Staunton, April 8 – Despite the widespread view that the Soviet government drew on the entire population of the USSR to defeat the German invaders, in fact, Yaroslav Butakov says, “the Soviet government divided peoples into those who were more loyal and those who were less so” both among indigenous peoples and immigrants.
In addition, it divided them according to its judgment of their level of readiness to take part in the war because of differences in their level of cultural and civilizational development with those judged too far behind not drafted although sometimes allowed to serve as volunteers (russian7.ru/post/kakie-sovetskie-narody-ne-prizyvali-n/).
During the war, the Soviet government did not draft USSR citizens of nationalities which had their own states outside the borders of the Soviet Union, including but not limited to the Germans, Japanese, Romanians, Hungarians, Finns, Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks, Koreans and Chinese.
Such people were sometime impressed into service in rear units but not in the frontlines, Butakov says. “It is curious,” he continues, “that in this list do not figure Slovaks, Croatians, Italians and Spaniards” apparently because the Kremlin judged that any of these who had become Soviet citizens were going to be loyal.
But more interesting that this division of those with possible links to foreign states was the one Moscow made among nationalities without such links but that were judged for one reason or another potentially or actually disloyal or generally unprepared for active military service.
On October 13, 1943, the State Defense Committee announced that the Soviet Army would not draft young people born in 1926 who were members of “the indigenous nationalities of all the union republics of the Trans-Caucasus and Central Asia, Kazakhstan and also all the autonomous republics and oblasts of the North Caucasus.”
The next day, Butakov continues, the State Defense committee said that in the following draft in 1944, it would take such people into the reserves but not into the standing army. However, that order was interpreted in many localities as the end of the draft of nationalities in general even though it was restricted to a particular year of birth.
Moscow took a special approach to the numerically small nationalities of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, exempting them from service not so much because of questions of loyalty but because of their lack of education and ability to speak Russian, the Russian analyst continues.
Until the adoption of the Soviet law on universal military service in September 1939, representatives of these groups were not drafted. But the experience of their first draft in the fall of that year was not a happy one. Many who were drafted deserted after proving incapable of living with military discipline.
During the first weeks of the war, there reportedly was an order issued by the State Defense Council freeing these nationalities from the draft, although no copy of this order has surfaced in the archives now open. But it is possible that it exists and was never disseminated in public form. Far from all orders at that time were ever published, Butakov says.
Some members of these groups did volunteer and even served in “ethnic” units. But the conclusion seems inescapable that “a general obligatory draft into the standing army among the numerically small peoples of het North, Siberia and the Far East … did not take place,” although there were some exceptions as a result of decisions by local officials.
Members of these nationalities were included in rear units; but even these were carefully screened. Those who wanted to volunteer for the frontlines had to show that they spoke Russian, had at least primary education, and were in good health, qualities seldom found altogether in any one of the representatives of these people at that time.
That Soviet leaders had what American political scientist Cynthia Enloe has called “an ethnic security map” has long been assumed, but Butakov’s investigation provides fresh evidence that it really existed and that Moscow viewed as disloyal or unprepared for national service a large fraction of the non-Russian population of the Soviet Union.