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Assimilate Non-Russian Groups

Assimilate Non-Russian Groups

Assimilate Non-Russian Groups


Historically, the Kremlin was not averse to the use of brute force to assimilate non-Russian groups. Another primary instrument of state policy was the education system. All schoolchildren throughout the Soviet Union were required to learn Russian; at the same time, however, schools in the non-Russian “socialist republics” were allowed to teach in the native (or national) language of the indigenous people.

Gorbachev’s reforms emboldened non-Russian nationalities to demand self-determination. Glasnost, in particular, encouraged criticism of local officials. The independence movement broke out in the Baltic states first. The spirit of rebellion swept across the Soviet empire, as republic after republic declared its independence.

In August 1991, a group of eight hard-line Communist Party traditionalists with ties to the army and the KGB (the Soviet secret police) staged a coup, which ultimately failed. Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian republic, saved the day, rallying demonstrators who had taken to the streets to fight for democracy. The Soviet Union ceased to exist on the last day of 1991.

Contemporary Challenges

A downsized Russian state and a loose, face-saving confederation consisting of all former Soviet republics except the Baltic states emerged from the ashes of the extinct Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin turned out to be a colorful but quixotic character, ill-suited to the big tasks he faced as the new Russia’s first elected president. By contrast, his successor is the exact opposite: a no-nonsense political boss with little imagination and a notable lack of charisma, but an iron will (see “Ideas and Politics: Putin: The Black-Belt Tsar”).

Ideas and Politics Putin: The Black-Belt Tsar

Many Russians express admiration for strong leaders like Stalin, Nicolas II, or Ivan the Terrible. Vladimir Putin is the latest incarnation of such a leader. A former KGB agent with a black belt in karate, Putin has earned a reputation for ruthlessness.