Korenizatsiya ( _ru. коренизация) sometimes also called korenization, meaning "nativization" or "indigenization", literally "putting down roots", was the early Soviet nationalities policy promoted mostly in the 1920s but with a continuing legacy in later years. The primary policy consisted of promoting representatives of titular nations of Soviet republics and national minorities on lower levels of the administrative subdivision of the state, into local government, management, bureaucracy and nomenklatura in the corresponding national entities. The term derives from the Russian term "коренное население" (korennoye naseleniye, "root population") for indigenous nationals.

Among the stated goals the policy was addressing were the relative economic and cultural backwardness of certain regions of the former Russian Empire, harmonizing the relationship between the Soviet regime and the population by carrying the national and ethnic policies that would appeal to the wide masses of the local people in the ethnically non-Russian areas. Korenization implied the introduction of the local languages into all spheres of public life and usage of the local languages to the widest possible extent, particularly, in education, publishing, culture, and, most importantly, government and the Communist Party. Not only was the local cadre of the titular nations to be promoted at all levels but the ethnic Russians who served in the local governments were encouraged (or required) to learn the local culture; and local languages were to be used in official affairs.


The nationalities policy [Nationalities policy went through several stages. For a general timeline, see the Russian-language Wikipedia article on "Nationalities policy of Russia" ( For a substantive analysis, see Slezkine (1994). The korenizatsiya phase roughly spanned the period from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, though vestiges of it carried over.] was formulated by the Bolshevik party in 1913, 4 years before they came to power in Russia. Vladimir Lenin sent a young Joseph Stalin (himself an ethnic minority member) to Vienna, at the time a very ethnically diverse city. Stalin reported back to Moscow with the idea for the policy. [This is Stalin's famous pamphlet (his first scholarly publication), "Marxism and the National Question" (1913), a copy of which can be found here: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1913/03.htm.] . Ironically he later would be the major proponent of its eventual dismemberment and the reemergence of Russification.

Beginning under Lenin, a policy of korenizatziya was created to appeal to the many non-Russian residents of the former tsarist empire and to internationalize the communist movement. It involved encouraging citizens to become literate and educated in the language of their own nationality or ethnic group; translating government documents; and promoting ethnic elites to positions of power within the regional soviets, including for a time the creation of a special group of soviets called "natssoviety" (nationality councils) in their own "natsraiony" (nationality regions) based on concentrations of minorities within what were minority republics. [For further discussion, see Yuri Slezkine, "The USSR as a Communal Apartment, Or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism," "Slavic Review" 53, No. 2 (Summer 1994): 414-452.] For example, in Ukraine in the late 1920s there were even natssoviety for Russians and Estonians.

At the same time korenization was applied to other areas of the society, such as education, medicine, culture.

This policy was meant to partially reverse decades of Russification, or promotion of Russian identity over indigenous culture, that took place during the imperial period. It arguably helped the government exert its influence on the many ethnic minorities throughout the country. In 1923, Stalin identified two threats to the success of the party's "nationalities policy": Great Power Chauvinism (Russian chauvinism) and local nationalism. [ See "National Factors in Party and State Affairs -- Theses for the Twelfth Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), Approved by the Central Committee of the Party," available here: http://www.marx2mao.com/Stalin/NF23.html.] However, he described the former as the greater danger:

[The] Great-Russian chauvinist spirit, which is becoming stronger and stronger owing to the N.E.P., . . . [finds] expression in an arrogantly disdainful and heartlessly bureaucratic attitude on the part of Russian Soviet officials towards the needs and requirements of the national republics. The multi-national Soviet state can become really durable, and the co-operation of the peoples within it really fraternal, only if these survivals are vigorously and irrevocably eradicated from the practice of our state institutions. Hence, the first immediate task of our Party is vigorously to combat the survivals of Great-Russian chauvinism.

Furthermore, he said that Russians themselves would have to be the main group that kept Great Power Chauvinism in check, for the sake of the larger goal of building socialism.

