Some Soviet and Post-Soviet National and Linguistic
Problems in the Slavic Republics (States):
Russia, Ukraine, Belorus

Mordechai Altshuler

Copyright (c) 1998 by the Slavic Research Center. All rights reserved.

A whole series of national problems, which were simmering deep down in Soviet society, emerged with great force when the Soviet Union broke up. Moreover, they were intensified because of the economic, managerial, cultural and political crises.*1
National sensitivities and emotions deriving from primordial and tribal sources are generally, even if only partly, to be found beyond the sphere of rational thinking. They are liable to serve as a very powerful factor mobilizing broad masses of people. Thus it is not surprising that during the last decade national problems became one of the main causes of upheaval in the wide area of what was once the Soviet Union.
Although most national tensions theoretically are similar, each ethnic-national conflict has its own specific character. This is first and foremost due to differences in historical and cultural traditions, forms of reaction and behavior patterns of the parties involved. Obviously, in this lecture, we shall not deal in depth with all the numerous ethnic problems facing the Slavic states which came into existence on the ruins of the Soviet Union. Clearly, the violent crisis in Chechnia cannot bear comparison with the complex network of relations between Russia and Ukraine or Russia and Belorus. We shall endeavor at most, to pinpoint some national and linguistic problems which emerged from natural developments as well as from intentional policy during the Soviet period and became a challenge for the new states in the post-Communist period. We shall also make some remarks on ethnic identity in the Soviet period, which is in the process of crystallization in the post-communist era.
Three Slavic states (republics) stretch over a huge area of about 18,000,000 square kilometers - about 80% of the entire territory of the ex-Soviet Union. According to a census taken in 1989, it was inhabited by about 209 million people, about 73% of the entire population of the Soviet Union.*2 The titular nationalities from which the three republics evolved were to a large extent the Soviet Union's main pillars.
Culturally and intellectually, the titular nationalities of these republics have much in common. We are referring to three ethnic entities of the eastern Slavic nations. Their languages are similar and their life-styles and patterns of behavior are in many ways similar. However, in the course of the generations, each one of these peoples developed its own cultural and national identity. This independent national-ethnic identity, called by some demographers as ethnic transformation,*3 developed during various periods in these three nations. The beginnings of Russian national identity are generally dated back to the 15th century and linked to the formation of the centralized state of Russia. Ukrainian nationalism, as a distinct ethnic group, is said to derive from the struggle against Polish influence in the 17th century*4 and the emergence of Belorus nationalism is generally credited to the journal Nasha Niva, published in the 1906-1915 period.*5
Although from the linguistic-cultural point of view, the above-mentioned three Slavic nations had much in common, there was a huge difference between the status of Russian nationalism ("russkie" or "velikorussy") and that of Ukrainian and Belorus nationalism. The Russians were the de facto rulers of the two Slavic sister-states and aspired in one way or another to assimilate them into Russian culture and religion. The autocratic Russian government's struggle against Ukrainian nationalism found expression in the prohibition of teaching, play-acting and even book publishing in the Ukrainian language. In fact, the struggle over language was an integral part of the crystallization of national identity by the Ukrainians and to a certain extent also by the Belorussians. The Russian government never recognized the Ukrainian and the Belorussian peoples as separate entities and even tried to ignore their names, by studiously calling the Ukrainians "Malorossy" and the Belorussian people "Mestnye". It is not surprising therefore, that in the collective memory of these two nations - and especially of the Ukrainians - feelings of suspicion and reserve lingered vis-a-vis the Russian government and these found expression in times of crisis and enfeebled the central authority.
Accordingly, in the wake of the revolution of February 1917 in Ukraine, an across-the-board national coalition of socialists and non-socialists was created with the aim of achieving autonomy.*6 However, as the civil war became more and more acute, national demands were raised by the Ukrainians and to a certain extent also by the Belorussian people, reaching as far as a demand for separation from Russia and the setting-up of an independent state. The very few years that a Ukrainian state existed were one of various short periods of independence in the history of the Ukrainian people. But it was the first such occasion in Belorus history!*7
When the Bolsheviks came to power, the former Russian Empire was ramified and broken down into national territorial units.*8 They realized that the pre-Revolution slogans about a centralist state on the one hand and the right of all nations to self-determination to the point of detachment (i.m. creation of an independent state) on the other hand did not meet the needs of the hour.
The Bolshevik leadership perceived the complexity of the national problem and had to take it into account if they wished to retain power. Accordingly, they modified their program on the national question just as they did on land distribution to peasants. This new conception was prima facie Bolshevik acceptance of the principle of a federal state and of the grant of autonomy to national regions.
