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17 May, 2008 00:50

Are Russian expats losing their identity in Europe?

Members of the Russian diaspora living throughout Europe are holding a conference in Luxembourg, where they're discussing how to successfully promote their culture and maintain their identity. The EU Russian-Speakers' Alliance, an organisation that unites

Over 10 million people living in Europe are Russian speakers, who come from all corners of the former Soviet Union. Russian is now the fourth most spoken language across the continent. But despite a shared history, the largest linguistic minority in the European Union is far from being united.

More than a quarter of a million Russian speakers live in the UK. Olga Bramley from the EU Russian-Speakers’ Alliance is worried about their disconnection. Ten years ago she set up a school for Russian speaking children in response.

“We have taken our children out of Russia or created new families already outside Russia. Our children live in a different world, they assimilate so quickly. So how can we ensure they belong to the Russian world too, and don’t forget the Russian language and Russian culture? We fight for every child,” she says.

The situation isn't completely hopeless though. There's now more than one school in London for children who have Russian roots or who want to learn Russian. There's also a church that gathers under its roof not just Russians but other Orthodox Christians, such as Georgians and Armenians. It has become an all-encompassing cultural centre.

The Russian Media House publishes a Russian newspaper, a magazine and tour guides.

“We don’t separate the Russian community from any other that speaks Russian, because culture, art and literature are all rooted in the language. That’s why we don’t speak about a Russian community – it’s a Russian speaking community,” says its director Elena Ragozhina.

Some believe Russians should learn from other minorities. London is one of the world’s most multicultural cities, and there are many small and large communities there that stretch a helping hand out to their compatriots.

For example Chinatown in London is not just a tourist attraction but also the community hub of ex-pat Chinese life in Britain. Many Russians want to create something similar and give voice to one of Europe's growing minority groups.