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Characteristics of the population of the Soviet Union


Soviet Jews
Soviet Jews

The borders of the union republics invariably encompassed groups other than the titular nationality, and migration, especially of Russians out from the RSFSR, also heightened their ethnic pluralism. The titular groups were the largest community in all union republics in 1989, but there was much variation. At one pole, the indigenous Armenians constituted 93.3 percent of the population of the Armenian republic; at the other, Kazakhs were only 39.7 percent of the population of their republic. There was one union republic (Kazakhstan) in which the titular people made up less than 50 percent of the population, two republics (Latvia and Kirgizia) where the titular people barely cleared 50 percent, and three (Estonia, Moldavia, and Tajikistan) where they composed between 60 and 65 percent. In the capital cities of seven of the 14 non-Russian republics, the titular nationality was less than 50 percent of the population, and in two it was 51 percent. Ethnic Russians, 81.5 percent of the population of the RSFSR, were second to the titular group in all union republics except Armenia, Georgia, and Moldavia.

The orienting principles of Soviet nationality policy were applied in different ways in different periods. In the early years, the emphasis was on the cultural autonomy of the minorities.

A more rigidly pro-Russian approach was introduced in the mid-1930s, followed by arrests of the political and cultural leaders of most non-Russian republics, and by the wholesale deportation during World War II of several groups—the Germans of Ukraine and the Volga basin, the Chechens, and the Crimean Tatars among them—unjustly accused of pro-Nazi sympathies. After 1953 the CPSU allowed most of the banished peoples to return and moderated its stance, although it did not hesitate to use force against open critics of the system.

Rhetoric about the long-term “fusion” of the Soviet peoples aside, efforts to assimilate the non-Russians focused on education, linguistic integration, migration, and intermarriage. Ethnic relations became more strained in the 1970s and 1980s.

One reason was the perception among some Russians that the Soviet Union catered too much to other nationalities and that higher birthrates among non-Russians were about to deprive Russians of their slim demographic majority. At the same time, dissent and impatience with Moscow’s domination picked up pace on the non-Russian side, especially in the Baltic republics and Ukraine. Many Soviet Jews, deprived of a territorial unit, alienated by frequent occurrences of anti-Semitism, and frustrated by the lack of economic opportunity, sought to emigrate to Israel or other destinations. Bowing to Western pressure, the Soviet government grudgingly allowed several hundred thousand to leave. Ethnic Germans also departed in large numbers. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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