Language of Dissent:
Language, Ethnic Identity, and Bilingual Education Policy in the North Caucasus


A Dissertation (to be Submitted)
In Partial Fulfilment for the Requirements of the Master of Arts Degree
Russian and East European Institute
Indiana University
May 1996.
Eve Rachel Greenfield

The North Caucasus is a unique laboratory for examination of the numerous and complex levels of ethnic, linguistic, religious, and national identity and their interaction. The region, both currently and in the past, has provided a multitude of examples of the ways in which government policy can contribute to the formation, manipulation, and dissolution of these layers of identity.

Ethnic and national identity are difficult concepts to define. They encompass many intertwined and overlapping layers of self-conception in proportions which vary according to context. These layers include, but are by no means confined to, native language, religious faith and spirituality, culture, history, and traditional homeland. By their very nature, such deeply personal issues, as integral parts of individual and group identity, can easily become emotionally charged. In the post-Soviet context, discussions of ethnic identity such as these, which might have remained more private in other contexts, have often become heated political debates.

At first blush, the intense and complex nature of public debate regarding the language issue in the former Soviet Union may sometimes seem irrational to impartial outside observers. In fact, assurances (both legislative ones as well as less formal ones) made in the past by Soviet officials and more recently by Russian Federation leaders that all citizens would have the right to use their native languages in public life have often gone unfulfilled. This has occurred for a variety of reasons, and it would be impossible to determine which factor or combination of factors has prevented the development of a consistently fair and equitable decision-making process for native language use in the public sphere, let alone a result fundamentally acceptable to all parties. It is true that the North Caucasus presents a particularly daunting series of challenges for the logical and efficient administration of a coherent government language policy because of its unique geographical dispersion and the extraordinarily wide linguistic variation of its inhabitants. It is also the case, however, that the Soviet government, and the government of the Russian Federation as its successor in administrative control of the North Caucasus, promised a level of linguistic autonomy which they most likely would have been unable to grant even with the noblest of intentions.


The Caucasian Context: Clean Data vs. Messy Reality

The North Caucasus in particular is a sea of overlapping influences on personal and ethnic identity, a few examples of which are mentioned above. These influences interact in ways often incomprehensible to those who have not experienced the effects of such phenomena with a similar degree of intensity. Caucasus expert Ronald Wixman warns of the dangers of interpreting unfamiliar cultural territory through Western eyes:

I consider the discussion of levels of identity...of particular importance. Far too often identities are imputed by observers without sufficient evidence because the observer expects to find identities parallel in scope and intensity to those of areas more familiar to him. It must be stressed that identities in the North Caucasus are just as complex and varied as the ethnic scene itself.
    Wixman, Language Aspects of Ethnic Patterns and Processes in the North Caucasus, p. 99.
Throughout modern history, but especially during the period of Soviet rule, the Moscow government has used a wide range of techniques to shape and direct the complex forces which form the numerous layers of North Caucasian identity. One fundamental aspect of ethnic and national identity which the Soviet government harnessed to good advantage toward this end was that of linguistic identity, especially in the public sphere. The effects of centralized language planning were especially visible in the spheres of education, publishing, and written language in general.

The Soviet government’s policy toward the ethnic, linguistic, and cultural issues that comprise the "National Question" is certainly no exception to its general tendency to channel naturally occurring forces to its own political advantage. The history of the Russian Empire, and of the Soviet Union as its political heir, is primarily the story of Russian attempts to gain control of regions inhabited by non-Russians, and then to keep control of these regions by whatever means it had at its disposal. Sometimes Russian central government methods were plainly visible, such as when it utilized direct military intervention to gain overt political control of a region. Sometimes, however, the state's intentions and motivations were more subtle and difficult to evaluate. Were the economic and linguistic policies formulated by Moscow government attempts to manipulate the ethnic, national, and linguistic identities of the non-Russian peoples who had been forcibly incorporated into the Russian Empire, or later, into the Soviet Union? If so, toward what end was this manipulation intended? Was Soviet language policy simply a well-intended attempt to create a functional, literate, modern society? Did all Soviet officials who formulated language policy have the same motivations, both initially and over the entire period of the policy’s implementation? In fact, should Soviet linguistic decision-making be seen as a single, coherent policy at all? Even if this is so, is current Russian Federation policy simply its continuation, or does it carry its own set of inherent motivations, its own dynamic, and its own difficulties?

Study of Soviet nationalities policy is not without methodological pitfalls, however. Precisely because of Moscow's political sensitivity regarding the national question, reliable data are difficult to find. Vast chronological gaps remain to be filled in the statistical sources and secondary literature. Nearly every Western scholar writing on the national question has remarked on the paucity of hard factual information, especially when one considers that for most time periods, Soviet data are often suspect.

In addition, Soviet secondary sources published before the advent of glasnost' have clear ideological content, but little useful factual information. Nearly every page contains a statement about the "brotherhood of peoples" (bratstvo narodov) under Communism, the harmonious state of interethnic relations in all spheres of Soviet society, and the current process of ethnic rapprochement (sblizhenie), which it was thought would soon lead to complete merger (sliyanie) of peoples into one united Soviet people (Sovetskii narod).

