Psychosis of nationalities appeared simultaneously with Soviet regime
Vestnik Kavkaza together with Vesti FM is implementing the project ‘National Question’, trying to figure out how the problems between different nationalities are resolved in different countries and nations by different governments at different times. Today, a man who has devoted many years to researching the Soviet and Russian societies, PhD Valery Tishkov, visited the hosts of the program, Vladimir Averin and Gia Saralidze.
Saralidze: Today we are talking about a single unity called 'the Soviet people'. What exactly was the myth? What has been done in this direction, and what hasn't? When did this phrase appear?
Tsipko: Before the revolution of 1917 there was a single unity called 'the Orthodox Russian people'. The birth certificate of my grandfather doesn't mention his ethnicity, nor the ethnicity of his parents, but only about religion. If the father was a Lutheran and the mother was an Orthodox believer, the baby also "became" Orthodox in Russia.
The psychosis about nationalities, which became rather painful, appeared simultaneously with the Soviet regime, a fifth column 'nationality' appeared. But pre-revolutionary nationalism, even the most terrible, wasn't ethnic, it was religious.
Averin: Excuse me, but what about the parties that emerged in Transcaucasia, weren't they nationalist before the revolution?
Tsipko: We're talking about the majority, Slavic and Orthodox. Before the revolution there were neither Uzbeks nor Turkmens, nor Kyrgyz, nor Kazakhs. There was Khiva, and Bukhara. Increased attention to nationality played a certain role in these revolutionary events, the idea of the sovereignty of the Russian Federation already existed in 1918.
The Soviet people was a very reasonable and humane trend, which was intended to escape from ethnicization. There is Lenin's synopsis of works on the national question, which was included in the collection of works of 1937, but wasn't included in the complete set of works. We can see how difficult it was for Lenin. On the one hand, as a democrat, he recognizes the right of a nation to self-determination, that's why the constitution remained, and on the other hand, he was terribly afraid of cultural-national autonomies: "Cultural-national autonomies and bourgeois individualism are against the principles of internationalism."
The contradictory attitude of Bolshevism to the question of nationalities was very noticeable. But the Bolsheviks began to support the national liberation movement, which was usual for Tsarist Russia, and started to create national elites, because they needed the support of the local population and local elites, who fought against the Russian Empire.
Saralidze: Did they want to use this power simply to destroy the empire?
Tsipko: Yes. But to unite it as well. Read Stalin's report for the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party in 1921. It's very topical, it's the Ukrainian theme. Stalin said: "Yes, today the Ukrainian nation dominates in Odessa and Kharkov, but the day will come when Russian-speaking Odessa becomes a Ukrainian city." Why were they doing this? Because they wanted to drag a variety of movements, including nationalist ones, from the Soviet power side. Immediately after the February Revolution, the idea of Ukrainian autonomy appeared, the idea of Ukrainian federalism appeared in May 1917. This was a profound contradiction of the Soviet era. On the one hand, there was a desire to support the national movements and ideas of national identity, which had already emerged within the Russian Empire. But on the other hand, a desire to get away from autonomies and create a united Soviet people.
Averin: But the establishment of a single unity was only announced in the 1977 Constitution.
Tsipko: I was born in 1941, as a person I was formed under the Soviet regime. I have Polish, Latvian ancestors, and among the Greater and Lesser Russians. And remember, this is Odessa. The imperial consciousness that Russia is your state, your country and your culture was strong there. Maybe it's left over from the pre-revolutionary years. But no one has ever raised, for example, the Jewish problem there, no one tried to figure out the nationality of each other. The only thing is that my grandmother before her death showed me the revenue houses of her uncle Pavel Shapovalov in Odessa. So I can go to Odessa and demand an enormous fortune from Saakashvili.
It was the culture of the historical single unity. Despite all the criticism of Soviet, Stalinist totalitarianism, the major achievement of the Soviet authorities from a humanist point of view is that there was no ethnic approach in a multi-ethnic country. A Jewish problem existed, let's face it. When I arrived from Odessa to Moscow, I was very surprised. It's a shame for the Soviet system, if you do not want to abandon being Jewish, then you appeared on these lists. However, there was no Russian nationalism. The ethnic approach emerged in the late 1960s or early 1970s, but it was not dominant.
Averin: But there were nations that were ethnically deported from their native lands – Chechens, Balkans, Kumyks. So, the ethnic principle still existed in Soviet times?
Tsipko: I am against such deportations, of course. But Stalin did not come from an ethnic approach, in the sense that these people were worse than others. From his point of view, according to the documents, these nations cooperated with the Germans more actively than others. Crimean Tatars, for example, did not meet the Germans as, for example, they were met in Lviv, but in their time they were on the side of Wrangel, against the Red Army. And the western Ukrainians in Lviv thought that Hitler's new regime would be more humane, more loyal to them. They were wrong.
Saralidze: You say that there were no problems of national identity in the Soviet Union, but national republics had all the attributes of statehood – flags, anthems, national emblems, as well as universities, television, education in the national language and literature. Such a socio-cultural community with socio-cultural characteristics, ideology and mentality was created. It is clear what kind of national identity there was in different regions of the Soviet Union. There were patterns of behavior, values, criteria, including spiritual life.
But nationalist movements appeared by the 1990’s. I remember these national movements in Georgia. But it was a small part of the people. The majority was quite conservative in this sense. Could nationalist problems have been one of the main catalysts of the collapse of the Soviet Union?
