Liu AH, Roosevelt M, Wilson Sokhey S. Economics & Politics (October 2016).
Trade has the potential to influence a wide range of political and social outcomes. Using the post-Soviet context, we examine how language policies – vital components for how minorities are treated with far-reaching economic consequences – are influenced by trade. We argue that while ethnic politics and colonial legacies are both important in shaping language laws, it is important to recognize that the Russian language remains a significant commercial lingua franca in the region. When economic exchanges between Russia and other post-Soviet republics are frequent, governments are more likely to adopt pro-Russian language laws as a practicality and to maintain favor with the Russian government and Russian-speaking businesses. Using an original dataset covering all Russian language-related laws in the former Soviet states from 1992 to 2009, we find a significant and positive relationship between trade and pro-Russian language laws. These results are robust even when we (1) instrument for Russian import levels and (2) consider the Baltic effect, spillovers from cultural affinity, and the uniqueness of fuel exports.