Staunton, Feb. 27 – Two views of Soviet nationality policy, one offered in the West and the second by Vladimir Putin, fundamentally misconstrue the nature of that policy, Dmitry Galko says. Moscow did not promote non-Russians as a form of affirmative action or to create nations where they did not exist but rather to do what it had to in order to maintain a colonial empire.
The Belarusian journalist and commentator thus takes issue both with Harvard University historian Terry Martin whose 2001 book, The Affirmative Action Empire, has shaped the thinking of many in the West and with the current Kremlin leader who routinely blames the Soviets for creating nationalities (graniru.org/opinion/m.287295.html).
The Soviets did not promote non-Russians to leadership positions in the non-Russian republics because they hoped to build nations but rather because as party discussions in the 1920s show, the Bolsheviks recognized that at that time they were too weak to hold the empire together unless they appeared to be solicitous of the non-Russians, Galko says.
But as soon as the center gained strength, he continues, it wiped out almost all of these gains and it purged leaders in the republics on an ethnic basis, jailing and killing more non-Russians than it did cadres from the center and the Russian Federation more generally, a clear indication of what the original policy was really all about.
An interesting question which Galko doesn’t address is this: did Putin draw on the ideas of the Soviet Union as an “affirmative action” empire as he shaped his own notion that Lenin and the Bolsheviks created nations? There is no public evidence that the Kremlin leader did, but it would not be the first time that something like that happened.