Tsipko: The overwhelming majority of the Soviet people had an equal attitude towards representatives of other peoples. People’s nationalities are unimportant for me. I pay attention to moral, spiritual and intellectual qualities. This is typical for many people.
I remember when the first secretary of the Communist Party of Latvia, Boris Pugo, a Soviet person, came from the Komsomol Central Committee, he looked at my face: "You probably have Latvian roots?" "Yes, my grandfather was half Latvian." "You have to go to the native land of your relatives." I was sent to Riga. They told me there why the stele was turned to the west rather than the east on the square. We visited a cemetery of Latvians who fought against Red Latvians. It was typical for a part of the elite, which was allegedly pro-Communist.
I remember in 1975 and 1976 when a driver told me on the way from the airport in Estonia: "We don't live badly, but I have a feeling that you, the Soviet Russians, regard us Estonians like a hunter in the forest who steps on ants and doesn’t even feel it." An ordinary Estonian said this. This is the ‘’inheritance’' of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was perceived by the Baltic nations and the western part of Ukraine. In 1941 we managed to destroy a third of the intelligentsia before the Germans appeared there.
Russian people are generous, they forgave Stalin everything, but small nations could not do it. Therefore, the roots of nationalism and the desire for isolation were both in the Baltic states, and in western Ukraine, and in Armenia. When I studied at the Department of Philosophy, two of my classmates remembered Dashnaktsutyun and talked about independence.
Saralidze: Only at the everyday level?
Tsipko: No, it wasn't at the everyday level. Nikolai Alekseev, the philosopher, jurist, one of the ideologists of Eurasianism in the late 1920’s wrote: "The use of the nationalist factor, joining the national elites, gave tremendous resilience to the Soviet system, but the day will come when the established national cultural elite with a sense of national identity, etc may begin to demand withdrawal from the USSR and autonomy for further development.... As the central government weakens, the national elites created by the Soviet power will become the main subject of the collapse of Russia."
Averin: The other day Putin described the ideas of Lenin as "an atomic bomb under the Soviet Union."
Tsipko: At the very beginning I remembered about Lenin’s torments. He worked a lot. When he was preparing his report in 1912 on the nationalist problem he read dozens of serious books. He wanted to realize the principle of the "people's right to self-determination," but I was afraid of this.
Take into account that Lenin and his associates were fanatics. They looked at the world in a different way. They thought that they were beginning a new phase of human history, the construction of socialism. They were deeply convinced that there was no way back. As for Stalin, he understood that war against the West was unavoidable. He supported Trotsky’s viewpoint, the idea that the war would not be defensive, but offensive. As for Khrushchev, he not only handed over the Crimea from the RSFSR, he also handed over some territories of Kazakhstan, along with the current Astana and Karaganda that were given from the Russian Federation to Kazakhstan.
From a moral point of view it was a utopia, and the people who created our country stuck to this utopian viewpoint.
Saralidze: Answering the question of self-identification, 27,000 people identified their nationality as Soviet during the census in 2010 in Russia. Perhaps the Soviet authorities tried to create a community of 'the Soviet people' as an attempt to replace religion. Did it replace religion when people identified themselves as Soviet?
Tsipko: It was a belonging to an ideology, or to some special historical mission, but historical reality was behind it. The Russian Empire didn’t have any special rights of the metropolis, as there was in the British Empire. Russian people had even fewer rights. Serfdom in Central Russia and Ukraine was more terrible than in Georgia. There was no serfdom in the Baltic States. In this sense, the metropolis was more progressive, though there was also the Caucasian War, etc. If the identification was not ethnic but religious at the time, so now it is ideological identification. For example, the victory in the Great Patriotic War.
Saralidze: Maybe the victory can be considered as proof that a "Soviet people" community existed.
Tsipko: Certainly. All the peoples expressed heroism and selflessness. It played a huge role in the rapprochement. While in exile, Denikin wrote that we had overcome the main trouble of the Russian nation – the split between the ruling class and the majority of the population. From this point of view, the Soviet Union did not approach on a nationalist basis, but on the basis of the community’s destiny.
Even common vice in the Soviet system brought people together: the absence of democracy, 'restrictions on travel abroad', the 'Iron Curtain'.
Saralidze: It is no coincidence that people who overcame starvation during the 1930’s had an office after an attempt at the 'usurpation' of the Ukrainian Holodomor. Why was this trouble taken away...
Tsipko: The most tragic fact is that the main factor of the disintegration of the Slavic part was the idea of the sovereignty of the RSFSR. I remember I was arguing in a live television broadcast on Radio Russia with Oleg Poptsova, a major figure in television who supported Yeltsin. I said, "What are you doing? The sovereignty of the RSFSR will negate all the achievements of World War II, and Crimea, together 200-300 years of history, will perish together with Ukraine!’’
Then I got the reply: "You do not want us to live well." The historical tragedy is that the main initiator of the collapse of the main part of Russia, the Slavic part of Russia, were precisely the Great Russians.
Saralidze: Now we see echoes of that community of 'the Soviet people'. We see that all the people who lived in the Soviet Union, and even those who were born later, see the difference between the former Soviet Union and the non-CIS states.
Tsipko: Nevertheless, a new generation has been brought up. The fundamental error of all our Ukrainian policies was that we didn’t take this into account. There was no separatism in Kiev after 1990. But a new generation brought up outside the Soviet Union is outside of that which was important to us.