On the one hand, the Bolsheviks did not abandon their attitude on the merger of nations and ethnic groups (sliianie), which in practice meant Russification and absolute enslavement to the central government. On the other hand, they emphasized the need to develop nationalist expression in various fields. During the entire existence of the Soviet Union, there was a constant tension between these two conflicting trends. Let us now examine this tension in the following areas: (I) the structure of the state; (II) the language question.

(I) The structure of the state

During the 70 year existence of the Soviet Union, there were changes in the number of the national-territorial units and the areas they controlled, but formally the principles laid down at the beginning of the 1920s were preserved. Prior to the break-up of the Soviet Union (1991), there were l5 Union republics, which became independent states, 20 autonomous republics (l6 of them within the boundaries of the Russian Federative Republic), 8 autonomous districts (5 of them in RSFSR) and 10 autonomous national sub-districts (okrug) all of which were located within the borders of the RSFSR.*9 On the surface, these national, territorial frameworks were supposed to give a form of consideration for the national-ethnic aspects of peoples which gave their name to a given national, territorial unit.
Formally, the broadest status was given to the Union Republics, which were regarded as sovereign state units with the right of withdrawal from the Soviet Union. Each republic had a kind of parliament (Soviet), government apparatus, etc. The Soviet authorities tried to allow each of the national units an array of emblems which, on the face of it, would give expression to the "statehood" of the titular nationality. But alongside this largely decentralized system it was also the Communist party apparatus which worked on the principle of democratic centralism, i.e. a system based on complete central control exercised by order of the Party Central Committee in Moscow.*10 The more Communist party rule became dominant and laid down the law in all walks of life and down to the last detail, the institutions and emblems designed to reflect sovereignty and/or ethnic autonomy had less and less real meaning. This contradictory policy which on the one hand recognized national rights and on the other deprived them of all real content did not solve national problems, but widened the gap between declared positions and reality on the ground. Thus it can be said that in so far as the Soviets and the governments of republics lost their influence and the Communist Party enjoyed an increased power of intervention and decision in every single matter, the power of regional national forces declined.
In the perestroika and glasnost' period, Gorbachev tried, at a certain stage to allocate more power and influence to the Soviets at the expense of the Communist Party's omnipotent, centralised authority.*11 This new situation opened the door to increasing influence on the part of centrifugal forces, led by the nationalists. Indeed, amongst the peoples with more developed national consciousness, the feeling grew that they belonged above all to their republic and less to the Soviet Union as a whole. This was in contrast to the Russians who felt that the Soviet Union was identical with Russia. Surveys carried out in the last two or three years before the break-up of the Soviet Union show that 46% of Ukrainians regarded themselves in the first place as citizens of their republic and only 42% saw themselves first and foremost as citizens of the Soviet Union. This should be compared with the Russians in Russia, of whom some 63% declared that they regarded themselves first and foremost as citizens of the Soviet Union. This too was the attitude of some 66% of Russians resident in other parts of the Soviet Union (outside Russia).*12
This prime loyalty to the republic was seen to have national significance (at least partly) in the Union republics and the autonomous republics. In the first stage, considerable sections of the non-Russian intelligentsia in the republics advocated nationalist claims related only to the development and expansion of national culture. Within a short time, there was an increase in the influence of those forces which, in the name of nationalism, demanded a declaration of sovereignty but without severance from the federal structure of the Soviet Union. Although only formally, sovereignty was included in the status of the republics. Therefore, it was possible to argue that it would not necessarily lead to independence and separation or dissolution of the Soviet Union.*13 However, the Ukrainian and Belorus independence slogans became popular and led various social groups to expect it to produce answers to most of the ills afflicting them. No wonder therefore that in a referendum most Ukrainians voted for Ukrainian independence, together with most local Russians, Jews and members of other national groups. The developments in the Baltic countries as well as those within the central Soviet leadership acted as catalysts for the break-up of the Soviet Union and the establishment of independent, nation states (Ukraine and Belorus).*14 All the new states were defined as nation states and only Russia was left ostensibly as a multi-national state, with the Russians (russkie) appearing as one of the nations and all her citizens being called "rossiiane".
