Taking you through AQA A2 History of the Soviet Union in as little time and as little pain as possible... see you on results day!


16 June 2010, AM

13 June 2010

Essay Plan: Nationalism

This question isn't specifically about a longer period of time, such as the thematic questions tend to be, but it's important, I think, to address both long and short term issues when answering it.

To what extent was the failure of the Soviet leadership to address the potential threat from nationalism early enough responsible for the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991?

Although most historians agree that a considerable number of factors contributed to the break-up of the USSR in 1991, most state that the explosion of tensions within the nationalities were the major trigger for this. National tension had existed within the USSR since its very creation, with Ward stating that Lenin's greatest error was to allow republics to maintain their own names and governments rather than uniting them under one, central government, as this allowed for national movements to continue beneath the surface from 1917, so that when economic and political pressures became too much, as they did under Gorbachev, the nationalist threats all rose at once, creating serious problems for the government in Moscow. As Laver states, "the nationalities problem was a time-bomb waiting to explode".

- 1940 secession of Baltic States to USSR means that national tension especially strong
- Comparative openness under Khrushchev lead many to expect better & this tension continued to grow (eg Hungary, which was first Eastern Bloc nation to open its borders, 1988)
- major problems begin under Brezhnev - LAVER: "Letting sleeping dogs lie"
- LAVER: "If there was a nationalities problem then Brezhnev did not solve it"
- Helsinki groups
- Glasnost created greater problems with raised expectations
- BRESLAUR: "Gorbachev's greatest error was not to reconcile the results of glasnost with the rise of nationalism in the USSR"
- Ukraine's secession out of USSR seen as the moment at which the USSR finally knew it would collapse
- benefit of hindsight - WARD's comment that no one saw it coming

- MARPLES: "Gorbachev failed to recognise that Yeltsin and the radicals were the future"
- failures of perestroika = collapsing economy
- failure to make any decent decision about the economy
- allowing the Eastern Bloc to secede
- concentration on foreign policy
- August coup
- rise of other political parties
- political uncertainty and reshuffle of party organs etc

- had nationalism been combatted sooner, the USSR may not have collapsed when it did
- however other fundamental problems made the collapse inevitable, as Laver suggests

Last time I tried this essay, I singularly failed to understand it. I think this plan is kinda good, though, so YAY! :)


- HistGrrl x


  1. Thank you so much. This whole site has helped me a lot through my History A Level.

    1. You're very welcome!

      I hope it goes well for you :)


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