DUSHANBE — Tajikistan's president on Wednesday signed into law legislation dropping Russian as an official language, a move likely to irk the Kremlin, already wary of the language's decline in its former Soviet satellites.
The law, which was passed by the ex-Soviet state's parliament last week, means that communication with and between state institutions can only be carried out in Tajik, a close relative of Persian.
"(Tajik President) Emomali Rakhmon signed several laws.... among which was a law 'about the state language of the Republic of Tajikistan'," a spokesman for Rakhmon told AFP.
The bill makes no mention of a change in Russia's official status as language of inter-ethnic communication or immediately changing Tajikistan's adapted form of the Russian Cyrillic script, used for the past 60 years.
The law means that courts, the army, state and non-state institutions will only be able to communicate in Tajik while stamps and official forms will cease to be bilingual.
Under Rakhmon's rule, the impoverished nation of 7.5 million has sought to maintain decent ties with Moscow to buoy its faltering economy, while improving relations with both the West and Iran.
There are only 50,000 native Russian speakers left in Tajikistan after Russian engineers and other technical experts left in droves as the Soviet collapse gave way to a bloody civil war that left tens of thousands dead.
Despite the Kremlin's efforts, the Russian language has struggled in recent years, for reasons both demographic and political.
According to a 2008 United Nations report, Russia's population has shrunk by 12 million people in the last 16 years and could further dwindle from 142 million in 2008 to 116 million by 2050.
Meanwhile, many post-Soviet states have pursued populist policies to boost their native languages, often at the expense of Russian.
Efforts to support the Ukrainian language, such as requiring films to be dubbed into Ukrainian, have in recent years sparked tensions with the country's huge Russian-speaking minority.
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