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Soviet Union


Russians have been the largest and most dominant nationality in both the Soviet Union and its predecessors, the Russian Empire and Muscovy. From the time of Muscovy's rise as the dominant principality in the northeast of the territory of Kievan Rus', a Russian state continually extended its territory and enabled Ivan III (1462-1505) to proclaim himself "Ruler of all Rus'." Peter the Great (1682-1725) established the Russian Empire, which during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reached the Baltic Sea in the northwest and the Black Sea in the southwest, the Pacific Ocean in the east, and the Pamirs in the south (see fig. 3). The Romanov Dynasty, which promoted Russian administrative control over the disparate nationalities in its domain, ruled for three centuries until it was overthrown in February 1917 (according to the Julian calendar; March 1917 according to the Gregorian calendar). After the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in October 1917 (November 1917), Russian domination of political, economic, and cultural life in the Soviet Union continued despite the rule of Joseph V. Stalin, who was Georgian by birth. Yet throughout their history, Russians themselves were subjected to oppressive rulers, whether tsarist or communist. Particularly devastating since the advent of communist rule in November 1917 were the Civil War (1918-21), forced collectivization and industrialization, the Great Terror (see Glossary), and World War II, each of which resulted in extreme hardship and loss of great numbers of Russian people.

According to the 1989 census, some 145 million Russians constituted just over half of the population of the Soviet Union, although their share of the total has been declining steadily. A low fertility rate among the Russians and a considerably higher fertility rate among the peoples of Soviet Central Asia may make Russians a minority nationality by the year 2000.

Most Russians lived in the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (Russian Republic), an immense area occupying threefourths of the Soviet Union and stretching from Eastern Europe across the Ural Mountains and Siberia to the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean. Many other nationalities lived in the Russian Republic. Sixteen of the twenty autonomous republics were located here, as well as five of the eight autonomous oblasts and all ten of the autonomous okruga. But Russians also constituted substantial minorities in the populations of most non-Russian union republics in the Soviet Union (see table 16, Appendix A). Only a small percentage of Russians claimed fluency in the languages of the non-Russian republics in which they resided.

In the late 1980s, Russians were the second most urban nationality in the Soviet Union (only Jews were proportionally more urbanized). Russians constituted about two-thirds of the entire urban population of the Soviet Union; all major cities in the Soviet Union had a large Russian population. In addition, Moscow, the largest city and capital of the Soviet Union, served as the administrative center for the Russian Republic. The domination by Russians has been evident in almost every phase of Soviet life and has increased in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1972, 62.5 percent of the members of the Politburo, the highest organ of the CPSU, were Russians. In 1986 the percentage of Russians rose to 84.6 and then to 89 in 1989. Generally, Russians were the party second secretaries and the chiefs of the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti--KGB) in non-Russian republics. Russians also constituted a majority of CPSU membership, amounting to about 61 percent in the 1980s. Only Jews and Georgians have also had representation in the party that was higher than their proportion of the population. Russian dominance of the CPSU has also helped them dominate Soviet society.

Russians held a high percentage of the most important positions in government, industry, agriculture, education, science, and the arts, especially in the non-Russian republics. The number of Russians attending higher education institutions also was disproportionate to their share of the population. Only Jews, Armenians, and Georgians had a proportionally higher number of students at these institutions.

Russian language and culture has had special status throughout the Soviet Union. The Russian language has been the common language in government organizations as well as in most economic, social, and cultural institutions. Higher education in many fields has been provided almost exclusively in Russian, and mastery of that language has been an important criterion for admission to institutions of higher learning. Administrative and supervisory posts in non-Russian republics were often held by Russians having little knowledge of the native language. In 1986 Russian was the language used to publish 78 percent of the books by number of titles and 86 percent of the books by number of copies. The publication of magazines and newspapers printed in Russian and in the other indigenous languages has been equally disproportionate.

The homeland of about 119.8 million Russians and over 27 million non-Russian nationalities, the Russian Republic also provided substantial industrial, agricultural, and natural resources to the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, in 1989 the Russian Republic, alone among the fifteen union republics, had party apparatus separate from that of the CPSU. The functions performed in non-Russian republics by republic-level CPSU organizations were performed for the Russian Republic by the central agencies of the CPSU.

Data as of May 1989

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