The Fifth Line:

The Fifth Line What na­tional pol­icy was like in the USSR

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Stanislav Kulchyt­sky

What na­tional pol­icy the USSR pur­sued in its re­publics

Who­ever lived in the Soviet Union knows which in­for­ma­tion was hid­den in the sec­tion of the pass­port men­tioned in the ti­tle. Any­one who had the "wrong" na­tion­al­ity in­di­cated in their iden­tity doc­u­ment suf­fered from anti-Semitism on the ev­ery­day and state level. Although it is true that dur­ing the Brezh­nev era, when the Krem­lin fell into eco­nomic de­pen­dence on the West, Jews gained a rather spe­cific su­pe­ri­or­ity over all other Soviet cit­i­zens: the right to em­i­grate to Is­rael for fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion. Learn­ing Vladimir Mayakovsky's poem My Soviet Pass­port at school, I could not un­der­stand why the poet talked about his "red-skinned pass­port": the pass­port is­sued to me at the time was green. I even­tu­ally learned that Mayakovsky was talk­ing about the pass­port that was is­sued to cit­i­zens only for cross­ing the in­ter­na­tional bor­der. In­ter­nal pass­ports came about af­ter his death. I also could not un­der­stand why the line with the des­ig­na­tion of na­tion­al­ity was called the fifth. Af­ter all, in­for­ma­tion about eth­nic­ity was con­tained in the fourth line of pass­ports, im­me­di­ately af­ter sur­name, name and, ac­cord­ing to the Rus­sian cus­tom, patronymic. Even­tu­ally I learned that af­ter the Bol­she­viks came to power, na­tion­al­ity was in­di­cated af­ter so­cial back­ground in all forms, that is, it was in fifth place.

The high­est body of Soviet power, the five-per­son po­lit­i­cal bureau of the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Rus­sian Com­mu­nist Party formed in 1919, had a pe­cu­liar eth­nic com­po­si­tion: Rus­sian with care­fully con­cealed in­for­ma­tion about the Jewish ori­gin of his ma­ter­nal line (Lenin), Ukrainian

(Krestyn­skyi), Ge­or­gian (Stalin) and two Jews (Kamenev and Trot­sky). Tak­ing into ac­count the wide­spread ev­ery­day anti-Semitism in so­ci­ety, Bol­she­vik lead­ers re­sorted to per­son­nel poli­cies that dis­crim­i­nated against per­sons with the "wrong" na­tion­al­ity in­di­cated in the doc­u­ments.

To­day we hear some lament­ing "Why don't our pass­ports de­note na­tion­al­ity? I'm proud of be­ing born Ukrainian, so I de­mand that this in­for­ma­tion be in the pass­port!" It must be un­der­stood, how­ever, that in­ter­nal pass­ports were a kind of mill­stone that the Soviet gov­ern­ment put around cit­i­zens' necks. They, like many other day-to-day re­al­i­ties of our lives and men­tal­ity, re­main a relic of the pre­vi­ous era. Con­se­quently, it is worth look­ing at the na­tional pol­icy of the Soviet Com­mu­nists that was born in Lenin­ist times and per­sisted un­til the col­lapse of the USSR.


"Lenin­ist na­tional pol­icy", which af­ter the 20th Congress of the Soviet Com­mu­nist Party be­gan to be re­garded as the apex of lib­er­al­ism against the back­ground of the Stal­in­ist de­por­ta­tions of many na­tions, was made up of three com­po­nents:

● Pro­vid­ing the ethnos that made up a ma­jor­ity in each ad­min­is­tra­tivet­er­ri­to­rial divi­sion the rights and ben­e­fits of a tit­u­lar na­tion

● Pro­mot­ing the cul­ture of such tit­u­lar na­tions, as well as the ca­reer ad­vance­ment of its rep­re­sen­ta­tives through the lev­els of the Com­mu­nist Party and Soviet power ver­ti­cal

● Record­ing na­tion­al­ity in forms and iden­tity doc­u­ments (the "fifth line")