This situation gave place for special national tensions in the RSFSR, which were explained in 1993 by V. A. Tishkov as a result of six main causes: (1) The activity of national movements which demand autonomy or even independence; (2) A bundle of national problems related to the rehabilitation of oppressed people, especially of the Northern Caucasus and the Cossacks;*15 (3) Revival of negative attitudes to the annexation of some areas to Russia; (4) The influence of political instability in Trans-Caucasus; (5) Big migrations from the ex-Soviet Union republics to Russia, causing a refugee problem; (6) The rise of economic regional tensions as a result of transition to market economy.*16 However those reasons are only symptoms of the current situation in the Russian Federation. Whereas the core of the problem originates from the twofold nationality policy.
The Soviet nationality policy had two meanings. On the one hand, national and territorial frameworks existed - Union and autonomous republics, national districts and even sub-districts. On the other hand, there was utter dependence on the Communist Party Central Committee. This dualism could continue as long as most of the power was concentrated in central institutions, or in other words so long as the Communist Party was the central determining force. When the Communist Party's power began to weaken, the centrifugal forces gathered strength. They encompassed various economic approaches, as well as local people and institutions aspiring to national independence and sharing feelings of discrimination as well as an age-old national identity.
Soviet national policy was aimed at giving the leading nationalities within their governmental frameworks the feeling that the people who made the decisions belonged to their own ethnic group. This was the policy used in making appointments to prominent posts in the republic. Here, there was strict adherence to the rules that outstanding representatives in the highest and middle echelons of administration in Ukraine and Belorus must be of Ukrainian or Belorussian nationality. According to the 1989 census 76.4% of the political elite in Ukraine and 75.9% in Belorussia were ethnic Ukrainians and Belorussians. (The political elite includes here: "Rukovoditeli organov gosudarstvennogo upravleniia, partiinykh i obshchestvennykh organizatsii i ikh strukturnykh podrazdelenii".) The managerial elite in those two republics at that time were composed of 68.9% and 71.7% Ukrainians and Belorussians respectively. (As managerial elite are defined: "Rukovoditeli predpriiatii i organizatsii i ikh strukturnykh podrazdelenii".)*17 Sometimes there were also Russians working alongside these people, but the Soviet authorities made sure to emphasize that governmental, bureaucratic and even scientific staff were recruited from the nationality which had pride of place in that republic. Almost from the very beginning, Soviet policy was directed towards the creation of elite groups drawn from the leading nationalities. These elite groups were almost completely dependent on central authorities and at times quite remote from their own national languages and culture, but the authorities were at pains to emphasize that their origin was Ukrainian or Belorussian. In fact, the policy of giving representation to the "main" nationalities (korenizatsiia apparata) was a permanent feature of Soviet rule, operated during various periods with different degrees of intensity. During the stages of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, members of the old Soviet Civil Service made considerable use of the national identity card so as to channel nationalist feelings to serve their own interests and to convert them into politicians with considerable clout. So after the declaration of independence, there was no need to fill the various public service staffs with candidates from Ukraine or Belorus at the expense of Russians, since previously there had already been a substantial representation there of people originating from these nationalities. In this way, a further focus of tension was avoided, though it was typical of many states formerly part of the Soviet Union. Accordingly, as a consequence of this special policy in Ukraine and Belorus, ethnic tensions in these republics are these days much more moderate than is the case in other states which came into being out of the ruins of the Soviet Union. As for the Russia-Ukraine dispute regarding the Crimean Peninsula, this should be seen rather in terms of inter-state relations than of ethnic tensions.
The emergence of nation states solved the problems of duality and tension between the center in Moscow and the Union republics on the periphery (titular nationalities) but it created a new series of problems connected with the existence of nation states.

