Monday, August 9, 2021

In Soviet Times, Most in the Intelligentsias of Non-Russian Republics were Indifferent to Nationality Question, Zajączkowski Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 4 – The Soviet intelligentsia in the non-Russian union and autonomous republics divided into three camps when it came to the nationality question, Wojciech Zajączkowski says. Most were indifferent  to it, some wanted to assimilate but only a few identified with their own nation and wanted to advance its interests.

            In his 2001 volume, In Search of Social Identity. Bashkir, Buryat and Tatar Intelligentsias and the Nationality Question in the Russian Empire and the USSR (in Polish; Lublin, 2001), the Polish historian and diplomat -- he is now Warsaw’s ambassador to Beijing -- develops that typology.

            (Bashkir historian Igor Kuichumov has prepared a Russian translation, and a portion of that has now been published by the editors of the Milliard.Tatar portal which focuses on Tatar intellectual traditions (

            Overwhelmingly, the Polish writer says, more members of the intelligentsia were “indifferent regarding the preservation of their ethnicity, indifferent to Soviet nationality policy, and passive as far as everything connected with it. Those who considered themselves Bashkirs, Tatars or Buryats did not make a big deal of their identity but didn’t intend to give it up.”

            Most of those in this category lived in an urban milieu dominated by Russian culture, and they were gradually losing their attachment to the primarily rural culture of their nations. And most, he continues, were “people with technical educations who by definition did not consider the preservation of interest in their native culture” a matter of primary concern.

            The second group, Zajączkowski continues, were those who were attracted to Russian culture as somehow “more highly developed” than the one they had been born in and decided to assimilate to one degree or another. “Often their parents didn’t oppose” because they saw this as a good career move.

            And the third group were those who did not agree with and actively opposed Soviet nationality policy. In most places, this group was the smallest, although there were important exceptions in the Baltic countries, Ukraine and the Caucasus. In the non-Russian autonomies of the RSFSR, such people formed a much smaller share.

            The exact dimensions of these groups in the various republics and autonomies is difficult to say, he concedes. More research is needed, but for that to happen, one must have access to archives and interview those who have survived. Unfortunately, in all but a handful of places, such research has not been carried out.

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