When the Soviet Union began to collapse in 1989 many
of its satellite countries found themselves in an unfamiliar position
of independence. Most had previously been part of the Tsarist Russian
Empire, and had enjoyed a brief respite from dominance during the
chaos of the Bolshevik Revolution. By the early 1920s, however,
most were back under Russian rule. During the Second World War as
Nazi Germany advanced east, some countries came under Nazi control
for a short period of time. By the war's end Stalin had gained control
of a huge part of Europe, creating the vast Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics. After years of domination, when the independence that
these countries strived for actually came, they struggled with the
transition and the rapidness of the change.
The separatist activity in former Soviet states can be attributed to ethnicity, cultural identity and nationalism. Rising nationalism was one of the many factors instrumental in the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, ethnic minorities - both sub-national and ethnic Russian - feared for their future status in these nationalistic fledgling states and tensions quickly rose. Under Soviet rule, local cultures had been repressed in favour of Russian cultures, while people were encouraged to speak Russian over their native tongue. This explains why the question of language became such a symbolic factor in the push for independence. An additional factor in the rise of tensions was that every Soviet state had a percentage of ethnic Russians inhabitants who suddenly found themselves in newly independent, nationalist states that were keen to dispose of most things "Soviet." For example in the 1989 census 30 percent of Estonia's, 22 percent of Ukraine's and 34 percent of Latvia's populations were ethnic Russian.1
This Discovery Guide focuses on two former Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs), Georgia and Moldova, and the problems they have had with ethnic minorities and separatist activity. This Guide does not discuss the recent conflict in Georgia, but gives the background and history of its breakaway regions to aid understanding of the conflict and the possibility of future conflicts. Although several countries in the former Soviet Union have had territorial disputes and clashes with their ethnic minorities this Guide concentrates on two case studies that illuminate the larger situation.
Go To Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia
List of Visuals
- Map of Russia
- A man pulls a cow in front of an Abkhaz tank in the remote Kodori Gorge of Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region outside the town of Chkhalta on August 14, 2008.
Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images, Taken from Proquest's eLibrary