(II) The language question

National language was one of the most important factors in the development of nationalism. Every national movement battling for its status and place put the use of the national language as one of its most important claims. Moreover, in the theoretical concepts of Bolshevism, as crystallized by Lenin and Stalin even before they seized power, language became one of the obligatory identifying marks of a nation (ethnos). Indeed, in the 1920s the Soviet authorities maintained a policy of "affirmative action" in regard to the Ukrainian and the Belorussian languages. This policy, known as "ukrainizatsiia" and "belorusizatiia", gave clear priority to the languages of titular nationalities in those republics. In the framework of this policy, Soviets authorities encouraged schools working in the Ukrainian and Belorussian languages in those republics. Administration was also intended to be moved over to the local languages. This linguistic policy was intended to give those languages a prestige status and to encourage their use in private and public life in those republics. This policy however, was abandoned by the 1930s and the trend of encouraging the use of the Russian language in those republics gathered strength in the fifty years following World War Two. Indeed, the use of Russian by local inhabitants of Ukraine and Belorus steadily increased and found expression even in the Population Censuses carried out in the Soviet Union after the war. The percentage of Ukrainians who declared their mother-tongue to be Ukrainian declined from 91.4% in 1970 to 87.7% in 1989 and the trend of acculturation and assimilation in Russian language and culture steadily grew.*18
Researchers of the Soviet Union and its internal national problems do not doubt the constant growth in the use of the Russian language but differ in their views on what caused this. Some of them believe the main cause was the Soviet and the Russian policies aiming at "de-nationalization" of the various peoples. On the eve of the break up of the Soviet Union the majority of pupils in Ukraine and Belorus studied in Russian schools,*19 and the situation was even worse in the kindergartens.*20
However, Valery Tishkov, Director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Russian Academy of Science, holds the view that the spread in the use of the Russian language "became a powerful tool of individual choice for better career opportunities, as well as a means of communication... in Soviet society at large and in ethnically mixed regions specifically..."*21
Indeed, also in the fields of language and culture, the Soviet authorities pursued an ambiguous policy. They published books, journals and newspapers in the Ukrainian and the Belorussian languages. The theater and literature in those languages were also given a certain amount of encouragement, but it did not go beyond the limits acceptable to the authorities at any given time. These local languages were considered good for general use only in those republics, whereas the Russian language opened up opportunities for going out into the broad expanse of the great Soviet Union. It is not surprising therefore that knowledge and use of Russian opened up wide career possibilities for the average man and woman. It did, however, also distance them at the same time, directly or indirectly, from the immediate contact with the cultural heritage of their own people, even in the limited and restricted form acceptable then in the Soviet Union. The use of the Belorussian or Ukrainian languages - even in those republics - thus created a tension between national cultural obligations and the personal advantages deriving from the use of Russian. Naturally, in these clash situations, preference was inevitably given to personal interests. From this point of view, Tishkov's comments reflect reality. But it was the Soviet political conditions which created the dilemma by according clear and significant preference to Russian language and culture over the languages, culture and heritage even of a nation numerically as large as the Ukrainian people.
In fact, the language problem turned into one of the focuses of legislation in the new countries which arose from the ruins of the Soviet Union and even in the non-Russian units of the Russian Federation.*22 The bundle of ethnic/national problems, which were created partly in the course of hundreds of years of the existence of a multi-national state and/or empire with its own distinctive character, and partly as a consequence of the Soviet national policy, which was full of inner contradictions, were neither untied nor solved when the Soviet Union was dissolved. Each one of the new states was obliged to cope with ethnic problems which flowed from the break-up of the Soviet Union or had existed but previously remained dormant.
The declaration of Ukrainian independence was intended to give authentic expression to the national political definition of a European people numbering some 40 million souls, but hitherto without a state of its own. By the way, in that very same Ukraine, in the nationwide census of 1989, registrations were made of some 11.5 million Russians (22% of the citizens of the Ukrainian State) as well as another 5% who belonged to other nationalities. Some of them numbered several hundred thousand, e.g. some 600,000 Jews, about 400,000 Belorussian people, etc.*23 In fact, about a quarter of the inhabitants of the Ukrainian national state are not Ukrainian ethnically, and still less linguistically. However, there are also many Ukrainians, who stated most demonstratively in the 1989 Census that their mother-tongue was Ukrainian, yet in practice use Russian as their daily language. Thus, the granting of priority to the Ukrainian language became one of the identifying marks of the national revival of the Ukrainian people. To "ukrainize" the educational system, starting first with elementary schools, then going on to high schools and colleges became one of Ukraine's declared objectives.*24 This policy could well have placed millions of non-Ukrainians in an uncomfortable position and even ethnic Ukrainians who did not have a command of the Ukrainian language. Thus, implementation of the language policy had to be carried out with utmost care. On one hand central government authorities were obliged to act under pressure from the western areas of Ukraine which demanded the speeding-up of the Ukrainisation processes. On the other hand, the inhabitants of the eastern areas of the country were trying to slowdown, as much as possible, the practical application of Ukrainisation. However, the issue of granting clear, preferential status to the Ukrainian language and not giving preference (at least formally) to Russian over the languages of other national minorities, remained a sensitive problem in independent Ukraine. The degree to which this subject was still a delicate one found expression after the election of Leonid Kuchma as president of Ukraine in 1994. The new president intended to grant precedence to the Russian language alongside Ukrainian. This immediately aroused opposition amongst the Ukrainian intelligentsia, who published a special protest against any such step of the president, calling it "a step injurious to the renaissance of Ukrainian nationalism in its independent state". The use of the Ukrainian language was seen as one of the identifying marks of Ukrainian national renaissance. Accordingly, they argued, it ought to be strengthened and fostered.*25
In a survey conducted in four large cities in the Ukraine in 1995, when asked if Russian should be granted "official language" status (the state language being Ukrainian), negative replies came from 71% of the inhabitants of Lviv, 42% in Kiiv, 17% in Donetsk and 11% in Simferopol.*26 In Belorus, the law passed in 1990, making Belorussian the state language, had laid down that the transition period for introducing Belorussian as the state language would take from three to ten years.*27 The two Slavic states (which contained large national minorities, though not in as critical numbers as in the Baltic states) displayed sensitivity at the pace of introduction of the main national languages, and thereby averted, or at least blunted national tensions such as were revealed in the Baltic republics.
