Conference e-mail

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki

Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Andrey Shcherbak (Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia)

Nationalities Policy in the USSR: Explaining "the pendulum swing" by Randall Collins' Geopolitical Theory

This project aims to explain the alternation of phases in the Soviet nationalities policy by developments in foreign policy. Our previous work has revealed the alteration of “soft” (with main emphasis on multiculturalism, or “indigenization”/”korenizatsiya”) and “hard” (with focus on assimilation, or Russification) waves of Soviet nationalities policy. These findings show the reactive nature of Soviet nationalities policy: first, each new wave emerges as a response to the failures of the previous period, and, second, the Soviet political leadership failed to find an optimal balance between interests of ethnic majority and ethnic minorities. This project aims to make one more step forward and provides a promising theoretical perspective on internal logic of the Soviet nationalities policy. Using the theoretical framework of the Randall Collins’ geopolitical theory we assume the effect of geopolitical tensions/ geopolitical stability on the patterns of nationalism and nationalities policy in the USSR. Collins argues that geopolitical stability positively affects the cosmopolitan/ multicultural pattern in nationalities policy, while the periods of geopolitical tension are associated with the pattern of assimilation. At first sight, Soviet nationalities policy does not contradict this theory: in the previous research I revealed that ‘tight’ phases coincide with the periods of geopolitical tensions in 1940-55 (WWII) and in 1971-85 (the war in Afghanistan). However, this assumption needs to be tested in further research. This study requires collecting dataset on the USSR engagement in geopolitical conflicts, international crises and wars in 1917-1991. Then this dataset has to be matched with data on the Soviet nationalities policy. Our preliminary tests show that data fit theoretical expectations: international security issues had a significant effect on Soviet nationalities policy. These findings may shed a new light on recent developments in Russian nationalism and nationalities policy, especially after the Crimean crisis.