Nationalities in the USSR

Teaching Strategies

Given the nature of the Module and the associated sources, the teaching of the documents are normally best handled in combination. To use primary sources with confidence, students should be alert to potential causes of bias, distortion, and inaccuracy in the sources. As with any primary source, there are some generalized questions your students might want to focus on, such as:
1. Who wrote the document, and for whom was it written? What does this suggest about the point of view reflected in the document?
2. Why was the document written, and what form does it have? A document’s purpose and form (e.g. legal opinion, prohibition, instruction manual) will affect the sorts of material it contains and might cause a systematic bias.
3. How do author, audience, purpose, and form relate to the event or phenomenon that the document describes? Was the author in a position to have reliable knowledge of the event or phenomenon? Does the form permit accurate reporting? Does the author have any reason to avoid telling the truth as he or she saw it?
4. In conclusion, how reliable do you think this document is? What other kinds of documents would you want to examine to corroborate its claims?

Group 1: Documents 2 (Russia, 1994), 12 (Soviet Administrative, 1989) 13 (Soviet Nationalities, 1989) & 14 (Soviet Map, 1982:
Review the four maps: what do each portray? What problems (politically, socially, etc.) does the maps imply for governing this vast area? Use the maps to show how the Commonwealth of States (1994) naturally evolved out of the Soviet pattern of organization and governance. Can the students notice any issues of nationality based on the political realities reflected in the maps?

Group 2: Documents 4 (Uzbek), 5 (Turkmen), 8 (Gorbachev’s TV address) & 9 (Ukraine Ethnic Issues).
All of these documents reflect the “official” Soviet line on the pressures facing Soviet control in the emerging nationalist debates in the early 1990’s throughout the Soviet state. Questions might include: How did Soviet authorities characterise nationalist movements in this areas? What specific threats did they appear to represent to the Soviet system? Were solutions are answers given to those threats? Why might the Soviet positions and attitudes have been unsuccessful?

Group 3: Documents 3 (Lithuania), 6 (Latvia) & 7 (Estonia’s Fate)
These are examples of anti-Soviet, nationalist voices within the disappearing Soviet state. Similar questions might be asked of these "contrary" voices. Thus, one might ask students to examine how these areas characterize nationalism? What benefits did it present to the “new” countries? What do you think the country sought to gain in independence?

Another exercise could easily involve combining the last two grouping to compare and contrast the ideas and positions in the pro-Soviet and anti-Soviet groupings. Having students examining the contrasting ideas would be a good exercise to allow them to question how the Soviet government might solve this conflict. Of course, each document might also be more closely investigated. An example of that might look like this:
Ukranian Central Committee on Ethnic Issues
Why does this statement claim that "public initiative has increased"? What does this statement reveal about Communist Party perceptions of the meaning of dialogue, cooperation, and democratization? Why does the statement warn against the efforts of "nationalist-minded political extremists"? Would this statement have been perceived positively or negatively by those advocating greater autonomy for Ukraine at the start of 1989?