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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Soviet of the Union and Soviet of Nationalities

The two chambers that made up the Supreme Soviet--the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities--were selected from among the membership of the Congress of People's Deputies at the beginning of a convocation by a general vote of the deputies. The members of the Soviet of Nationalities were selected by each republic's delegation to the congress (in actuality by the republic's party officials) on the basis of eleven deputies from each union republic, four deputies from each autonomous republic (see Glossary), two deputies from each autonomous oblast (see Glossary), and one deputy from each autonomous okrug (see Glossary). The members of the Soviet of the Union were selected on the basis of the population of the union republics and regions. One-fifth of the membership of each chamber was changed each year from the pool of congress deputies.

The two-chamber system has attempted to balance the interests of the country as a whole with those of its constituent nationalities. The Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities could meet either separately or jointly. Officials elected from each chamber could preside over the sessions. Either chamber could propose legislation. Legislation passed by majorities in each chamber did not need to be referred to joint session. If the two chambers met in joint session, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet presided. If the chairman was absent, the first deputy chairman presided. Disagreements between the two chambers, if they occurred, could be referred to a conciliation commission, then back to the chambers sitting in joint session. If still unresolved, the question would be decided by the Congress of People's Deputies.

The two chambers of the Supreme Soviet have exercised equal powers and have shared equal status, although they theoretically served different purposes. The Soviet of the Union, established in 1924, grew out of the system of workers' councils at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution (see Revolutions and Civil War , ch. 2). It has been the primary venue for discussion of issues on socioeconomic development of the country as a whole, the rights and duties of citizens, foreign policy, defense, and state security. The Soviet of Nationalities, also established in 1924, ostensibly represented the interests of the national minorities in the central government. Because of its limited power, however, its significance remained more symbolic than real. Its sphere of authority included only issues of national and ethnic rights and interethnic relations. Nevertheless, the regime has traditionally pointed to the existence of this body as proof that the country's nationalities had an equal voice in decision making and policy formation.

Data as of May 1989