Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Thirty Years On, RSFSR Law on Rehabilitation of Repressed Peoples Inspires Victims but Remains Unfulfilled

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 26 – Thirty years ago, Boris Yeltsin signed a law passed by the RSFSR Supreme Soviet calling for the rehabilitation of those nations Stalin had repressed by allowing them to return to their homelands and providing them with compensation for their losses. It also banned any propaganda efforts directed against such peoples and the recovery of their lawful rights.

            But three decades later, Boris Sokolov says, not a single one of its provisions has been enforced. And consequently, a measure which raised so many hopes among those who were deported and whose autonomies were suppressed, remains a source of tension in many parts of the Russian Federation (

            According to the Russian historian, the act had only one single practical consequence: it sparked the war between the Ingush and the Ossetians over the Prigorodny District next to the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz. Inspired by the law, Ingush who had been expelled from there during Stalin’s deportation returned in massive numbers to claim it.

            The Prigorodny District had been part of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR prior to the deportations, and the Ingush reasonably assumed that the 1991 law meant that they should be allowed to live there and that it should again become part of what had become the Ingush Republic. They were quickly and violently disabused.

            Yeltsin, instead of enforcing the law he had signed, sent in police and interior troops to support the Ossetians, an action that left more than 400 Ingush and 100 Ossetians dead and that remains a source of dispute to this day. (On the Prigorodny District conflict’s echoes now, see

            Of course, Sokolov observes the 1991 law contained within it two poison pills that made it impossible to fulfill: it said the deported peoples had the right to return but that their return must not disturb any people who had moved into their lands, and it failed to appropriate funds to compensate anyone.

             As a result, it was a “purely propagandistic” measure. But propaganda measures can have consequences both immediate as in the Prigorodny District war and longer-term. And the 1991 law features one provision that may cause Moscow problems no matter how much the current powers that be refuse to acknowledge it.

            That provision is the definition of repressed peoples. The 1991 law specifies that repressed peoples are “nations, nationalities or ethnic groups or other historically evolved cultural-ethnic communities, for example, the Cossacks, in relation to whom according to ethnic or other membership were carried out at the state level policies of slander and genocide.”

            And in their case, it continues, this was accompanied by their forcible resettlement, destruction of their national-territorial formations, redrawing of national-territorial borders, and the establishment of a regime of terror and force in the places of their special settlement” beyond their historical homelands.

            That provides a basis for claims by far more groups than just those usually listed as “the punished peoples” and for a wholesale reordering of the political system of the Russian Federation. Not surprisingly, the Kremlin doesn’t want to think or talk about this, but on this anniversary at least some of these victims and their descendants are.

            Among them are the Cossacks and especially the Ingush. On the former, see; on the latter,


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