Thursday, December 18, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Extreme Russian Nationalism Widespread in Soviet Security Organs, Archives Show

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 18 – The Soviet security agencies from Lenin on were infected by an often vicious Russian nationalism which led their officers to attack non-Russians far more frequently than Russians, according to a new study based on archival sources by Aleksey Teplyakov, a Novosibirsk historian.


            Many researchers Russian and foreign have considered the national aspects of Soviet political repression, he says, but “up to now there have not been any which allow for an assessment of the presence of chauvinist and nationalist attitudes among the Chekist corporation of the influence of these subjective factors on the conduct of repressive policies.”


             Indeed, he points, many have focused on the presence of a significant stratum of non-Russians within the Soviet secret police and other security agencies to conclude that the organs, however repressive, were not chauvinist and anti-Russian (“Shovinizm i natsionalizm v organakh VChK-MGB-MVD SSSR, in Sovetskiye natsii i natsionalnaya politika v 1920-1950 gody (Moscow ROSSPEN, 2014, pp. 649-657, posted online at


            But in fact, these organs were infected by chauvinism, and those attitudes were reinforced rather than reduced by the constant campaigns of repressions against one or another non-Russian people, with some of the Chekists working in the republics acting like “typical colonial bureaucrats” and routinely expression “aggressive-chauvinist attitudes” toward the minorities.


            Teplyakov says that within the Soviet secret police, chauvinism ranged from dismissive comments about “’backward Asiatics’ or ‘little Jews’” to the belief that non-Russian groups should be subject to “broad ethnic purges” even if the cases against the members of such groups had to be fabricated.


            During the Russian civil war, the Chekists sought to decapitate the national movements in Kazakhstan, Kalmykia, the Gorno-Altay, Yakutia (Sakha), Central Asia and Azerbaijan even as they recruited other non-Russians to carry out such campaigns. And these campaigns frequently were overfulfilled because of the attitudes of the Chekists involved.


            In March 1922, for example, Cheka commanders took note of the fact that “the internal forces suppressing the uprising in Yakutia could only with difficulty “be kept from wiping out the Yakuts” involved. Throughout the 1920s, Chekists killed with impunity members of the numerically small peoples of the North as well as others simply because they were not Russian.


            Stalin’s increasingly nationalist course in the 1930s only exacerbated this tendency. Stalin himself, Teplyakov points out, told one official that the organs should force all of the non-Russians to fall on their knees and then execute them “like mad dogs.”  The Chekists needed little encouragement, the archives show.


            After World War II, the situation deteriorated further, with the organs sometimes provoking nationalist risings and then using them as an excuse to imprison, torture or kill members of non-Russian nationalities. That happened with the Nentsy, the Baltic nations, the Ukrainians and others as well, the archives show.


            Chauvinism increased in the ranks of the organs on a continuous basis during the last years of Stalin’s reign.  The state security minister in the Buryat-Mongol ASSR said that as long as he was in office, “not one Buryat would be allowed to be in a leading position” anywhere in the republic. He was subsequently punished. But others did much the same elsewhere without being called to account.


            The Chekists overwhelmingly welcomed Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign. Although there had been many Jews among the Chekists in the 1920s, their numbers had dwindled in the 1930s during the Great Terror, and members of the Soviet organs routinely talked about the need to get rid of the Jews inside their ranks and elsewhere.


            While Russian and Russianized Chekists were allowed to flaunt their chauvinism, those Chekists who were of non-Russian origin were expected to behave as internationalists, which in the Soviet context meant being pro-Moscow and against their own peoples as well as other non-Russians.


            Sometimes the non-Russian Chekists sought to insure themselves against attack by posing as more Russian than the Russians. An example of this was the response of a Jewish Chekist to whom Patriarch Tikhon spoke in Hebrew. M.P. Shreyder responded that he “lives in Russia and doesn’t need any other language but Russian.”


            But non-Russian Chekists sometimes could not restrain themselves from reacting to the chauvinism of their Russian colleagues.  I.P Yakovlev, a Yakut who was a senior official of the Ministry of State Security in the Yakut SSR once burst out “the Russians are bastards … they are stealing Yakutia and wreaking havoc on the Yakuts.”


                Because it was found that he was drunk, Yakovlev got away with this with only a minimal punishment. Others were not so lucky. N.Ch.Tovarishtay, the head of the interior ministry administration in Tuva said there were too many Russians about and that they should all be “shot.”


The Tuvan was excluded from the party, fired, but then restored when it was established that he too had been drunk when he said that.


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