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The USSR's founding agreement of 1922 and its Constitution of 1924 gave it the form of a federal state that was organized according to national principles. This marked the beginning of a phase of limited autonomy for the non-Russian ethnic groups living in Soviet Russia and the blossoming of nationalism, which sometimes went as far as the actual formation of nations. Not only the large nationalities, but even the smaller, scattered peoples were given the opportunity to form their own national administrative territories. The will of the Communist Partywhich was expressed in the program of the Twelfth Party Congress in 1923was that all Soviet institutions in non-Russian areas, including courts, administrative authorities, all economic bodies, the labor unions, even the party organs themselves, should consist as much as possible of local nationality cadres. Korenizatsya was supposed to protect and nurture the autochthonous population's way of life, its customs and traditions, and its writing system and language. Up to the middle of the 1930s, korenizatsya was a central political slogan whose program was diametrically opposed to a policy of Russification and national repression.

Especially in the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, korenizatsya (which is also referred to in research literature as indigenization or Stalin's nativization campaign) achieved significant success. Forty-eight nationalities, including the Turk-men, Kirgiz, Komi, and Yakut peoples, received a written language for the first time. The status of the Ukrainian language greatly increased. In Belarus a strong and lasting national awakening occurred. The use of the national languages in schools and as administrative languages was, without a doubt, a nation-forming factor. The proportion of national cadres greatly increased in all sectors. Attributes of nation states, such as national academies of science, national theater, national literature, national historical traditions, and the like, were established or consolidated and staffed by indigenous personnel.

However, with the social revolution that started in 1929, the policy of korenizatsya got into a conflict that some researchers consider to have caused its end. The forced industrialization promoted centralization and Russification. The modernization demand of the Bolsheviks collided with the promise of korenizatsya to respect local customs. The women's policy in Central Asia is an example of this conflict. Collectivization was even more strongly perceived as an attack on the nationalities. National autonomy, which could have provided a framework for organized resistance to collectivization, was revoked by the Stalinist state power and increasingly relegated to formal elements. National communists were eliminated. Many of the indigenous elites produced by the korenizatsya program frequently did not survive the purges of 1937 and 1938. However, they were replaced by new, compliant cadres of the same ethnic group.

Especially when viewed against the background of the rigid Russification policy of tsarist Russia, the korenizatsya policy can be considered to represent significant progress in the treatment of the nationalities. In the cultural area the achievements of korenizatsya still continue to have an effect up to the present day. They provided an important foundation for the relatively smooth emergence of independent national states after the breakup of the USSR in 1991. Of course, it should be noted that the federal structure of the Soviet State had a centrally organized Communist Party opposite it, which, together with the state security organs, was always in a position to limit national autonomy, or, if the party required it, even to eliminate it entirely. Thus, in the time after 1935, the blossoming of the nationalities was purely a propaganda backdrop, in front of which the Father of Nations (that is, Stalin) staged his increasingly Great Russiaoriented policy.

See also: komi; nationalism in the soviet union; nationalities policies, soviet; sakha and yakuts; turkmenistan and turkmen; ukraine and ukrainians


Martin, Terry. (2001). The Affirmative Action Empire. Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 19231939. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Simon, Gerhard. (1991). Nationalism and Policy toward the Nationalities in the Soviet Union: From Totalitarian Dictatorship to Post-Stalinist Society. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Smith, Jeremy. (1999). The Bolsheviks and the National Question, 19171923. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Robert Maier