never studied Russian, her knowledge Slovene and Serbo-Croatian would allow her to communicate with Putin in “general Slavic” (as a friend of mine calls it). Slavic languages share so many root words that it is possible to communicate across languages in a simple fashion.

A friend of mine from Rumania said he was required to study Russian in school, but it never “took”. He also said that his grandmother insisted on teaching him French since every educated Rumanian has to know French and that did take. Then he defected and learned English. But he claimed that he could not speak Russian, although he could read it. He also told me that he had seen a paper in the Moldavian Academy of Sciences journal and it was just Rumanian written in Cyrillic.

They did. But the practice ended in the 80s. And Slovenia (where Melania is from) was part of Yugoslavia, where Russian was definitely not taught in schools.

Yes, Moldavian and Romanian are the same language, different alphabets. In fact, you usually just hear that “Romanian” is spoken in both countries. See Serbian and Croatian, although the latter two got that way because of religion (Eastern Orthodox vs Roman Catholic).

Putin was KGB. It was IIRC mandatory for KGB officers to have some proficiency in English. The place he was posted; East Germany, near the East-West border, means that he certainly would have had to deal with English as used by Americans and the British. I suspect that he probably read English better then he speaks it, since he would have had to listen and read intercepts etc, but not use it day to day.

I suspect this might be because this is an American board, but learning another language in school is quite common, especially one which is te language of a large country in your region; it’s not an instrument of oppression as some posters seem to be suggesting.

Bulgarian and Macedonian are also basically the same. But these hybrid languages are given separate names for political reasons.

Serbo-Croatian is a weird case. Yes, the alphabets are different. But as I understand it, a Serb and a Croatian can often understand each other better that a Croatian and a Croatian from the other side of the country can in some cases. There are basically 3 registers of the language and the diversity is biggest in Croatia.

Slovenian is a closely related language language but is not the same. Same family, while Bulgarian/Macedonian a little more distant but close. Other Slavic languages including Russian are even farther. A related language/dialect to Slovenian is spoken in northeastern Italy (Friulian).

Moldovan has used Latin script since 1989 it looks like.

Passing an English test may have been a requirement for KGB officers. But I know enough about job training to know that just because you checked off the requirement doesn’t mean you learned anything during the course.

That said, Putin acquired a fluency in German while he was stationed there. He speaks German well enough that he’s been known to correct translators when he feels they didn’t get the proper nuance of something that was said.

I’m not implying it was. English is a de facto international language and, as I noted, knowing English is a good skill for a head of state to have.

And while going to language school may be a more common experience in Europe, I doubt many people learn another language while simultaneously serving as President. While I don’t admire Putin personally, I can respect him.

I have made a good many visits to Poland on holiday: though speaking-wise, I know only isolated Polish words and phrases; at school in the UK a little over fifty years ago, I did two years of (optional) Russian. I found that language pretty hideously difficult, and over the succeeding decades forgot most of what I’d learnt. However, I’ve found what I did remember of it, often useful for basic communication with people in Poland. Would suspect, both “as above” (and I understand that Polish and Russian are particularly closely-related Slavic tongues); and a certain number of those with whom I interacted, probably had learnt Russian as part of their formal education.