The situation in the Russian federation is quite different. There, the non-Russians are a much smaller percentage than are the national minorities in Ukraine or Belorus. According to the 1989 census, the Russians in RSFSR constituted 81.5% of the population (119,866,000 out of 147,022,000). In view of the wave of Russian refugees who came into Russia from other states since the 1989 census, it may be assumed that the percentage of Russians within the Russian federation has grown.*28 From the beginning of 1989 to the end of 1993 the number of Russians who emigrated to the Russian Federation was 1,158,720 persons higher than the number of Russians leaving that State.*29
However, we are discussing here not the average percentage of non-Russians in Russia, but the status of national minorities in the framework of the Russian Federal republic. This differed fundamentally from that of ethnic minority populations in the Soviet republics of the Ukraine and Belorus. As we have said, most of the national territorial units set up under Soviet rule were located in the RSFSR. In these territorial units, Soviet policy was designed to encourage the languages and cultures of local ethnic groups on the one hand and, on the other hand, to subjugate them to the interests of the Soviet state. This ambivalence in fact created constant tensions within those same national territorial units. Russia agreed, largely of her own free will, to the break-up of the Soviet Union and to the establishment of the independent states of the Union republics. On the other hand, for geo-political and economic reasons, she refused to reconcile herself to demands for independence and/or recognition of nationalist territorial units as sovereign national entities. Accordingly, certain regions, especially in the Caucasus, remain the focus of national tension, which, from time to time, take the form of violent outbursts. The most extreme example is the war which has been going on until recently in Chechnia. The truce recently signed in this area is nothing more than a kind of cease-fire. It seems as if ethnic-nationalist claims combined with elements of regional and economic interests as well as struggles for the focal points of influence, etc. will continue, also in the foreseeable future, to be serious problems for the Russian federation - and maybe even more serious than those affecting their Slavic sister-states.*30
With these problems of ethnic nationalism which have risen above the surface since the break-up of the Soviet Union, are interwoven also regional, economic interests which take on a national character. Without going too deeply into whether in the period of Soviet rule Russia exploited the other national republics economically or those republics enjoyed Russian support, the decisive fact is that considerable sections of the populations of the non-Russian territorial units were convinced that Russia exploited them economically and derived more from their resources than they invested in those regions. Thus, liberation from Russia and political independence became a very important factor in the crystallization of renewed national identity in the Ukraine. This was less the case in Belorus where national consciousness was much weaker.

(III) Comments on National identity

Ethnic (national) affiliation was part of the Soviet Union's social experience. At least from the thirties onwards, this affiliation was largely not a matter of the citizen's choice but rather of the society into which a person had been born. A child born to two parents who were of the same ethnic group was automatically registered as having been born into that nationality. This registration appeared in all official certificates and generally a citizen would identify himself accordingly. When asked who he/she is, they would generally reply "I am a Ukrainian, a Belorussian, a Russian, etc." (Sometimes people define themselves also by city or area of birth or living such as Moscovite, Leningradets or Sibiriak, Uralets, etc.) Thus the division of Soviet Union citizens into nationalities or ethnic entities was a fact of life in which all the parties concerned were interested. The Russians - the dominant or ruling people - were, perhaps, interested in this way to save their dominant position and to refrain the other ethnic groups, especially small and dynamic such as Jews, Tatars and others, to be absorbed in the Russian nation. Other nationalities were interested in preserving this kind of official registration of ethnic affiliation, perhaps, as one of the ways of national identification and of saving the proportion of ethnic representation in different spheres of life. However, the reference here was to national (ethnic) identification largely enforced by the rulers and expressed in bureaucratic and formal terms and at times, without any substantial ethnic content. However with the onset of democratization and freedom given to the population, the matter of identity was not referred only to formalities connected with nationality registration, but became a highly important factor in determining social, political and even economic attitudes. Therefore its own national identity became of special importance to every people and ethnic group.
