The 1921 Soviet recruitment to the Military Education poster with the Ukrainization theme. The text reads: "Son! Enroll in the School of Red Commanders [uk], and the defence of Soviet Ukraine will be ensured." The poster uses traditional Ukrainian imagery with Ukrainian-language text to reach a wider appeal. The School of Red Commanders in Kharkiv was organized to promote the careers of the Ukrainian national cadre in the army.

Korenizatsiia (Russian: коренизация, romanizedkorenizatsiya, pronounced [kərʲɪnʲɪˈzatsɨjə]; Ukrainian: коренізація, romanizedkorenizatsiia; transl. "indigenization" or "nativization"[1]) was an early policy of the Soviet Union for the integration of non-Russian nationalities into the governments of their specific Soviet republics. In the 1920s, the policy promoted representatives of the titular nation, and their national minorities, into the lower administrative levels of the local government, bureaucracy, and nomenklatura of their Soviet republics. The main idea of the korenizatsiia was to grow communist cadres for every nationality. In Russian, the term korenizatsiya (коренизация) derives from korennoye naseleniye (коренное население, "native population"). The policy practically ended in the mid-1930s with the deportations of various nationalities.[2][3]

Politically and culturally, the nativization policy aimed to eliminate Russian domination and culture in Soviet republics where ethnic Russians did not constitute a majority. This policy was implemented even in areas with large Russian-speaking populations; for instance, all children in Ukraine were taught in the Ukrainian language in school. The policies of korenizatsiia facilitated the Communist Party's establishment of the local languages in government and education, in publishing, in culture, and in public life. In that manner, the cadre of the local Communist Party were promoted to every level of government, and ethnic Russians working in said governments were required to learn the local language and culture of the given Soviet republic.


The nationalities policy[4] was formulated by the Bolshevik party in 1913, four years before they came to power in Russia. Vladimir Lenin sent a young Joseph Stalin (himself a Georgian and therefore an ethnic minority member) to Vienna, which was a very ethnically diverse city due to its status as capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Stalin reported back to Moscow with his ideas for the policy. It was summarized in Stalin's pamphlet (his first scholarly publication), Marxism and the National Question (1913).[5]

As adopted in 1923 korenizatsiia involved teaching and administration in the language of the republic; and promoting non-Russians to positions of power in Republic administrations and the party, including for a time the creation of a special group of soviets called natssovety (нацсоветы, "nationality councils") in their own natsrayony (нацрайоны, national districts) based on concentrations of minorities within what were minority republics.[6] For example, in Ukraine in the late 1920s there were even natssovety for Russians and Estonians.[citation needed]

In 1920s, the society was still not "Socialist". There was animosity towards the Russians and towards other nationalities on the part of the Russians, but there were also conflicts and rivalries among other nationalities.[7]

Against Great-Russian chauvinism

In 1923, at the 12th Party Congress, Stalin identified two threats to the success of the party's "nationalities policy": Great Power Chauvinism (Russian: великодержавный шовинизм, romanizedvelikoderzhavnyy shovinizm, "Great State Chauvinism) and local nationalism.[8] However, he described the former as the greater danger:

[The] Great-Russian chauvinist spirit, which is becoming stronger and stronger owing to the N.E.P., . . . [finds] expression in an arrogantly disdainful and heartlessly bureaucratic attitude on the part of Russian Soviet officials towards the needs and requirements of the national republics. The multi-national Soviet state can become really durable, and the co-operation of the peoples within it really fraternal, only if these survivals are vigorously and irrevocably eradicated from the practice of our state institutions. Hence, the first immediate task of our Party is vigorously to combat the survivals of Great-Russian chauvinism.

