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The Nationalities Policy


The Russian imperial mentality underpinned the nationalities policy of the ruling circles and of the imperial government, which was built on the principles of great-power chauvinism. The Russian language was made the official language of state and Orthodoxy claimed the status of the empireís ruling religion. The Russian officialdom treated non-Russians patronizingly and contemptuously as Ďaboriginesí and Ďaliensí. 

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The conservative era of Alexander III saw the introduction of a particularly harsh and systematic policy of Russification. Based on the chauvinistic idea of superiority of all things Slavic in general and Russian in particular, the enforced Russification could hardly cement together a multiethnic empire like Russia, where ethnic Russians, at the end of the nineteenth century, made up only 45 percent of the whole population. Jews, Polish Catholics, Baltic Protestants, Central-Asian Muslims - all fell victim in a greater or lesser degree to this ill-conceived policy.

A whole battery of discriminatory legislation was aimed at eradicating various manifestations of  non-Russian national identity and un-Orthodox religious practices. The use of the Russian language was imposed in schools, courts of law and government offices in non-Russian ethnic areas. Centers of minority cultures, such as theatres and publishing houses were shut down. Even the East Slavs, Ukrainians and Belorussians, who were ethnically and culturally most close to Great Russians (i.e., ethnic Russians), were denied their cultural identity and were officially regarded as ĎRussiansí, while their language and culture were not recognized as being separate from Russian.

The toughening of the Russification policy at the end of the nineteenth - early twentieth centuries was also caused by the governmentís concern over the rise of nationalist movements in regions like the Ukraine, the Caucasus, Poland, the Baltic, and Finland. The authorities were increasingly alarmed at the drive for national rights among millions of non-Russians. Yet, the governmentís policy of systematic Russification not only failed to stem the tide of nationalist unrest, but actually stimulated ever stronger demands for greater cultural and political autonomy.

Oppressive Russification generated a vicious circle. On the one hand, the ethnic minorities whose national feelings were offended, developed a natural grudge against the tsarist authorities and were forced to protest against the discrimination. The ever growing number of representatives of national minorities such as Poles, Balts, Georgians, Armenians and Jews joined Russian radicals and played a prominent role in the revolutionary movement in Russia. On the other hand, the active involvement of ethnic minorities in the activities of the radicals scared the government into adopting even sterner discriminatory measures.

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The End of an Empire


Tsarist Russia

Pre-Petrine Russia
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