The con­cept of a tit­u­lar na­tion was in­tro­duced in the late nine­teenth cen­tury by the French writer Mau­rice Bar­rès and was sub­se­quently re­flected in con­sti­tu­tional law. This name was given to the part of the pop­u­la­tion whose na­tion­al­ity de­ter­mined the name of the state. How­ever, in the Soviet Union, the no­tion of "tit­u­lar na­tion" ac­quired a dif­fer­ent mean­ing. To show them­selves as sup­port­ers of the most rad­i­cal so­lu­tion to the na­tion­al­i­ties ques­tion, Bol­she­vik lead­ers de­clared all the eth­nic groups that con­sti­tuted the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion in each ad­min­is­tra­tivet­er­ri­to­rial unit to be tit­u­lar na­tions.

This revo­lu­tion­ary in­no­va­tion was to have an im­pres­sive ef­fect on the pop­u­la­tion of a coun­try that half con­sisted of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the dom­i­nant na­tion and half of dis­en­fran­chised mi­nori­ties. In re­al­ity, ev­ery­thing boiled down to the es­tab­lish­ment of a hi­er­ar­chy of eth­nic groups, de­fined by po­lit­i­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive di­vi­sions. At the top of the hi­er­ar­chy, as ex­pected, were the Rus­sians. They were un­of­fi­cially con­sid­ered as the tit­u­lar na­tion of the en­tire union. Those af­ter whom the union re­publics were named were con­sid­ered to be tit­u­lar na­tions of the sec­ond tier, to au­tonomous re­publics – the third tier, to na­tional re­gions – the fourth tier and to na­tional districts – the fifth tier. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of tit­u­lar na­tions liv­ing out­side their ad­min­is­tra­tive units or peo­ple of na­tion­al­i­ties who did not have such units in the USSR were con­sid­ered to be na­tional mi­nori­ties.

The pres­ence of many tit­u­lar na­tions in no way un­der­mined the priv­i­leged po­si­tion of Rus­sians, who did not con­sider them­selves a na­tional mi­nor­ity in any re­gion. The Krem­lin took care first of all of Rus­sian na­tional in­ter­ests. This was ev­i­denced by the Soviet gov­ern­ment of Ukraine's un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts to in­crease the ter­ri­tory of the repub­lic at the ex­pense of bor­der­lands in the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion in­hab­ited pre­dom­i­nantly by the Ukrainian pop­u­la­tion. At the same time, the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion was not al­lowed to de­velop Soviet and Party in­fra­struc­ture in Moscow, sim­i­lar to what ex­isted in union re­publics, that would com­pete with the all-Union cen­tre. The Rus­sian Soviet hi­er­ar­chy only con­trolled sec­ondary fa­cil­i­ties, and there was no Com­mu­nist Party hi­er­ar­chy in Rus­sia proper – all the re­gional party com­mit­tees were di­rectly sub­or­di­nated to the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Party of the Soviet Union.

Ac­cord­ing to the Con­sti­tu­tion, the tit­u­lar na­tions of union re­publics had strong state rights, up to the right of with­draw­ing from the Union and form­ing an in­de­pen­dent state. How­ever, in the struc­ture of the USSR, the prin­ci­ple of politi­cis­ing eth­nic­ity was com­bined with the prin­ci­ple of "demo­cratic cen­tral­ism", ac­cord­ing to which the lower tiers of any or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­ture were al­ways en­tirely sub­or­di­nated to higher ones. There­fore, the po­si­tion of tit­u­lar na­tions in the Soviet po­lit­i­cal sys­tem can­not be in­ter­preted in iso­la­tion from the po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity that was not de­scribed by the Con­sti­tu­tion. The cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of com­bin­ing the prin­ci­ples of "demo­cratic cen­tral­ism" and the politi­ci­sa­tion of eth­nic­ity trans­formed the Soviet Union from a fed­er­a­tion of equal re­publics into an im­pe­rial coun­try with the high­est de­gree of cen­tralised power. The Krem­lin did not de­pend ei­ther on the party, which it had sub­ju­gated to it­self, or on a so­ci­ety that had only the right to elect "Com­mu­nist and non-aligned" can­di­dates rec­om­mended by Party com­mit­tees to Soviet bod­ies of power.