The main danger, Great-Russian chauvinism, should be kept in check by the Russians themselves, for the sake of the larger goal of building socialism. Within the (minority) nationality areas new institutions should be organized giving the state a national (minority) character everywhere, built on the use of the nationality languages in government and education, and on the recruitment and promotion of leaders from the ranks of minority groups. On the central level the nationalities should be represented in the Soviet of Nationalities.[7]

Creation of socialist nations

The main idea of the korenizatsiia was to grow communist cadres for every nationality. By the mid-1930s the percentage of locals in both the party and state service grew considerably.[9]

The initial period of korenizatsiia went together with the development of national-territorial administrative units and national cultures. The latter was reflected above all in the areas of language construction[10] and education.[11] For several of the small nationalities in Russia that had no literary language, a "Committee of the North"[12] helped to create alphabets so that the national languages could be taught in schools and literacy could be brought to the people in their native languages—and the minorities would thereby be brought from backwardness to the modern world.[13] And in the very large Ukrainian Republic, the program of Ukrainianization led to a profound shift of the language of instruction in schools to Ukrainian.

In 1930, Stalin proclaimed at the 16th Party Congress that building socialism was a period of blossoming of national cultures. The final goal would be to merge into one international culture with a common language. Meanwhile, the first five-year plan in 1928–1931 was a period of radicalism, utopianism and violence in an atmosphere of "cultural revolution".[verification needed] Russian cultural heritage was under attack, churches were closed and demolished, old specialists were dismissed, and science and art were proletarianized.[14]

The Bolsheviks' tactics in their struggle to neutralise nationalist aspirations led to political results by the beginning of the 1930s. The old structure of the Russian Empire had been destroyed and a hierarchical federal state structure, based on the national principle, was created. The structure was nationality-based states in which nationality cultures were blossoming, and nationality languages were spoken and used at schools and in local administration.[15] The transition was real, not merely a centralized Russian empire camouflaged.[16]

The 17th Party congress in 1934, proclaimed that the building of the material basis for a socialist society had succeeded. The Soviet Union first became an officially socialist society in 1936 when the new constitution was adopted. The new constitution stated that the many socialist nations had transformed on a voluntary basis into a harmonious union. According to the new constitution there were 11 socialist republics, 22 autonomous republics, nine autonomous regions and nine national territories. At the same time, administration was now greatly centralised. All the Republics were now harnessed to serve one common socialist state.[17]

End of korenizatsiia

Purges of national cadre

Between 1933 and 1938 korenizatsiia was not actually repealed. Its provisions merely stopped being enforced. There also began purges of the leaderships of the national republics and territories. The charge against non-Russians was that they had instigated national strife and oppressed the Russians or other minorities in the republics. In 1937, the Soviet government proclaimed that local elites had become hired foreign agents and their goal had become dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism. Now it was time to see that the Russians got fair treatment. National leaderships of the republics and autonomies were liquidated en masse.[18]

Reversal to Russification

By the mid-1930s, with purges in some of the national areas, the policy of korenizatsiia took a new turn, and by the end of the 1930s the policy of promoting local languages began to be balanced by greater Russianization, though perhaps not overt Russification or attempts to assimilate the minorities.[19] By this time, non-Russians found their appetite whetted rather than satiated by korenizatsiia and there was indication it was encouraging inter-ethnic violence to the extent that the territorial integrity of the USSR would be in danger. In addition, ethnic Russians resented the institutionalized and artificial "reverse discrimination" that benefited non-Russians and regarded them as ungrateful and manipulative as a result. Another concern was that the Soviet Union's westernmost minorities – Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, Finns etc. – who had been previously treated with conscious benevolence in order to provide propaganda value to members of their ethnic groups in nations bordering the USSR (and thus facilitating future national unification, which would then bring about territorial expansion of the USSR) were now instead increasingly seen as vulnerable to influence from across the border, "fifth columns" for expansionist states seeking to acquire Soviet territory inhabited by their own ethnic group.[20] The adherence of the masses to national rather than class identity was as strong in Russia as in other republics and regions. Between 1937 and 1953, racial policies began to creep into nationality policies, with certain nationalities seen as having immutable traits, particularly nationalities in the unstable borderlands.[21]

Moreover, Stalin seemed set on greatly reducing the number of officially recognized nationalities by contracting the official list of nationalities in the 1939 census, compared with the 1926 census.[22] The development of so-called "national schools" (национальные школы) in which the languages of minority nationalities were the main media of instruction continued, spreading literacy and universal education in many national minority languages, while teaching Russian as a required subject of study. The term korenizatsiia went out of use in the latter half of the 1930s, replaced by more bureaucratic expressions, such as "selection and placement of national cadres" (подбор и расстановка национальных кадров).

