Nationalist tension has always existed within the USSR, and has always been a cause of instability and a worry to leaders. As with some other topics, we'll investigate the war and the "High Stalinism" period separately.
The War Years
- Jews, Tartars and other minority nationalities treated with hostility and suspicion
- worries that they'd ally with the Nazis
- many deported to Siberia or rounded up and sent to labour camps
- the fight for "Mother Russia" alienated many
- Nazi treatment of Jews and Slavs commonly seen as having been a major cause of Nazi loss (believed them subhuman so wouldn't allow them to fight for the Reich)
- Tartar exile 1944; Keys suggests was one of the only rational racial exiles, as many had actually allied with the Nazis - entire Tartar race (200 000 people exiled to Central Asia, with 40 000 dying on the way)
- most were fully involved in Soviet war effort
- 'Guilty by association'
- LAVER: "Stalin was obsessed with a supposed national threat"
- wartime paranoia continues
- national tensions kept at bay by totalitarian nature of regime
- LAVER: "through nationalist reform, the USSR was also discouraged"
- Poland and Hungary, 1956
- Warsaw Pact
- break from Stalinist cultural control
- Stalinist treatment of religious groups (eg Jews wanting to emigrate to Israel)
- Stagnation & poor economic growth lead to rises in national tension, especially from the better of nationalities who did not wish to be associated with Russia
- Helsinki accords lead to hope of reform
- Dissidence more potent amongst national minorities
- Prague Spring
- LAVER: "If there was a national threat then Brezhnev did not solve it"
- Deliberate 'russification' or republics/letting sleeping dogs lie
- Brezhnev Doctrine
- Olympics lead to campaign of Soviet nationalism
Gorbachev and the collapse of the USSR
- 'Glasnost' lead to hopes of national freedom
- Economic failure and 'left over' dissatisfaction lead to increased growth in nationalism
- fuelled by political moves to democracy
- LAVER: "a timebomb waiting to explode"
- break up began in nationalities
- August Coup lead many nationalities to claim independence
- break up of Warsaw pact
- trigger cause of collapse of USSR?
How significant a threat were nationalities all along?
Many historians have speculated that the national threat which came to dominate Soviet politics towards the end of the USSR had been long-existent and that it had simply reacted particularly harshly to more political freedoms and to drastic economic conditions. The threat was clearly present in some nationalities, such as Ukraine, since well before the Second World War, when Ukrainian peasants fought especially potently against the collectivisation drive; and the fact that most historians agree that the moment Ukraine seceded was essentially the moment that the USSR fell suggests that this long-existent tension was incredibly important in the collapse of the USSR.
The tensions in the Baltic states which were taken during WW2 were certainly the strongest, as they had the longest tradition of independence and were most able to remember the pre-Soviet era: thus the fact that Gorbachev's one attempt to halt secession happened as he sent tanks into Lithuania suggests that even the regime saw these as the greatest threat.
The threat of religious races has also been seen as highly significant, with the only major threat from within the USSR, under Khrushchev, being from the highly repressed Jews wishing to emigrate to their newly formed republic of Israel. Religious tensions also exacerbated problems within the Asian republics under Brezhnev, as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan faced particularly harsh repression as well as strong economic incentives to conform, with much investment being given to these.
Hope this helps! That's pretty much half your essay written for you because I got a little carried away!
Much love xo
- HistGrrl x