The con­cept of a tit­u­lar na­tion mounted into the struc­ture of the Soviet Union fore­saw the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a cam­paign of ko­reni­sa­tion [also "ko­r­enizat­siya", "na­tivi­sa­tion", "indi­geni­sa­tion", lit­er­ally "putting down roots"], which gave each ma­jor­ity com­mu­nity the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop within its own ad­min­is­tra­tivet­er­ri­to­rial unit. It must be ad­mit­ted that the ko­reni­sa­tion cam­paign con­trib­uted to the de­vel­op­ment of the cul­ture of tit­u­lar na­tions, although the state pri­mar­ily aimed to en­root its own power. This ap­proach vin­di­cated it­self. Soviet power, which had to be es­tab­lished three times in Ukraine be­tween 1917 and 1919, lost its oc­cu­pa­tional char­ac­ter pre­cisely be­cause it man­aged to find com­mon ground with lo­cal po­lit­i­cal forces, even be­fore the 12th Party Congress pro­claimed an of­fi­cial fo­cus on ko­reni­sa­tion (in par­tic­u­lar, Ukrain­i­sa­tion) im­me­di­ately af­ter the for­ma­tion of the USSR.


Soviet Ukrain­i­sa­tion and the Ukrain­i­sa­tion of the na­tional gov­ern­ments be­tween 1917 and 1919 had a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor: derusi­fi­ca­tion. De­spite the iden­ti­cal name, th­ese cam­paigns were quite dif­fer­ent. Af­ter all, the main pur­pose of Soviet ko­reni­sa­tion in Ukraine was to force "lo­cal peo­ple" (in the words of Joseph Stalin) to serve the Krem­lin faith­fully and loy­ally. For decades, Soviet Rus­sia did not dare to ap­point a "lo-


cal man" to the high­est po­si­tion in Ukraine, Gen­eral (First) Sec­re­tary of the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Party of Ukraine: Olek­siy Kyrychenko, a Ukrainian, oc­cu­pied the post only in the Khrushchev era.

At the same time, Soviet Ukrain­i­sa­tion pro­vided a huge boost to Ukrainian cul­ture. Feel­ing like not a tit­u­lar eth­nic group, but a real na­tion in the Euro­pean sense of the word, Ukraini­ans sought to re­place their fake con­sti­tu­tional state­hood with a real one. In Fe­bru­ary 1931, a state­ment signed by some del­e­gates and guests at the 12th All-Ukrainian Congress of Sovi­ets – fac­tory work­ers in Kharkiv – was re­ceived by the Pre­sid­ium. The sig­na­to­ries were in­dig­nant that the bud­get of Ukraine, with its pop­u­la­tion of 30 mil­lion, was no big­ger than that of the 5 mil­lion strong Moscow Re­gion. They pointed to the ter­ri­ble state of the coun­try­side ("bare­foot, naked, hun­gry, hu­mil­i­ated, sup­pressed, down­trod­den and robbed worse than they were robbed by the tsarist gov­ern­ment – a hun­dred times worse than the greed­i­est cap­i­tal­ist coun­try robs its colonies"). The con­clu­sion was as fol­lows: "It is nec­es­sary to build Ukrainian Soviet state­hood, be­cause the time has come. The pop­u­la­tion has grown up: it is not say­ing much about bro­ken fences or seized apart­ments any­more, but it is speak­ing about a State. Ukrainian Soviet state­hood needs to be built, be­cause it has only just be­gun, and in our coun­try so far there has only been talk of lan­guage and cul­ture, although this is also an el­e­ment of state­hood."

