Ukrainization was the implementation of Korenizatsiya policy in Soviet Ukraine. This 1921 Soviet recruitment to the Military Education poster featured the Ukrainization theme. The text reads: "Son! Enroll in the school of Red commanders, and the defence of Soviet Ukraine will be ensured." The poster uses traditional Ukrainian imagery and Ukrainian-language text. The School of Red Commanders in Kharkiv was organized to promote the careers of the Ukrainian national cadre in the army.

Korenizatsiya (Russian: коренизация; IPA: [kərʲɪnʲɪˈzatsɨjə]), sometimes also called korenization, meaning "nativization" or "indigenization", literally "putting down roots", was the early Soviet nationalities policy promoted mostly in the 1920s but with a continuing legacy in later years. The primary policy consisted of promoting representatives of titular nations of Soviet republics and national minorities on lower levels of the administrative subdivision of the state, into local government, management, bureaucracy and nomenklatura in the corresponding national entities. The term derives from the Russian term "коренное население" (korennoye naseleniye, "root population") for indigenous nationals.

Among the stated goals of the policy were the addressing of the relative economic backwardness of certain regions of the former Russian Empire, undoing the forced russification of oppressed nations under the Russian empire, and harmonizing the relationship between the nations of the Soviet Union by carrying the national and ethnic policies that would appeal to the wide masses of the local people in the ethnically non-Russian areas. Korenization implied the introduction of the local languages into all spheres of public life and usage of the local languages to the widest possible extent, particularly, in education, publishing, culture, and, most importantly, government and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Not only was the local cadre of the titular nations to be promoted at all levels but the ethnic Russians who served in the local governments were encouraged (or required) to learn the local culture. In most cases korenizatsiya was preceded by the delimitation of nationality-based borders for administrative and political units within the Soviet Union.


The nationalities policy[1] 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, at the time a very ethnically diverse city (capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire). Stalin reported back to Moscow with the ideas for the policy. It was summarized in Stalin's pamphlet (his first scholarly publication), Marxism and the National Question (1913).[2] Ironically Stalin would also be the major proponent of its eventual dismemberment and the reemergence of Russification.

Faced with the massive non-Russian opposition to his regime, Lenin in late 1919 convinced his associates their government had to stop the cultural administrative and linguistic policies it was following in the non-Russian republics. As adopted in 1923 korenizatziya 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 "natssoviety" (nationality councils) in their own "natsraiony" (nationality regions) based on concentrations of minorities within what were minority republics.[3] For example, in Ukraine in the late 1920s there were even natssoviety for Russians and Estonians.

This policy was meant to partially reverse decades of Russification, or promotion of Russian identity culture and language in non-Russian territories that had taken place during the imperial period. It won over many previously anti-bolshevik non-Russians throughout the country. It also provoked hostility among some Russians and Russified non-Russians in non-Russian republics.

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.[4]

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 chauvinism) and local nationalism.[5] 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.[4]

Creation of socialist nations

The main idea of the Korenizatsiya 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.[6]

The initial period of korenizatsiya 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[7] and education.[8] For several of the small nationalities in Russia that had no literary language, a "Committee of the North"[9] 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.[10] 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". Russian cultural heritage was under attack, churches were closed, old specialists were dismissed, and science and art were proletarianized.[11]

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.[12] The transition was real, not merely a centralized Russian empire camouflaged.[13]

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.[14]

End of korenization

Purges of national cadre

Between 1933 and 1938 korenizatsiya 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 it was proclaimed that local elites had become hired 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.[15]

Reversal to Russification

By the mid-1930s, with purges in some of the national areas, the policy of korenizatsiya 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.[16]

Moreover, the country's leader 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.[17] 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 korenizatsiya 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.[18]

The pre-revolution Russian nationalism was also rehabilitated. Many of the heroes of Russian history were glorified. The Russian people became the "elder brother" of the "Socialist family of nations". A new kind of patriotism, Soviet patriotism, was declared to mean a willingness to fight for the Socialist fatherland.[18]

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.[19]

See also



  1. 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.
  2. A copy can be found here: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1913/03.htm.
  3. 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.
  4. 1 2 Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, p. 79.
  5. 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: http://www.marx2mao.com/Stalin/NF23.html.
  6. Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, p. 80.
  7. For a highly informative yet compact summary see Slezkine (1994).
  8. 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.
  9. Committee for the Assistance to the Peoples of the Northern Borderlands.
  10. Yuri Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994) (ISBN 0-8014-8178-3).
  11. Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, p. 81.
  12. 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" (natsional'nye shkoly -- 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.
  13. Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, pp. 81–82.
  14. Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, p. 83.
  15. Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, p. 84.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 1 2 Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000, p. 85.
  19. 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.


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