Separatist Nationalism in the Romanov and Soviet Empires

Theodore R. Weeks

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Nationalism

Published in print March 2013 | ISBN: 9780199209194
Published online May 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Separatist Nationalism in the Romanov and Soviet Empires


Neither the Russian Empire nor the USSR were nation-states but in many ways both favoured Russian culture and language. In the pre-revolutionary period it was difficult to discern a consistent ‘nationality policy’, in particular as the Tsar and his servitors were themselves hardly exemplars of pure Russian ethnicity. Thus policies described as ‘russification’ seldom aimed at cultural assimilation; rather, they sought to minimize the perceived danger posed by certain ‘troublesome’ nationalities (in particular Poles and Jews, to a lesser extent Muslims). In the Soviet period a far more activist nationality policy can be observed, in which—officially, at least—all language and cultures were seen as worthy of support and respect. In its first decades, the USSR did expend significant resources in support for cultural works (standardization of languages and alphabets in Central Asia, for example) and even to the very end an official bilingualism was observed in the non-Russian republics of the Union. In the end, however, USSR was far more effective at ‘russifying’ (in the sense of culturally assimilating) diverse ethnic populations than the Russian Empire had been.

Keywords: USSR; Russian Empire; russification; korenizatsiia; Poles; Central Asia

Article.  9947 words. 

Subjects: History ; European History

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