An important place in the national (ethnic) identity of the Ukrainians is statehood, i.e. the feeling that Ukrainians are deciding their own fate within their own national political framework. Some of the Ukrainian national intelligentsia, aware of the economic discomfort which flows from political independence, still prefer it against a dependence on outside factors, especially Russia. A further asset which Ukrainians use to stress their national identity is the Ukrainian language. They see this as becoming not only the official state language, but also the language of daily life and of art and science for the majority of Ukrainians and also most citizens of Ukraine. The third component of renewed Ukrainian identity must be Ukrainian history, and here special emphasis is placed on those chapters in history when Ukraine enjoyed independence. Apparently, just because the history of the Ukrainian people was from the beginning so intertwined with the history of the Russian people, there is a tendency to stress those historical aspects which differentiate between Ukrainians and Russians. As the famous Ukrainian historian M. Grushev'skii stressed: "Istoriia vela eti narodnosti [the russians, belorussians and ukrainians] bol'sheiu chast'iu sovershenno razlichnymi dorogami, predstavliaiushchimi bol'she otlichii, chem skhozhnostei. V rezul'tate obrazovalos' narodnoe samochuvstvie, kotoroe otlichaet teper', dazhe sovershenno instinktivno, ukraintsa ot velikorussa."*31 It this respect the Uniat church is playing an important role. A survey conducted on Ukrainian university students has shown that the Church was a significant factor in intensifying their nationalist feelings.*32 Indeed, Ukrainian national identity rests on those three main components: the national state, the Ukrainian language, and history of the Ukrainian people. Liberation and separation (both past and present) from Russia are important components in this identity. It seems, therefore, that the Ukrainian national-ethnic identity has a great deal in common with identity patterns of peoples liberated from alien rule.
The situation of the Russian people is quite different. The ethnic identity or self identification of the Russian people is the most problematic and perhaps even the most painful. The Soviet Russian Federation (RSFSR) did not have institutions such as existed in the other Union republics. The Russian republic did not even have a special radio station, an Academy of science and so on. It was the only Union republic which by definition was a federal state, despite the fact that also other Union republics include autonomous republics. It can in fact be argued that the Russian people had been deprived and robbed of its national identity during the period of Soviet rule more than any other nation. Indeed the RSFSR, and to a certain extent also the Russian people, waived distinctive institutions of their own and many of them merged their own identity with that of the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, they never defined themselves as "Soviet" (instead of "Russian") nationals. Moreover, many pan-Soviet institutions were seen by Russians as well as by people of other nationalities as first and foremost Russian institutions. This tendency was especially evident in the last fifty years. It may be assumed that this identification between Soviet and Russian undermined, in one way or another, the national identity of not a few Russians. Yet at the same time the Soviet Union served to support their own ethnic identity.
The status of the Soviet Union in the international arena as one of the super-Powers which the entire world had to take into account, filled every Russian with pride, since he saw in this primarily an appreciation of Russia's might. A Russian-born citizen regarded the entire expanse of the Soviet Union as his homeland, so that whatever place he reached (whether for a long-term or short-term stay), he felt himself very much at home. All Soviet Union citizens lived by Radio Moscow, though officially it was not the national Radio of Russia, and in the length and breadth of the Soviet Union, pupils studied Russian history as their very own. All of this provided support for the Russians' self-identity. Thus it can be said that the Empire, though not in the classical sense of this term, served as the mainstay of Russian national identity.
However, this situation changed dramatically at the end of the eighties, when the Russian people found themselves facing a reality which forced them to build up new supports for their identity. It is almost clear to every one that there is no visible likelihood of the Empire arising again on its former scale. Accordingly, the new "identity" will have to rest largely on the culture, history, life-style and patterns of behavior of the Russian people in the context of past, present and future. It seems, therefore, that, in addition to the political and cultural struggles occurring in Russia in recent years, there is also a cultural-intellectual struggle for the shape of the new Russian national identity - its image and its nature. Participants in this struggle include political factors, the intelligentsia and, significantly, the Church. Insofar as we can judge today, it is difficult to determine with any degree of certainty what the emphasis will be. It may be in a liberal direction, with the human individual right in the center, or in the direction called "organic development", "the Russian idea", etc.,*33 centered on the people as an ethnic unit. The character of Russian national identity will have considerable influence on the lives of ethnic groups within the Russian Federation as well as of other nationalities in the area.
