CHAPTER 15 THE NATIONALITY POLICY IN THE USSR

The USSR Constitution excludes such an expression of free will. Its 70th article confirms the self-determination of nations, while in opposition to it, the 78th Article states that “the frontier of a Union Republic can’t be changed without the consent of that Republic” and that “the frontier changes between two republics may take place only with the mutual consent of the two republics.” This means that the principle of the self-determination has only a formal nature and can never be exercised.

With the coming of Soviet Power cosmopolitanism declined, nationalism and shovinism gradually took its place. Many formerly multinational regions and cities became more ethnically homegeneous. The territorialization of ethnicity and the increased power of titular, nationality created new problems of national minorities. The Soviet Empire had created territorial nations, with their own state apparatuses and ruling elites. They all possessed the trappings of any sovereign state, from the national opera house to a national flag and seal, but without any real sovereignity or the right to full political expression.

The professor of Harvard University Tom Nairn calls this the establishment of “reservation culture”, i.e., ethnolinguistic culture without political nationalism was the only permissible healthy nationhood.8 Daghestan, which was a country of thirty-three nations formed an Autonomous Region inside Russia. Many nationalities founded their national script based on the Cirillic alphabet. If the Lezgiz of Russia could enjoy developing their national culture and literature than their southern part was deprived of that opportunity inside Azerbaijan. The ancient Lezgi country was mercilessly devided into two parts with the river Samas. In the “hierarchy of nations” the Lezgis were deprived of even the status of cultural autonomy.

Without considering the will of the Muslim nationalities of Azerbaijan SSR, they were all treated as one nation. The nationality Bolshevik policy was making a new nation, “Azerbaijani” nation and the scholars of that “nation” were “moulding” their history, based on historical falsification, ignoring the real past of that “nation”. Either they connected their origin with Caucasian Albania (Albania proper), claiming over the inheritance of the Albanians, or tried to “preserve” and “prove” their ethnic ties with Iranian Azarbaijan, striving for the northern Iranian territories. There also existed a third “origin”, i.e., their being a part of the Turkish nation.

Before the revolution the population of the main Transcaucasia cities was mixed, with Armenians being the most urbanized of the three peoples (Armenian, Georgian, Tatar) but in the Soviet period high rates of urbanization led to solid majority of Azerbaijanis in Baku. Tbilisi too, a city that had been dominated by Armenians and Russians both demographically and politically, achieved a Georgian majority in 1960. The foundamental contradiction between empire and emerging nations grew like a cancer within the Soviet state.

As the tsarist empire, even more, the USSR became a “prison of nations”, of those nations that had grown up within itself and were the result of Stalin’s “autonomization”. The inherently inequitable relations between the centre and the republics, and within the republics between the capital and the autonomies became intolerable as nationalities became capable of self-development. As the professor of Michigan university Ronald G. Suny wrote, “By the post – Stalin period, both titular nationalities in the union republics and minorities within republics expressed growing frusteration at restraints on development imposed by bureaucratic centralism.”

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