Thursday, February 20, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Ethnic Tensions Rife in Soviet Army in 1991, Yazov-Ordered Survey Found

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 20 – Impressed by the theories of Lev Gumilyev, Dmitry Yazov, the last Soviet defense minister, ordered a poll of draftees in the Soviet army in the spring of 1991 to determine which nationalities were “complementary” to the ethnic Russians and which ones were “not complementary.”

            The results after being presented to Yazov were immediately classified, but they have now surfaced as the result of a letter sent to Aleksandr Sevastyanov, the former editor of “Natsional’naya gazeta” and who now works as a Russian nationalist commentator, that he published on the portal yesterday (

            Sevastyanov says he is putting them out to show the value of Gumilyev’s approach and to demonstrate that national antagonisms haven’t needed to be “awoken” or “exacerbated since 1991 but “simply exist as a given,” something he suggests that “closing one’s eyes to is stupid and criminal.”

            The commentator argues that the Yazov study is important because “only when (and if) the leadership of the country will be equipped with advanced ethno-political theory will it be able to protect Russia from the fate of the Soviet Union,” whose leaders recognized its value “too late to save the USSR.”

            However that may be either with regard to the controversial ethnic theorist or with regard to inter-ethnic relations, the reasons the study was ordered by Yazov and its findings merit attention as a remarkable picture of the ways in which at least one part of the Soviet elite was trying to cope with what became a major cause for the disintegration of the USSR.

            According to Sevastyanov’s correspondent, who remains anonymous at the latter’s request, “Marshal Yazov deeply respected Gumilyev and “never missed a single television program on which the latter appeared.” The minister was especially struck by Gumilyev’s argument about “complimentary” and “non-complimentary” nations.

            The ethnographic theorist’s argument on that point is complicated and much disputed, but put in simplest terms, it holds the nations which come into contact fit together or not depending on where they are in terms of growth and decline of their communities and of their national identities.

            Yazov, apparently having concluded that Gumilyev’s ideas could help him hold things together, ordered a study of his soldiers. It was carried out by sociologists on the staff of the Central Committee of the Komsomol who selectively interviewed ethnic Russian soldiers, who formed 80 percent of all soldiers, and more comprehensively all non-Russian men in uniform.

            On the basis of this research, Yazov was presented with two lists, one that ranked various nationalities as “complementary” to and thus likely to cooperate with the ethnic Russians and a second that ranked other nationalities as “anti-complementary” and who were thus unlikely to do so.

            The “complementary” lis, according to this poll,  was headed by the Osetians, followed by the Belarusians, Tatars, Karels and Wepsy (who were listed together), the Ukrainians “(except for the Western ones),” the Chuvash, the Kazakhs, the Azerbaijanis, the Koreans, and the Mordvins.

            The “anti-complementary” list, the survey found, was headed by the Yakuts (Sakha), the Ingush, the Tuvins, the Estonians, the Armenians, the Lithuanians, the Western Ukrainians, the Georgians, and the Kalmyks, with the Kabards, Bashkirs and Latvians in a virtual tie for 10th place.

            Other groups found to be “anti-complementary” to the ethnic Russians were the Moldovans, the Turkmens, the Mari, the Khakas, the Crimean Tatars and the Karakalpaks, but they displaced a “significantly smaller” amount of Russophobia than soldiers in the top 12 nationalities.

            In between these two groups were nationalities which had not yet “defined” their relationship to the Russian nation, either because that was in fact where they were or because they had learned to be more “diplomatic” in expressing their ethnic feelings.  Among these were the Jews, Chechens, Greeks, Poles, Germans, Uzbeks, Abkhazians, Buryats and Dungans.

                The study also concluded that sub-ethnoses of the Russian people, including the Pomors, Cossacks and Kerzhaks, were more likely to be Russophobic while some non-Russian groups, including the Komi and many Karelians, Wepsy and Mordvins were so Russophilic that they conceived themselves as Russians.

            In the course of this research, the Komsomol sociologists also identified how various groups felt about nationalities other than Russian and how Russians views other nationalities.  Among the non-Russians, the most disliked nationalities were the Roma (gypsies), followed by the Jews, and then “all Caucasians (except the Armenians).”

            For nationalities from the Caucasus, “the main enemy” was not the Russians but rather the Armenians, Georgians and Chechens, followed by the Kurds.  For the majority of Central Asians, the most disliked were the Tajiks, the study found.

             As for ethnic Russians, those interviewed said they “most of all hated Muscovites as such,” then Caucasians and Central Asians. They lumped together all peoples of the North as “Chukchis” and disliked western Ukrainians for their role in World War II, as well as but far more than Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians who “were still forced to hide their military past.”

            Sevastayanov, in presenting this report, says that since 1991 when it was conducted “a lot of water has flowed under the bridge” but argues that the findings are still instructive.  Indeed, “the tragic events” Russians have had to live through “are the price which our country and our people have had to pay for the blindness of our rulers” who deceived themselves and others with lies about “proletarian internationalism,” “the indivisible friendship of the peoples,” and “most of all," about the existence of ‘the Soviet people, the new historical community.”

            That “phantom” dissolved without a trace in 1991, Sevastyanov says, and uncovered “the harsh reality” of the way in which various peoples felt about one another.

            “Today,” he continues, “our rulers” out of nostalgia for the Soviet past and “’the Soviet people,’” are pushing “an analogous model of ‘the [non-ethnic] Russian nation,’ without knowing what must be done given the true nature of inter-ethnic relations in our country.” Indeed, many of them seem to have adopted the posture of “an ostrich.”

            “But,” Sevastyanov argues, “neither the recent past nor our present permits that.” Deceiving oneself and deceiving others is “impermissible.”  Instead, he says, Russians “must be vigilant and must look around themselves with open eyes” and know with some precision “who are friends of Russians and who are not” – and then proceed accordingly.

            “The wise man learns from the mistakes of others,” he remarks. “The fool doesn’t even learn from his own.  Let us not be fools and not allow ourselves to be made into them.

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