1985 volume 3(1) pages 49 – 74

Cite as:
Smith G E, 1985, "Ethnic nationalism in the Soviet Union: territory, cleavage, and control" Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 3(1) 49 – 74

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Ethnic nationalism in the Soviet Union: territory, cleavage, and control

G E Smith

Abstract. The purpose of this paper is to challenge the widely held viewpoint in Western studies of the USSR that ethnic nationalism is necessarily a threat to the Soviet state. After questioning of the premises upon which a conflict-based theory of nationality relations has been constructed, it is argued that by focusing on the cross-patterned reticulation model of social and ethnic stratification that we will be in a better position to understand why the politicisation of national identities cannot be assumed to be automatic or uniform. Ways in which the state controls the politicisation of ethnoterritorial cleavages are then explored, by focusing on the internal passport system, the federal structure, and language planning. The problems faced by a nationalistically sympathetic cultural intelligentsia in mobilising support around ethnoterritorial cleavages is also touched upon. The paper concludes with a summary of what socioeconomic and political changes are likely to fuel the engines for political action where easily identifiable ethnoterritorial cleavages and a sympathetic regional political leadership make this possible.

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