Passport system in the Soviet Union

Passport system in the Soviet Union

The passport system in the Soviet Union underwent a number of transformations in the course of its history. In the late Soviet Union citizens of age sixteen or older had to have an internal passport. In addition, a passport for travel abroad ( _ru. заграничный паспорт, загранпаспорт, "zagranpasport", often confusingly translated as "foreign passport") was required for travel abroad. There were several types of abroad passport: an ordinary one, known simply as "USSR "zagranpasport", a civil service passport ( _ru. служебный паспорт, "sluzhebny pasport"), a diplomatic passport, and a sailor's passport.

Internal passports were serviced by "passport offices" ( _ru. паспортный стол, "pasportny stol") of local offices of the MVDs of Soviet republics. Abroad passports were handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the corresponding Soviet republic.

Internal passports were used in the Soviet Union for identification of persons for various purposes. In particular, passports were used to control and monitor the place of residence by means of "propiska". Officially, "propiska" was introduced for statistical reasons: since in the planned economy of the Soviet Union the distribution of goods and services was centralized, the overall distribution of population was to be monitored. For example, a valid "propiska" was necessary to receive higher education or medical treatment.

The passports recorded the following information: surname, first name and patronymic, date and place of birth, nationality, family status, propiska, and record of military service. Sometimes the passport also had special notes, for example blood group.

As mentioned, the internal passports identified every bearer by "nationality" ( _ru. национальность, "natsional’nost’"), e.g., Russian, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Estonian, Jew. This was on the so-called "fifth record" ( _ru. пятая графа, "pyataya grafa") of the passport. When an individual applied for his passport at age 16, his nationality would automatically be that of his parents if they were of the same nationality as one another (verified by the recorded nationality of the parents on the applicant's birth certificate). If they differed in nationality (again, based on the parents' nationality on the child's birth certificate), then the applicant would have to choose between the two nationalities. In this way an individual's passport nationality was fixed for life at age 16. [According to the ethnic demographer V. I. Kozlov, the existence of this so-called "passport nationality," which was largely determined by birth, may have tended to fix the subjective national or ethnic identitities of Soviet citizens: V. I. Kozlov, in _ru. Динамика численности народов (Dynamics in the Number of Peoples) (Moscow: Nauka, 1969). However, there is a lot of evidence of shifting of subjective nationality, for example as it was reflected in the Soviet censuses, despite the existence of a passport nationality. See, for example, B. A. Anderson and B. D. Silver, “Estimating Russification of Ethnic Identity Among Non-Russians in the USSR,” "Demography" 20 (November 1983): 461–489.]

All residents were required by law to record their address on the document, and to report any changes to a local office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (e.g., by the age of forty-five, a person has to have three photographs of himself in the passport due to the effects of aging, taken at the age of sixteen (when it is issued), twenty-five and forty-five). In Ukraine, these laws were struck down by its Constitutional Court in 2001 on the grounds of unconstitutionality. In Russia, similar cases have so far failed, and the system remains in place, although largely reduced. The system of internal passport registration remains strongly in place in Moscow, which uses the recent terrorist attacks on that city as a justification for their continued use.


The system originates in the Decree of VTsIK and RSFSR Sovnarkom "About Personal Identity Cards" issued on June 20, 1923, which abolished all previously-existing travel and residence permit documents (but allowed various documents for personal identification). Urban population had to obtain ID cards at the local "militsiya" departments, rural residents were serviced by "volost" ispolkoms (executive governmental offices). The ID cards were valid for three years. They could have a photo pasted on. Neither photos nor ID cards were obligatory. The system of residential registration existed, but any personal documents were valid for this purpose and the registration, although known as "propiska" was not associated with the residential permit of the later "propiska" system.

The Soviet Encyclopedia of 1930 proudly wrote that the passport system was "a repressive invention of the police state, absent in Soviet law". But this was not to last for long.

On December 27, 1932 the USSR Central Executive Committee and Sovnarkom issued a decree "About establishment of the Unified Passport System within the USSR and the Obligatory "Propiska" of Passports". The declared purposes were the improvement of population bookkeeping in various urban settlements and "the removal of persons not engaged in industrial of other socially-useful work from towns and cleansing of towns from hiding "kulaks", criminals and other antisocial elements. "Hiding kulaks" was an indication at fugitive peasants who tried to run away from the collectivization. "Removal" usually resulted in some form of forced labour. Passports were introduced for urban residents, sovkhozniks and workers of "novostroykas" (новостройка, a major construction site of a new town, plant, railway station, etc.). Kolkhozniks and individual peasants did not have passports and could not move into towns without permission. Repeated violation of the passport regime was a criminal offence.

The implementation of the passport system was based on the USSR Sovnarkom decree dated April 22, 1933 "About the Issue of Passports to the USSR Citizens in the territory of the USSR". The document declared that all citizens at least sixteen years old residing in cites, towns, and urban workers' settlements, as well as residing within one hundred kilometres of Moscow and Leningrad, within fifty kilometres of Kharkov, Kiev, Minsk, Rostov-on-Don and Vladivostok and within the hundred-kilometre zone along the Western border of the USSR were required to have a passport with "propiska". Within these territories passports were the only valid personal identification document.

On September 10, 1940 the USSR Sovnarkom decreed the "Passport Statute" ( _ru. Положение о паспортах, "Položenye o pasportakh"). It provisioned a special treatment of "propiska" in capital cities of republics, "krais", and oblasts, in state border areas and at important railroad junctions.

On October 21, 1953 the USSR Council of Ministers decreed the new "Passport Statute". It made passports obligatory for all citizens older than sixteen years in all non-rural settlements. Rural residents could not leave their place of residence for more than thirty days, and even for this leave a permit from a "selsoviet" was required. The notion of "temporary propiska" was introduced, in addition to the regular or "permanent" one. A temporary "propiska" was issued for work-related reasons and for study away from home.

On August 28, 1974 the USSR Council of Ministers issued a new "Statute of the Passport System in the USSR" and new rules of "propiska". The latter rules were in effect until October 23, 1995. However the "blanket passportisation" was started only in 1976 and finished in 1981.

Notes and References

ee also

*101st kilometre
*Russian passport

External links

* [ V.Popov, Passport System of Soviet Serfage, "New World" ( _ru. журнал «Новый Мир»), Issue 6, 1996]
* [ Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation -- "Historical Information" covers several centuries about passport-policy in Russia and Soviet Union -- in Russian]

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