Sunday, July 14, 2019

Interethnic Relations in Soviet Times were Anything but Perfect, Blogger Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 14 – Many who would like to restore the Soviet Union like to say that ethnic relations in the USSR were nearly perfect and that all the problems various peoples face now are the result of the rise of capitalism and the dissolution of that state, a Russian blogger with the screen name “The Voice of Mordor” says.

            Those who utter such nonsense, he continues, either were born after the USSR ceased to exist, rely exclusively on stories in Pravda in the 1970s, or simply lie – or what is worse tell “half truths which in this case is even more frightening” (

            In reality, the blogger continues, the situation in many regards was quite “paradoxical.” “In the Soviet Union, there was a real friendship of the peoples but at the same time there existed the most reactionary nationalism. And I cannot say which was stronger. It is possible that it was nationalism.”

            In much of the Russian Federation and central and eastern Ukraine, the situation was quite good. There were problems, of course; but people made friends across ethnic lines, there were numerous ethnically mixed marriages, and most of the time, “no one devoted any attention to nationality.”

            Where things were relatively good, no one should give credit to the communists. “People had simply lived there for centuries.” Often the only way one knew someone was of a different nationality was from his or her last name. “At the same time, these nationalities kept their language and their culture, and this was a good thing.”

            The country was the richer for it, Golos Mordora says.

            But there were many places where the situation was not as good – Western Ukraine and the Baltics always manifested nationalism. Not everyone there was a nationalist, but the nationalists set the tone. In the Trans-Caucasus too, there were tensions, but there were many Armenians in Baku and many Azerbaijanis in Yerevan – and many mixed marriages as well.

            There were also everyday frictions which had their roots in national identities. “Anyone who served in the army remembers how soldiers from particular places, especially from the republics of the Caucasus, kept to themselves, and this also did not lead to anything good. And in many republics, many representatives of the titular nations related to others in a negative way.”

            The policies of the CPSU in face at the end did more than a little to assist the growth of nationalism, the blogger continues.  The cadres it selected to head republics were far from the best, and they gave rise to exactly the phenomenon the Kremlin said it opposed and then exploited it further after 1991.

            “One must not idealize inter-ethnic relations in the USSR,” Golos Mordora says. “Yes, there was much good, but there were also very many errors. What is necessary is to act so that these errors will never be repeated.”

            The blogger illustrates his article with a poster from the late Soviet times that says more than he does what the real problems were: it shows representatives of all the national republics in traditional peasant dress while showing the Russian dressed in a business suit. Such imagery also affected many in the West: the National Geographic did the same with a map in the late 1980s.

            But the colonial attitudes that such images reflect ensured that the system however stable it might have been at one point was ultimately doomed as all empires are – and that is a message that, while Golos Mordora doesn’t draw – his poster makes perfectly clear. 

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