From 1937, the central press started to praise Russian language and Russian culture. Mass campaigns were organized to denounce the "enemies of the people". "Bourgeois nationalists" were new enemies of the Russian people which had suppressed the Russian language. The policy of indigenization was abandoned. In the following years, the Russian language became a compulsory subject in all Soviet schools.[23]

Pre-revolution Russian nationalism was also rehabilitated. Many of the heroes of Russian history were re-appropriated for glorification.[24] The Russian people became the "elder brother" of the "socialist family of nations".[24] A new kind of patriotism, Soviet patriotism, emerged, with national survival taking priority over ideological conflicts between communists and fascists.[23][24]

In 1938, Russian became a mandatory subject of study in all non-Russian schools. In general, the cultural and linguistic russification reflected the overall centralization imposed by Stalin. The Cyrillic script was instituted for a number of Soviet languages, including the languages of Central Asia that in the late 1920s had been given Latin alphabets to replace Arabic ones.[25]

Moldova became part of the USSR as a consequence of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Soon after, the language of the country was renamed to "Moldavian" and it ceased being written in the Latin alphabet, changing to Cyrillic. This policy would only be reversed in 1989, after large demonstrations imbued with patriotic feeling.[26] Romanian is an official language in the Moldovan constitution since its independence, and it is Moldova's sole official language today.[27] Russian is still in use but not as important as it was in the Soviet era, since it has no special status in the country and its usage as mother tongue has been declining for some time.[28][29][30]

During the Soviet era, a significant number of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians migrated to other Soviet republics, and many of them settled there. According to the last census in 1989, the Russian 'diaspora' in the Soviet republics had reached 25 million.[31]

Some historians evaluating the Soviet Union as a colonial empire ("Soviet Empire"), applied the "prison of nations" idea to the USSR. Thomas Winderl wrote "The USSR became in a certain sense more a prison-house of nations than the old Empire had ever been."[32]

