Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Overlooked: Minority Nations of the former Soviet Union

In the cliché-ridden propaganda of the Soviet era tsarist Russia was frequently dubbed the “prison of nations”. When the Soviets came into power this “prison”, by virtue of new national policies, transformed into a family of friendly and brotherly nations in whose bosom all the national cultures flourished. To boast of the achievements under the Communist Party leadership, grandiose cultural festivals were arranged in the Soviet republics, folkloristic dance, song and instrumental groups were established and the revival of old peasant culture was encouraged. The slogan “socialist in content, nationalist in form” came to be applied to the new Soviet culture. Behind this deceptive facade of ethnographic originality, the tsarist prison of nations never ceased to exist: russification was carried out on a large scale, nationalist intellectuals were persecuted, a policy of extensive exploitation of land was pursued and nations were continuously resettled and mingled. The desired result was the birth of a new, Russian-speaking “Soviet nation.”
-Excerpt from the introduction of The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire

When the Soviet Union collapsed the various ethnic groups divided up the carcass of the old Tsar/Soviet empire. Or so most think. In reality many minorities were left in another nation's homeland. Their cultures vary between European, Eurasian, Asian, and some even share cultural traits with North American Eskimos.

The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire is an excellent encyclopedia made in 1993 Estonia. The book has numerous entries on the wide range of nations that were added to the Russian/Soviet Empire. Each entry has information on population, history, and lifestyle as well as a map.

Some groups are doing well while others are fading away. Each entry gives a taste of a rich history of an overlooked people. Enjoy sections about arctic dwelling Nganasans, Turkic Tats, Moutain Jews, and many more.

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