During the Soviet Bloc days- was Russian a required language within the satellite states?

This question has come up several times on shows like Dancing With the Stars. There’s a Russian pro (Anna Trebunskaya), Ukraine (Maksim Chmerkovskiy), an Albanian (Tony Dovolani). They all were children under the Soviet Bloc and trained as dancers under the famous Soviet coaching system.

Was Russian a required second language for all members of the Soviet Bloc? Were children taught to read & write Russian in school while the Soviet Bloc existed?

What about now? The countries that are still aligned with Russia? Would children there be taught Russian?

So, could these former Soviet Bloc Dancers swap stories in Russian or write emails to each other in Russian?

This season supermodel Petra Nemcova (Czech) is on the show and she is partnered with Dmitry Chaplin (Russian). Maybe their rehearsals will be in Russian? :slight_smile:

I couldn’t speak for everywhere, but yes, Russian language study was a very common requirement in schools throughout the former East Bloc. But that’s like asking whether kids in the U.S. who were required to study Spanish could swap stories in Spanish; being forced to study a second language in school sure doesn’t mean you’ll end up fluent in that language.

Was Albania part of the Soviet bloc? I thought it was ‘independent’, and maybe even aligned with the Chinese. I know Yugoslavia was independent under Tito.

U.S. kids study Spanish as a second language, but we don’t use it every day. So, our kids never get really good at Spanish.

Was Russian the dominant state language within the Soviet Bloc? I know the Soviet state existed from 1945- roughly 1990. That’s a long, long time. I’ve wondered if Russian was spoken everywhere (work, in stores, at government offices etc.) except within the family homes?

Keep in mind that there was the Soviet Union (of which Ukraine was a part) and the Warsaw pact (of which countries like Poland were members). I would be surprised if schools throughout the old USSR didn’t have a Russian language requirement. Anyone working in government or who went to college would likely have had to be conversant in Russian.

The domininant state language within the Soviet satellites were German, Polish, Romanian, Hungarian, or whatever, but Russian was the most common foreign language learned.

When I was in Cuba, I met several Cubans who spoke German. Apparently it was widely taught, as some sort of cultural exchange with East Germany.

In the Soviet Union itself, Russian was the official language everywhere until 1956, and minority languages were suppressed. After 1956, each Republic was allowed to choose what it’s official language would be, and parents could have their children educated in either Russian or the official language of the republic.

Thanks. I’d wondered about this for awhile.

Back during the Cold War days, I tended to think of the “Russians” as one entity. The “Russians” were the boogie men that would press the nuke button & destroy the world. It was only after the USSR fell that I became aware of the various ethnic groups and states. I started seeing the people and not the single, faceless Communist state.

When I was in Mongolia this summer, I found that the older generation generally did speak Russian, while the younger generation was more likely to speak English as a second language. It surprised me how strong the Russian influence still is, despite China looming next door and a clearly more-Chinese-than-Russian traditional culture. After two years in China, I may be one of the few American ever to arrive in Ulaan Bataar and think “Finally, I feel at home. These people are just like me! They eat bread and have an alphabet. I’m practically in back in California. Oh thank god for the familiar!”

Heck, even in China, despite their rocky relations with the Soviets, Russian was pretty prominent. It’s not unusual to meet older Chinese people who speak Russian, and my Chinese Foreign Language college students took English and their choice of one other language- either Russian or Japanese.

Albania was indeed independent from Moscow and received some support from China for some time until it cut its relations with her too.

It was by far the worst of the European communist countries, quite similar to today’s North-Korea (very poor with a policy of self-sufficiency, totally closed to foreigners, paranoid leadership building bunkers everywhere, extremely repressive, etc…)

In fact Albania still hasn’t recovered from Hoxha’s reign and is an hellhole in Europe.

1922-1991, and its influence among various allies and client states varied over time. It was actually allied with China until 1961, for example, and then you have cases like Albania and Yugoslavia referred to above.

Germany before 1989 was an interesting case: in West Germany, the standard first foreign language was English; in East Germany, the standard first foreign language was Russian. (Second language usually French or Latin. Variations were Latin as first language for old language Gymnasiums = advanced High schools, with Greek second, English third; but that was phased out in the 70s and 80s.)

Some schools in West Germany offered more exotic ones like Arabic or Chinese in the 80s, either as eclective course once a week in the afternoon without grades, or properly as second/ third foreign language.

I remember in my school (English first, French/ Latin second), in middle level a teacher came into class one day and tried to get us to sign up for voluntary Russian. He assured us that the Kyrillic letters would be no big deal, quick to learn, and that Russian was the language not only of great literature (Tolstoi, Dostoyewski…) but also the main international language in all of the Eastern bloc, so understanding Russian would open the doors to quite a lot of countries, with a high reputation for math and similar subjects.

(I asked what the Russian grammar was like in terms of difficulty - similar to Latin? Well, comparable, the teacher said. Our class, which was having a lot of difficulty with Latin - generally between D and E - immediatly lost interest).

After re-unification, Russian lost favour over cool English. Despite Russian as slavic language being farther away from German than English, when they had to study it at school, some people got rather proficient.

How old were you back then? Still, it’s rather shocking to hear that this level of ignorance was that widespread. A friend who was alive in the 50s and 60s (during the Cuban crisis) remembers how there was always the sharp distinction between the Russians, a people with a long history and culture (Ballet, literature) to admire and study; and the Soviets, the current ruling system.

As for pressing the button - did you miss that it was the US who detonated the first nuclear bombs not only in tests, but against people? Frankly, people over here didn’t worry which idiot pressed it first, we worried that an idiot would press it, period. And the Americans were much more hawkish then the Soviets who after WWII wanted to hunker down and protect themselves from yet another invasion; and while the methods were deplorable, the sentiment was quite understandable to us.

This is not true. The Soviet Union had no official language until 1990. The individual republics did have official languages other than Russian, all of which were used in education, government, and day-to-day life there. Minority languages other than the official languages were variously supported and suppressed at various times, and of course Russian was promoted as the lingua franca.

My parents were in university in China in the 60s, and knowledge of Russian was fairly common among the educated from what I understand. I know that my dad studied Russian. I’ve also seen a few old textbooks that they kept (pack rats!). They were mainly written in Chinese, but all the technical terms were also annotated in Russian.

Yes there are so many bigots.

And the Russians didn’t have a network of slave labour camps, didn’t routinly execute people on trumped up charges, didn’t in fact execute millions of their own people during the purges, didn’t invade innocent countries, didn’t occupy countries that they had supposedly "liberated"after ww2, didn’t prevent free travelling for their citizens(Including preventing them leaving the country).

They also didn’t practice censorship, forbid free speech and either lock up those who DID try to practice free speech in camps or lunatic asylums.

Yes that was all the fault of the Soviets, NOT the Russians and of course Stalin who conveniantly is dead (And a Georgian) .

It must relly hurt the Russians feelings being so unjustly vilified.

They also didn’t join in with their Nazi allies to invade Poland and only turned on the Germans when they actually invaded their country.

I assume the bolded word was either a typo or a genuine confusion, but either way it’s an awesome portmanteau and I’m going to have to steal it.


I was describing the fear I had as a very young child of the Cold War and the USSR. I was finishing college when the Berlin Wall fell. I knew the names of the Soviet bloc countries (well, most of them :wink: ). But, almost nothing about the people & cultures until years after the Cold War ended.

Typo for elective.