In this lecture, we have sought to touch on a number of aspects of the complicated problem known as the national (ethnic) and linguistic problem of the Slavonic states which have arisen out of the ruins of the Soviet Union. The break-up of Empires, like earthquakes generally produce shocks later on. It is difficult to prophesy what shocks will occur later on, and with what consequences, as a result of the tremendous earthquake of our times - the dismantling of the Soviet Union.


  1. S. V. Cheshko, Raspad Sovetskogo soiuza, Moscow, 1996, pp. 68-164.
  2. Gosudarstvennyi komitet SSSR po statistike - Demograficheskii ezhegodnik SSSR, 1990, Moscow, 1990, pp. 7-13.
  3. V. I. Kozlov, Vosproizvodstvo etnosa i etnicheskie protsessy: osnovnye problemy, in: Rossiiskii etnograf, 1993, No. 1, pp. 142-168.
  4. Wladyslaw A. Sercyk, Historia Ukrainy, Wroclaw-Warszawa-Krakow, 1990, pp. 56-58, 82-90, 111-115.
  5. Contributors to this Journal were the brothers Ivan and Anton Lutkievich and the famous writers Janka Kupala and Jakub Kolas. Akademiia nauk Belarusi - Narysy gistoryi Belarusi, Minsk, 1994, part 1.
  6. J. Borys, The Sovietization of Ukraine, 1917-1923 - The Communist Doctrine and Practice of National Self Determination, Edmonton, 1980.
  7. Ivan S. Lubachko, Belorussia Under Soviet Rule, 1917-1957, Kentucky, 1972, pp. 12-30.
  8. Richard Pipes, The Formation of the Soviet Union - Communism and Nationalism, 1917-1923, Cambridge, Mass., 1964, pp. 1-113.
  9. See Note 2 above.
  10. For Example see: John N. Hazard, Statutory Recognition of Nationality Differences in the USSR, in: Soviet Nationality Problems (Ed. Edward Allworth), New York-London, 1971, pp. 83-116. Victor Zaslavsky, Success and Collapse: Traditional Soviet National Policy, in: Nation and Politics in the Soviet Successor States (Ed. Ian Bremmer and Ray Taras), Cambridge, 1993, pp. 29-42.
  11. See interview by US journalist Hedrick Smith (Oct. 1989) with Aleksander Yakovlev, a confidant of Gorbachev, who declared that "Clearly, political authority lies [now] with the Soviets". A. Yakovlev, Muki prochteniia bytiia: Perestroika; nadezhdy i real'nosti, Moscow, 1991, p. 35.
  12. Juri Lewada, Die Sowjet-Menschen, 1989-1991; Soziogramm eines Zerfalls, Potsdam, 1991, pp. 25, 155, 164. The tendency to feel you belong to the State in which you live more than to the general frame of SNG find expression in a survey in four cities of Ukraine in 1995. 75% of the inhabitants of Lviv identify themselves with the Ukrainian state, 65% in Kiiv, 30 % in Donetsk and only 12% in Simferopol. Politicheskii portret Ukrainy, 1995, No. 13, p. 46.
  13. M. A. Mikhaleva, Pravovye aspekty natsional'nykh otnoshenii v sovietskoi federatsii, in: Pravo i vlast' - chelovek, zakon i pravosudie (Ed. M. P. Vyshinskii), Moscow, 1990, pp. 180-212. A description of the events in Kiiv by one of the opponents of the separation of Ukraine from Russia see: Vitalii Maslov, Opushchennyi shans, Kiev, 1993. Compare also: Walter Clemens, Baltic Independence and Russian Empire, New York, 1991.
  14. See: Bohdan Krawchenko, Ukraine: the Politics of Independence, in: Nation and Politics in the Soviet Successor States (Ed. Ian Bremmer and Ray Taras), Cambridge, 1993, pp. 75-98. S. V. Kul'chits'kii, Derzhavotvorchii protses v Ukraine (pidsumki pershogo piatirichchia), in: Ukrains'kii istorichnii zhurnal, 1996, No. 6, pp. 69-78. Compare also: Alexander J. Motyl, Will the Non-Russians Rebel? State, Ethnicity, and Stability in the USSR, Cornel University Press, 1987, pp. 88-106.
  15. An excellent book of documents about the German problem in the Soviet Union is: Istoriia Rossiiskikh nemtsev v dokumentakh (1963-1992), Moscow, 1993.
  16. V. A. Tishkov, Materialy po problemam mezhnatsional'nykh otnoshenii v Rossiiskoi Federatsii, bolevykh tochek i mezhnatsional'nykh uregulirovanii, Rossiiskii etnograf, 1993, No. 1, pp. 5-36.
