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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union


The official Soviet census of 1989 listed over 100 nationalities in the Soviet Union (see table 13, Appendix A). Each had its own history, culture, and language. Each possessed its own sense of national identity and national consciousness. The position of each nationality in the Soviet Union depended to a large degree on its size, the percentage of the people using the national language as their first language, the degree of its integration into the Soviet society, and its territorial-administrative status. This position was also dependent on each nationality's share of membership in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), the number of students in higher institutions, the number of scientific workers, and the urbanization of each nationality.

The various nationalities differed greatly in size. On the one hand, the Russians, who constituted about 50.8 percent of the population, numbered about 145 million in 1989. On the other hand, half of the nationalities listed in the census together accounted for only 0.5 percent of the total population, most of them having fewer than 100,000 people. Twenty-two nationalities had more than 1 million people each. Fifteen of the major nationalities had their own union republics, which together comprised the federation known as the Soviet Union.

The nationalities having union republic status commanded more political and economic power than other nationalities and found it easier to maintain their own language and culture. In 1989 some nationalities formed an overwhelming majority within their own republics; one nationality (the Kazakhs), however, lacked even a majority. In addition to the fifteen union republics, individual nationalities had their own territorial units, such as autonomous republics, autonomous oblasts, and autonomous okruga (see table 14, Appendix A). The remaining nationalities did not have territorial units of their own and in most cases only constituted minorities in the Russian Republic (see table 15, Appendix A).

The nationalities that have had a significant political and economic impact on the Soviet Union include the fifteen nationalities that have their own union republics and the non-union republic nationalities that numbered at least 1 million people in 1989. They are the Slavic nationalities, the Baltic nationalities, the nationalities of the Caucasus, the Central Asian nationalities, and a few other nationalities.

Data as of May 1989