The Krem­lin re­sponded to such de­mands with re­pres­sion. Peo­ple who em­bod­ied the high­est level of na­tional cul­ture found them­selves in the epi­cen­tre. They were crushed or sub­dued in hor­ri­ble ways. By de­cree of the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Party "On Grain Pur­chases in Ukraine, the North Cau­ca­sus and the Western Re­gion", the Ukrain­i­sa­tion cam­paign was stopped ev­ery­where out­side Ukraine on De­cem­ber 14, 1932. It con­tin­ued In Ukraine it­self, but the au­thor­i­ties be­gan to clearly dis­tin­guish be­tween Bol­she­vik and the Ukrain­i­sa­tion pur­sued by the Sy­mon Petliura-in­spired con­cept. In the eyes of the Bol­she­viks, their ver­sion of Ukrain­i­sa­tion en­trenched a po­lit­i­cal regime, whereas its "Petli­u­rite" equiv­a­lent was re­garded as an un­de­sir­able side ef­fect that con­trib­uted to na­tional en­thu­si­asm, in other words, act­ing against the in­ten­tions of the regime to turn a na­tion into an eth­nic group.


The cen­tral Soviet gov­ern­ment hid its re­pres­sive ac­tions be­hind a mask of un­der­lined Ukrain­ophilia. Pavlo Posty­shev, Stalin's gover­nor in the Ukrainian SSR, ex­ter­mi­nated the na­tional in­tel­li­gentsia while wear­ing vyshy­vankas, tra­di­tional em­broi­dered shirts. When lo­cal ap­pa­ratchiks un­der­stood the 1932-1933 re­pres­sions as the end of the Ukrain­i­sa­tion cam­paign, he im­me­di­ately stopped their at­tempts to limit the rights of the tit­u­lar na­tion in the Soviet sense of the term. An­other demon­stra­tion of hyp­o­crit­i­cal Ukrain­ophilia was the 1934 trans­fer of repub­li­can au­thor­i­ties from Kharkiv to the na­tional cap­i­tal of the Ukrainian peo­ple, Kyiv. Af­ter the Holodomor, the Soviet au­thor­i­ties ob­tained space for the demon­stra­tion of lib­er­al­ism in eth­nic is­sues. In 1936, pronouncedly Ukrainian in­sti­tutes for Ukrainian his­tory, the his­tory of Ukrainian folk­lore, and Ukrainian lit­er­a­ture were cre­ated at the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR.

The au­thor­i­ties pre­sented them­selves as in­ter­na­tion­al­ists. Yet they al­ways distin­guished cit­i­zens on the ba­sis of their eth­nic ori­gin. This was not sig­nif­i­cant in it­self, as in the case of the Jews, but gained sig­nif­i­cance when cou­pled with the fact that a given per­son be­longed to the tit­u­lar na­tion. Per­se­cuted in Ukraine for "bour­geois na­tion­al­ism", Ukraini­ans of­ten es­caped to the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. There they ceased to be rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the tit­u­lar na­tion, mean­ing they lost their po­lit­i­cal sta­tus. Only in that po­si­tion they were no longer dan­ger­ous to the Soviet au­thor­i­ties.

The state tried to trans­form the coun­try's pop­u­la­tion into an atomised mass by elim­i­nat­ing hor­i­zon­tal ties in so­ci­ety. But the cit­i­zens of the Ukrainian SSR and USSR per­ceived them­selves as not a face­less ethnos, but a state-form­ing na­tion. The so­cial ex­plo­sion of the first half of the 1930s was a nat­u­ral protest from vil­lagers against col­lec­tivi­sa­tion that epit­o­mised com­mu­ni­sa­tion, but the slo­gans of the Ukrainian Revo­lu­tion could be heard there con­stantly. In 1931-1932, a new so­cial ex­plo­sion was brew­ing, which was im­mea­sur­ably more dan­ger­ous for the au­thor­i­ties, as a famine had al­ready started in the coun­try, most acutely in the Ukrainian SSR. Stalin pre­vented up­heaval by cre­at­ing a sit­u­a­tion of ab­so­lute star­va­tion. At the same time, he or­gan­ised a ter­ri­ble famine in the North Cau­ca­sus, where al­most half of the districts had been Ukrainised. It was thus dic­tated to Ukraini­ans of the North Cau­ca­sus, who sought to ob­tain tit­u­lar na­tion rights by re­u­nit­ing with the Ukrainian SSR, that they should be Rus­sian.