  17. Goskomstat Rossii - Sbornik analiticheskikh dokladov po materialam perepisi naseleniia 1989 goda, Moscow, 1992, p. 40.
  18. See Krawchenko, Note 14 above.
  19. In Ukraine in 1988 only 48.2% of pupils studied in Ukrainian schools and 51.8% in Russian, in 1990 - 48.6% and 51,4% respectively. In Belorus in 1988 - 20.8% of school children studied in belorussian schools and 79.2% in Russian, in 1990 - the same percentage. Goskomstat Rossiiskoi Federatsii - Chislennost' i sotsial'no-demograficheskie kharakteristiki Russkogo naseleniia v respublikakh byvshego SSSR, Moscow, 1994, pp. 12-13.
  20. In 1988 only 37.0% of children in Ukraine were in Ukrainian kindergartens and 59.2% in Russian language in Belorus was the percentage 6.0% and 88.6% respectively. Ibid., pp. 14-16.
  21. V. Tishkov, Ethnicity, Nationalism and Conflict, London, 1997, p. 85.
  22. See: Iazykovye problemy Rossiiskoi Federatsii i zakony o iazykakh; Materialy Vserossiiskoi nauchnoi konferentsii (Moskva, 1-3 noiabria 1994), Moscow, 1994.
  23. Ministerstvo Statistiki Ukraini - Naselennia Ukraini, 1992 - Demogrsfichnii shchorochnik, Kiiv, 1993, p. 54.
  24. Dominique Arel, Language Politics in Independent Ukraine: Towards One or Two State Languages?, in: Nationality Papers (September 1995), vol. 23, No. 3, pp. 597-622. See also: The language laws of the independent Ukraine there, pp. 644-652.
  25. Yaroslav Bilinsky, Primary Language of Communication as a Secondary Indicator of National Identity: The Ukrainian Parliamentary and Presidential Elections of 1994 and the "Manifesto of the Ukrainian Intelligentsia" of 1995, in: Nationality Papers (December 1996), vol. 24, No. 4, pp. 661-678.
  26. Politicheskii portret Ukrainy, see note 12.
  27. Michael Urban and Jan Zaprudnick, Belarus: A long road to nationhood, in: Nation and Politics in the Soviet Successor States (Ed. Ian Bremmer and Ray Taras), Cambridge, 1993, pp. 75-98.
  28. See: Goskomstat SSSR - Natsional'nyi sostav naseleniia SSSR po dannym Vsesoiuznoi perepisi naseleniia 1989 g., Moscow, 1991. D. D. Moskvin, Naselenie SSSR: Voprosy migratsii, Moscow, 1991. M. Cherviakov, V. Shapiro, F. Sheregi, Mezhnatsional'nye konflikty i problema bezhentsev, Moscow, 1991.
  29. Goskomstat Rossii - Demograficheskii ezhegodnik Rossiiskoi Federatsii, 1993, Moscow, 1994, pp. 400-405.
  30. V. N. Lysenko (Chairman of the sub committee of the State Duma of Russian Federation for development of federative relations), Problemy razvitiia federatyvnykh otnoshenii v sovremennoi Rossii, in: Kentavr (March-April 1995), pp. 15-25.
  31. M. Grushevskii, Ocherk istorii ukrainskogo naroda, St. Petersburg, 1906, p. 15.
  32. N. I. Chernish, Iu. V. Vasil'eva, O. L. Goliaka, B. Iu. Poliarush, T. Ia. Starchenko, Natsional'na samosvidomost' students'koi molodi, Lviv, 1993.
  33. Russian nationality identity problems were discussed by the Russian emigration in the West in the Interwar period. A summary of those views see: D. N. Nikitin, Natsional'nyi vopros v SSSR v literature Russkogo zarubezh'ia, 1920-1930-e gody, Vestnik Moskovskogo Universiteta - Seria: Istoriia, No. 4, pp. 3-18. Some current publications on this topic see: I. Shafarevich, Rusofobiia: desiat' let spustia, Nash sovremennik, 1991, No. 12, pp. 124-138. RAU-Korporatsiia - Spetsial'nyi vypusk Rossiia segodnia: real'nyi shans, Moscow, 1994. I. Vdovin, Rossiiskaia natsia (K nyneshnim sporam vokrug natsional'noi idei), Kentavr, May-June 1995, pp. 3-11, July-August 1995, pp. 114-123. V. I. Kozlov, Istoriia tragedii velikogo naroda - Russkii vopros, Moscow, 1996.