De-Russification of Government as a Factor in the Disintegration of the USSR

In: Russian History
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  • 1 Professor of Russian Studies, Institute of History, St. Petersburg State UniversitySt. PetersburgRussia
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In the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1990, the political inequality of the nationalities’ representation in institutions of governance was overcome, non-Russians’ participation in the power structures increased, and Russians’ role in administration correspondingly decreased. The increased non-Russian percentage in governance was mainly due to the introduction of the democratic principle in government formation, according to which ethnicities should participate in proportion to their number. By 1990 in the USSR overall, Russians had a slight majority in all power structures, corresponding roughly to their higher share in the country’s population. In the union republics, however, the situation was different. Only in the RSFSR did all peoples, Russian and non-Russian, participate in government administration in proportion to their numbers, following the democratic norm. Elsewhere, Russians were underrepresented and therefore discriminated against in all organs of power, including the legislative branch. Representatives of non-Russian titular nationalities, who on average filled two-thirds of all administrative positions, predominated in disproportion to their numbers. Given these representatives’ skill majority in legislative bodies, republican constitutions permitted them to adopt any laws and resolutions they desired, including laws on secession from the USSR; and the executive and judicial authorities, together with law enforcement, would undoubtedly support them. Thus, the structural prerequisites for disintegration were established. Thereafter, the fate of the Soviet Union depended on republican elites and the geopolitical environment, because of the Center’s purposeful national policy, aimed toward increasing non-Russian representation among administrative cadres and the accelerated modernization and developmental equalization of the republics.

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