Af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of in­ter­nal pass­ports in De­cem­ber 1932, the Soviet au­thor­i­ties launched a cam­paign against "per­sonal opin­ions" when de­ter­min­ing the na­tion­al­ity of a cit­i­zen. When ap­ply­ing for a pass­port, it was nec­es­sary to prove the real na­tion­al­ity of par­ents us­ing doc­u­ments. From


1937, em­ploy­ees of in­sti­tu­tions that recorded civil sta­tus were obliged to note the par­ents' na­tion­al­i­ties in birth cer­tifi­cates. On April 2, 1938, the Cen­tral Po­lice Depart­ment of the NKVD is­sued the fol­low­ing or­der: "When is­su­ing pass­ports to per­sons born to par­ents of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties, the na­tion­al­ity field should not be filled in ac­cord­ing to what the ap­pli­cant says, rather the na­tion­al­ity of the par­ents should be in­di­cated, not spec­i­fy­ing the na­tion­al­ity of the pass­port holder".

Per­sons who gave false in­for­ma­tion about their na­tion­al­ity were ex­posed to great trou­bles. The re­port "On the progress of ver­i­fy­ing party doc­u­ments in the Myko­layiv City Party Or­ga­ni­za­tion as of Au­gust 10, 1935", reads about "Volodymyr Kamin­skyi, head of the work­shop group at Plant 61. He is ac­cused of con­ceal­ing his na­tion­al­ity, He is a Pole, but wrote that he is a Ukrainian".


What is left of "Lenin­ist na­tional pol­icy" now? Not as lit­tle as it may seem at first glance. The process of form­ing a civil so­ci­ety in post-Soviet coun­tries be­gan from scratch af­ter they gained in­de­pen­dence. Civil so­ci­ety is, when looked at in an­other di­men­sion, a po­lit­i­cal na­tion which unites the hold­ers of pass­ports that say "cit­i­zen of Ukraine" of any eth­nic ori­gin. In Soviet times, a po­lit­i­cal na­tion could not be formed from the con­glom­er­ate of tit­u­lar na­tions on dif­fer­ent lev­els, ei­ther on a coun­try­wide scale or in­side the rather ar­bi­trary bor­ders of union re­publics. It is also clear that af­ter the col­lapse of the USSR, many Rus­sians in Ukraine ha­bit­u­ally feel like a tit­u­lar na­tion of the first tier, which fu­els in­con­ve­niences and com­pli­ca­tions. In­stead, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Ukraini­ans once af­fected by homo soveti­cus syn­drome have started to see them­selves as a tit­u­lar na­tion of the first tier, and Rus­sians as a na­tion of the sec­ond tier.

Putin's prac­tice of pro­tect­ing his "com­pa­tri­ots" and the ul­tra-right na­tion­al­ism of some Ukrainian ac­tivists form an ex­plo­sive mix that im­pedes the for­ma­tion of a Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal na­tion and pro­motes the for­ma­tion of a strate­gic en­emy's fifth col­umn in Ukraine. Con­se­quently, we must un­der­stand the danger of "Lenin­ist na­tional pol­icy" not only as a his­tor­i­cal phe­nom­e­non, but also as a fac­tor af­fect­ing the present.

Pavlo Posty­shev. Joseph Stalin's gover­nor in the Ukrainian SSR, is known for ex­ter­mi­nat­ing the na­tional in­tel­li­gentsia

Win­ning the na­tions. Peo­ple at Kurenivka, a district of Kyiv, rally with posters fea­tur­ing com­mu­nist slo­gans in Ukrainian in 1928. Soviet au­thor­i­ties were try­ing to gain the loy­alty of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion for the Krem­lin through their pol­icy of...

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