The Soviet Union: Multi-National Empire

Figure 1.--expression of nationalist sentiment was severely supressed in the Soviet Union. One of the few exception was colorful national costumes and folk dancing. Here we see some children in folk costumes. Also note the Young Pioneers.

The Russia that the Bolshevicks seized control of was a multi-ethnic empire. Russia in the late-19th century set out to Russify the Empire, but with only limited success. The non-Russian areas of the Empire attempted to achieve independence after the revolution. The Red Army built by Trotsky managed to piece together most of the Tsarist Empire during and after the Civil War. Only Finland, the Baltics, Poland, and a small area of Romania managed to remain outside Soviet control. (Most of which the Soviets would size during World war II as a result of the NAZI-Soviet Nomn-Agreession Pact.) The new Soviet Union was still a large multi-national empire with Russia at its core. Constitutionally the Soviet Union was a federation of suposedly republics with substantial powers. In fact it was an even more centralized state than the Tsarist system it replaced. The ideology of the state was the international Communist movement. This meant that natioinalism had to be supressed, especially non-Russian nationalism. Thus nationalism in the various republics had to be supressed. And various waves of nationalities over time passed throuh the expanding Gulag. [Solzhenitsyn, pp. 51ff.] Interestingly it was Stalin who most fiercely suppresed the nationalities and he was Georgian. Expression of non-Russian nationalist seniment was actively supressed. Russian nationalism was not strongly promoted, although this varied over time. There was a revival of Russian nationalism during the Great Patriotic War. The only expression of nationalist sentiment allowed was show-case ethnic events like costumes and folk danceing. The Soviets despite 70 years of supressing the various nationalities found in the 1990s that as soon as police state controls were eased that natioanlist sentiment emerged in force. Each of the different republics chose independence. The one area that seems to have been effective Russified was the eastern Ukraine. In the end, nationalist sentiment destroyed the Soviet Union just as it had destroyed the other great multi national European empires.


Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I. The Gulag Archipelago (Harper & Row: New York, 1973), 660p.


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Created: 1:09 AM 3/23/2008
Last updated: 1:09 AM 3/23/2008