See also



  1. ^ Liber, George (January 1991). "Korenizatsiia: Restructuring Soviet nationality policy in the 1920s". Ethnic and Racial Studies. 14 (1): 15. doi:10.1080/01419870.1991.9993696. ISSN 0141-9870. In April 1923 the Russian Communist Party formalized the policy of korenizatsiia (indigenization or nativization) ...
  2. ^ Nicolaïdis, Kalypso; Sebe, Berny; Maas, Gabrielle (2014-12-23). Echoes of Empire: Memory, Identity and Colonial Legacies. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-0-85773-896-7 – via Google Books. Elsewhere in the USSR, the late 1930s and the outbreak of World War II also saw some significant changes: elements of korenizatsiya were phased out... the Russians were officially anointed as the 'elder brothers' of the Soviet family of nations, whilst among historians Tsarist imperialism was rehabilitated as having had a 'progressive significance'
  3. ^ Chang, Jon K. "Tsarist continuities in Soviet nationalities policy: A case of Korean territorial autonomy in the Soviet Far East, 1923–1937". Eurasia Studies Society of Great Britain & Europe Journal.
  4. ^ Nationalities policy went through several stages. For a general timeline, see the Russian-language Wikipedia article on "Nationalities policy of Russia" (ru:Национальная политика России) For a substantive analysis, see Slezkine (1994). The korenizatsiya phase roughly spanned the period from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, though vestiges of it carried over.
  5. ^ A copy can be found here:
  6. ^ For further discussion, see Yuri Slezkine, "The USSR as a Communal Apartment, Or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism," Slavic Review 53, No. 2 (Summer 1994): 414–452.
  7. ^ a b Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, p. 79.
  8. ^ See "National Factors in Party and State Affairs – Theses for the Twelfth Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), Approved by the Central Committee of the Party," available here:
  9. ^ Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, p. 80.
  10. ^ For a highly informative yet compact summary see Slezkine (1994).
  11. ^ For a review of the national languages in education, see Barbara A. Anderson and Brian D. Silver, "Equality, Efficiency, and Politics in Soviet Bilingual Education Policy: 1934–1980," American Political Science Review 78 (December 1984): 1019–1039.
  12. ^ Committee for the Assistance to the Peoples of the Northern Borderlands.
  13. ^ Slezkine, Juri (1994). Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-8178-3.
  14. ^ Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, p. 81.
  15. ^ It's important to be aware of a terminological distinction. In the context of Soviet nationalities policy the term "national," which for clarity here has been rendered as "nationality," referred to ethnic minorities and minority territories, as opposed to central or all-Soviet institutions. In this sense, for example, when educational policy focused on expanding "national schools" (nacional'nje školu – национальные школу), it focused on schools in the traditional languages of the national minorities (Ukrainian, Tatar, Armenian, Karelian, and so forth), not on schools for the Soviet Union as a whole.
  16. ^ Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, pp. 81–82.
  17. ^ Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, p. 83.
  18. ^ Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, p. 84.
  19. ^ This distinction can be attributed to Vernon Aspaturian: Russianization is the spread of Russian language and Russian culture (and, one might add, of Russian people) into non-Russian territories and societies; Russification is the psychological transformation of the self-identities of non-Russians into Russians. See Vernon V. Aspaturian, "The Non-Russian Peoples," in Allen Kassof, Ed., Prospects for Soviet Society (New York: Praeger, 1968): 143–198. While Russianization may be a factor that fosters Russification, it is not sufficient by itself to produce it and in some circumstances may even have the opposite effect.
  20. ^ Martin 2001.
  21. ^ Law, Ian (2016). Red racisms: racism in communist and post-communist contexts. Springer. p. 19.
  22. ^ This, however, would be mainly a change on paper, not in actual ethnic or national identities. The sharply contracted list in 1939 was later expanded again for the 1959 census, though not to the number of peoples listed in 1926; the director of the 1959 census criticized the earlier effort at contraction as artificial.
  23. ^ a b Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, p. 85.
  24. ^ a b c Motyl 2001, pp. 501.
  25. ^ Armenian and Georgian kept their original and unique scripts. Many so-called "scriptless" languages, mainly of smaller nationalities in Russia, were first given scripts in Latin alphabet and later changed to Cyrillic. Other languages, in particular in Central Asia, Azerbaijan, and the North Caucasus, first adopted Latin scripts to replace Arabic scripts, and later adopted Cyrillic scripts to replace Latin scripts. Thus, the move to the Cyrillic alphabet was delayed for most non-Russian nationalities until at least the late 1930s, and full implementation of this change took time.
  26. ^ Erizanu, Paula (27 August 2021). "The Literary-musical Clubs that Sparked the Moldovan National Liberation Movement 30 Years Ago". Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  27. ^ "Moldova officially identifies its national language as Romanian". Romania Insider. 3 March 2023. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  28. ^ CHINN, JEFFREY. "The Politics of Language in Moldova" (PDF).
  29. ^ "Moldovan court overturns special status for Russian language". Reuters. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  30. ^ "Population and Housing Census in the Republic of Moldova, May 12–25, 2014". National Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Moldova. 2 August 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  31. ^ Pål Kolstø, "Political construction sites: Nation-building in Russia and the post-Soviet States". Boulder, Colorado: Westview press 2000, pp. 81–104 uncorrected version, Chapter 2, par. "Nations and Nation-Building in Eastern Europe" Archived 19 December 2017 at the Wayback Machine and Chapter 5 Archived 2 January 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  32. ^ Bekus, Nelly (2010-01-01). Struggle Over Identity: The Official and the Alternative "Belarusianness". Central European University Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-963-9776-68-5.