Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Window on Eurasia: A Warning to Moscow on Nationality Policy from the Mid-1980s

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 10 – The Soviet government continued to promote the non-Russian nationalities at the expense of the Russians long after the former had achieved equality, a strategy that led to the degradation of the Russian nation and ultimately to the disintegration of the USSR, according to an article written in the 1980s but rejected for publication at that time.

            That article by Galina Litvinova, was turned down by the editors of “Nash Sovremennik” more than 25 years ago, but it was posted online this week by “Voyennoye obozreniye” apparently as an implicit warning to the current Russian government about the consequences of its nationality policy (

            That intention is suggested not only by the increasing appearance of discussions of nationality policy in Soviet times but by an introduction to Litvinova’s article offered by “Voyennoye obozreniye” whose editors say that Moscow’s policies after World War II hurt the Russian nation more than earlier ones and that they led to the end of “a great state.”
            Most people think that “the Russian people were subjected to a genocide only during the Civil War, collectivization, repessions, and the artificially organied famine,” but in fact, the editors note, the most dramatic decline in the size of the Russian nation and state occurred “in the post-war period.”

            With the help of “political-economic mechanisms,” the state “sucked out the life of the [ethnic] Russian people, “Voyennoye obozreniye” says, a reflection of “the anti-Russian direction of that administrative mechanism which was created I 1917” and which is documented by Litvinova in her hitherto unpublished article.

            According to Litvinova, Soviet policy sought to equalize the status of all the peoples of the Soviet Union, a goald it had “essentially” achieved by the end of the 1930s. But instead of stopping, the communist leadership continued that policy, thereby creating “a new form of inequality: the earlier backward peoples began to surpass those who had helped them.”

            The Russian nationalist writer deploys census and other data to make her point that the communist regime helped the non-Russians while hurting the Russians, whose birthrates fell, representation in science and government declined, and whose sense of purpose was sapped and ultimately destroyed.

            Specifically, she writes, “in all the union republics, including the RSFSR, the share of the indigenous nation among students, graduate students, scientific and leading workers, and higher organs of power was greater than in the population as a whole, while at the same time, it was as arule lower within the industrial working class.”

            The Soviet government thus sacrificed the “elder brother,” the ethnic Russian people, on the altar of the promotion of “the increase of the social-economic development of earlier backward peoples,” shifting investment and production away from Russian areas to non-Russian ones and invariably favoring the latter over the former in a variety of ways.

            Most of Litvinova’s figures about the complaints of ethnic Russians at the end of Soviet times are familiar to the expert community, but some of them are especially noteworthy less because of what they say about Russian conditions and demands at that time than about what they suggest at least some Russians are thinking now.

            She notes that the demographic decline of the ethnic Russians between 1945 and 1985 was partically covered by the fact that children of ethnically mixed marriages, such as between Russians and Tatars and Russians and Jews, in “98 percent” of the cases “declared themselves to be Russians.” Were that to change, Russian decline would have been more obvious. Now, of course, it has.

            Moreover, Litvinova says, fertility rates among Russians fell below replacement levels and life expectancy at birth among rural Russians fell to between 54 and 57 years at the end of Soviet times. And this in turn meant that rural schools were small, had few teachers, and thus had worse instruction than others, a problem that Russians complain about now.

            The Soviet government’s “insufficient attention to the fate of the [ethnic] Russian people” put the Russians at a disadvantage with other nations, Litvinova says.  And she suggests that Moscow needed recognize the reality that at that time, Tyumen and Gorky oblasts were economically as significant as Kyrgyzstan and Estonia.

            That should have led the Soviet leaders to recognize “the necessity of a seirous reform of the administration of the territory” of the USSR.  The one that existed in the 1980s may have been “good 50 years earlier, but it was then “breaking the development of the material and spiritual forces of society.”  True equality of nations and territories needs to be restored.

            Moscow, Litvinova concludes, “must strictly follow the constitutional principle of the equality of nations, of their equality not only in law but in the opportunities for the realization of these rights by representatives of any nation, including the Russian, in all spheres of the material and spiritual life of society.”

            Although the non-Russians then and now would challenge both Litvinova’s figures and arguments, clearly it is the case that many Russians then and now accept both, a pattern that suggests they may now act in ways that parallel those they followed a generation ago and that could point to an outcome for the Russian Federation similar to that of the USSR.

No comments:

Post a Comment