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History of Communism in Europe

Volume 5, 2014

Narratives of Legitimation in Totalitarian Regimes – Heroes, Villains, Intrigues and Outcomes

Giuseppe Perri
Pages 131-154

Korenizacija: an Ambiguous and Temporary Strategy of Legitimization of Soviet Power in Ukraine (1923-1933) and its Legacy

The Soviet government showed evidence of poor linearity in its policies towards nationalities. Not only does this policy appear to have been contradictory in several places, but has undergone changes and transformations over the years, so as to make it almost unreadable. Meanwhile, in order to attract the nationalities that were part of the Russian Empire and in accordance with the principle enunciated by Lenin, namely that the Empire was a “prison of peoples”, in the first decade of Soviet power an ambiguous policy of enhancement of nationalities was passed that received the name of indigenization or korenizacija; ambiguous, because the aim was also to categorize and control the population, according to a typical perspective of colonial power. The Soviet constitution of 1924 gave the center many powers; the Republics had the same powers as the Russian regions, while the party remained centralized; the use of national languages in the educational system was increased, but not in universities. In Ukraine, the Bolshevik Party was dominated by the Russians and it was thanks to Lenin, who rejected the proposal, that the emergence of an autonomous republic in Donbas was prevented. Stalin, on the other hand, favoured korenizacija especially for the alliances with the local Bolshevik leaders, given the centralist tendencies of Trockij and his other opponents. The formal cancellation of korenizacija in Ukraine was ratified by two secret decrees of the Politbjuro on the 14th and 15th of December 1932, at the height of the grain requisition campaign. In many regards, korenizacija is still considered a “golden age” of Ukrainian culture and language, but its ambiguity and tragic end are little known. The article uses published or archival primary sources and the main secondary sources on the topic (Martin Hirsch, etc.). It is part of a broader research project on the contemporary history of Ukraine conducted by the author at the University of Brussels.