Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Government Dept.


Chip Hauss

Second Advisor

Guilain Denoeux


My thesis rests on the notion that, because of the increase of freedoms in the Soviet Union today, many republics are demanding that their autonomy be restored and that this nationality crisis, an unforeseen and unwanted byproduct of recent reforms, has grown into such a disaster that it is now actually impairing the whole reform movement in the Soviet Union as civil unrest and strife are beginning to threaten the stability of this huge empire.

Ethnic identity is not something that can be hidden, changed, forced, or converted, nor will national and cultural roots simply disappear over time. Thus, the coercive incorporation of different nationalities will result in resistance and ultimately in revolt, but only if enough freedom and power can be garnered and then organized by the oppressed peoples.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms uncovered a lot more than just economic and political structure problems. Unfortunately for him, he realized this a little too late. Once out of the closet, nationality tensions erupted all over the country. Originally, analysts asserted that the ethnicity crisis evolved out of the rapid changes and implementation of semidemocratic reforms, but upon a more careful examination of the situation, it is evident that the nationality problem has existed since the revolution but was merely well-hidden. The closed nature of Soviet society before Gorbachev allowed for these kinds of "secrets." As the crisis unfolded in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, it became apparent that the hostility that existed between some republics and the central Soviet government was precipitated by both a growing dissatisfaction with the Soviet system and a new-found freedom to express this vexation.

The question of how to handle this domestic dilemma in the USSR, the largest multiethnic nation in the world, has been the source of much controversy since the introduction of Gorbachev's reform program. Interethnic hostilities and discord have resulted in widespread disorder and antagonism in Russia and the other fourteen Soviet republics. Thus, while the USSR faces the monumental task of implementing perestroika a virtual economic and political facelift -it is being challenged by this other overwhelming dilemma, popularly referred to as "the nationality question," which is gradually forcing the other reforms into the background. This recent heightened awareness of nationalism has given rise to many pro-independence nationality movements, which in gaining a voice through glasnost, perhaps the most important element of perestroika, are today crying out almost in unison for independence. The question now is whether the Soviet Union will be able to hold itself together. Can a leadership that is steady losing its grip on society hold together a crumbling union?


Ethnic identity in the Soviet Union

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