The initial period of korenizatsiya went together with the development of national-territorial administrative units and national cultures. The latter was reflected above all in the areas of language construction [For a highly informative yet compact summary see Slezkine (1994).] and education [For a review of the national languages in education, see Barbara A. Anderson and Brian D. Silver, "Equality, Efficiency, and Politics in Soviet Bilingual Education Policy: 1934-1980," "American Political Science Review" 78 (December 1984): 1019-1039.] . For several of the small nationalities in Russia that had no literary language, a "Committee of the North" [Committee for the Assistance to the Peoples of the Northern Borderlands.] helped to create alphabets so that the national languages could be taught in schools and literacy could be brought to the people in their native languages -- and the minorities would thereby be brought from backwardness to the modern world. [Yuri Slezkine, "Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North" (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994) (ISBN 0-8014-8178-3).] And in the very large Ukrainian Republic, the program of Ukrainianization led to a profound shift of the language of instruction in schools to Ukrainian. Only in 1938 did Russian become a mandatory subject of study in all non-Russian schools. Arguably this had to do with the impending war and the need to familiarize the non-Russian populations with the language of command in the Red Army. Similarly, only in 1939 did the Bolsheviks impose the Cyrillic script on most of the non-Russian languages, including the languages of Central Asia that in the late 1920s had been given Latin alphabets to replace Arabic ones. [Armenian and Georgian kept their original and unique scripts. Many so-called "scriptless" languages, mainly of smaller nationalities in Russia, were first given scripts in Latin alphabet and later changed to Cyrillic. Other languages, in particular in Central Asia, Azerbaijan, and the North Caucasus, first adopted Latin scripts to replace Arabic scripts, and later adopted Cyrillic scripts to replace Latin scripts. Thus, the move to the Cyrillic alphabet was delayed for most non-Russian nationalities until at least the late 1930s, and full implementation of this change took time.]

Thus, whereas by the mid-1930s, with purges in some of the national areas, the policy of korenizatsiya took a new turn, by the end of the 1930s the policy of promoting local languages began to be balanced by greater Russianization, though perhaps not overt Russification or attempts to assimilate the minorities. [This distinction can be attributed to Vernon Aspaturian: Russianization is the spread of Russian language and Russian culture (and, one might add, of Russian people) into non-Russian territories and societies; Russification is the psychological transformation of the self-identities of non-Russians into Russians. See Vernon V. Aspaturian, "The Non-Russian Peoples," in Allen Kassof, Ed., "Prospects for Soviet Society" (New York: Praeger, 1968): 143-198. While Russianization may be a factor that fosters Russification, it is not sufficient by itself to produce it and in some circumstances may even have the opposite effect.] Moreover, the country's leader seemed set on greatly reducing the number of officially recognized nationalities by contracting the official list of nationalites in the 1939 census, compared with the 1926 census. [This, however, would be mainly a change on paper, not in actual ethnic or national identities. The sharply contracted list in 1939 was later expanded again for the 1959 census, though not to the number of peoples listed in 1926; the director of the 1959 census criticized the earlier effort at contraction as artificial.] The development of so-called "national schools" in which the languages of minority nationalities were the main media of instruction continued, spreading literacy and universal education in many national minority languages, while teaching Russian as a required subject of study. The term korenizatsiya went out of use in the latter half of the 1930s, replaced by more bureaucratic expressions, such as "selection and placement of national cadres" (подбор и расстановка национальных кадров).

Notes and citations

General references

*Anderson, Barbara A., and Brian D. Silver. 1984. "Equality, Efficiency, and Politics in Soviet Bilingual Education Policy: 1934-1980," "American Political Science Review" 78 (December): 1019-1039.
*Hirsch, Francine. 2005. "Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union". Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-4273-7.
*Martin, Terry D. 2001. "The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939". Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-8677-7.
*Slezkine, Yuri. 1994. "The USSR as a Communal Apartment, Or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism," "Slavic Review" 53, No. 2 (Summer): 414-452.
*Suny, Ronald Grigor and Martin, Terry, Eds. 2002. "A State of Nations: Empire and Nation-Making in the Age of Lenin and Stalin". New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514423-6 (softcover), ISBN 0-19-514422-8 (hardcover).
*Wixman, Ronald. 1980. "Language Aspects of Ethnic Patterns and Processes in the North Caucasus." University of Chicago Geography Research Series, No. 191.

See also

* National delimitation in the Soviet Union
* Ukrainization
* Russification
* Bilingual education
* Education in the Soviet Union
* Soviet Union
* Joseph Stalin

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