The Soviet government collected and published demographic and other statistical data in an often incomplete and inconsistent manner. This had the effect of obscuring the course of ethnic and linguistic trends, both from foreign scholars as well as from its own citizens. Often information collection procedures were changed between censuses, making it nearly impossible to track changes in population or self-identification over time. For example, early censuses defined a person's nationality solely on the basis of what people considered their native language to be, while later censuses asked both about linguistic identity and ethnic self-identification, using inconsistent terminology. During the 1926 census, respondents were asked their ethnic identity (narodnost'). By the time of the 1959 census, the term used for ethnic identity had changed to natsional'nost', which may help account for the disappearance of many smaller ethnic groups between the two censuses. Respondents, when trying to fit their identities into a term with a wider scope, may have simply categorized themselves as part of a larger, regionally dominant ethnic group, one which had full nationality status in Soviet terms.

In any case, the responde's declared ethnic identity was not necessarily required to match the nationality listed on the person's Soviet internal passport. Of course, it is impossible to

determine whether this was done deliberately to obscure the demographic picture, or whether the procedures and census questions were simply changed to provide analysts with a new perspective or improve the potential clarity and accuracy of the answers.

Other information manipulations made by the Soviet government with much murkier rationale, however, suggest the Moscow administration had darker motivations. Frequently the Soviet government arbitrarily changed the borders or official classification of a Union Republic or republican subdivision. Ethnic groups were divided and combined, languages disappeared and came into existence, all by the stroke of a pen in Moscow. Such modifications in republican borders and administrative subdivisions rarely occurred in areas inhabited by nationalities which Moscow considered trustworthy. The arbitrary nature which these changes took in the North Caucasus suggests that they were intended to manipulate ethnic identity simultaneously on many different levels.

In general, for sensitive topics such as anything related to nationalities issues, information was released and published in extremely fragmentary form, if at all, with a random fact or figure occasionally appearing. The fact that systematic data was rarely made available covering a wide range of questions and responses on any given issue made it nearly impossible to discern regional or chronological trends. Even such seemingly basic information as the number of schools using a given language of instruction, the number of pupils in each school, or the grade levels at which instruction was offered in various minority languages was a jealously guarded state secret. This was especially true before glasnost'. However, to this day such specific information remains difficult to obtain, especially for less commonly spoken languages, such as those of the many numerically small peoples of the North Caucasus and Far North.

For these reasons, when one finally manages to discern a numerical shift in speakers of a language, people identifying themselves with a specific ethnic group, or the demographics in a geographical region, it is extremely difficult to determine the cause or progression of the shift with any degree of certainty. One is often hard-pressed to determine whether the change took place at all, or whether the quantitative shift is simply the result of a change in definitions or data collection methods.


  The North Caucasian case, because of its sheer complexity, is particularly fraught with opportunities for errors of interpretation. The North Caucasus is populated by dozens of nationalities and ethnic groups, each speaking its own language or dialect. Bilingualism and multilingualism are the norm rather than the exception. By some accounts, it is the most linguistically complex region of the world, surpassing even India. In Daghestan alone, for example, finds the greatest ethnic heterogeneity anywhere in the world. In highland western Daghestan approximately 20 different languages are spoken; along the Samur River, in its short course through southern Dagestan to the Caspian Sea, at least six different languages (with numerous dialects) can be heard.
The reasons for the complex ethnolinguistic development of the North Caucasus are to a large extent due to its unique geography. It is located at the intersection of Slavic, Turkic, and Persian culture, as well as that of various varieties of Islam and Christianity, all overlaid onto a foundation of indigenous animist faiths. Its history is characterized by repeated invasions from all sides. The region's complex and highly mountainous terrain has also affected its linguistic and cultural development:
As a result of the isolation of the valleys and gorges in the Caucasus a great ethnic heterogeneity has developed...their extreme remoteness led to the maintenance of, and further dialectization of distinct languages.
Adding to the complexity were bilingualism and multilingualism, which were encouraged by Caucasian traditional culture. Men from the mountain tribes, who traditionally worked as shepherds and goatherds, would migrate to the valley towns to find work in the winter. As a result, they would learn the languages spoken in the lowlands and population centers, so that all men were at least bilingual and often multilingual. Until well into the twentieth century, however, few North Caucasians were literate in any language, a fact which in Soviet times would make it easier for their language use to be shaped by government policies.
In a sense, this complexity makes the North Caucasus the perfect proof of the validity of Soviet language policy. Several major language groups are represented (Caucasian, Altaic, and Indo-European), and many Caucasian languages, although in close physical proximity, are not mutually intelligible. Since speakers of the numerous and often greatly differentiated Caucasian languages have frequent need to interact for economic, political, and social reasons, some kind of lingua franca is needed for society to function at all. In addition, many Caucasian ethnic groups are so small in number, a few thousand or even a few hundred total, that one could argue (as the Soviet government did) that to offer a complete educational program and a wide range of publications in each of their languages would be too complicated and expensive to be feasible. Why not choose Russian as the language of interethnic communication, since it was already the most widely spoken?

Complicating evaluation of the effects of Soviet ethnic and linguistic policies are the naturally occurring anthropological processes of ethnolinguistic assimilation and fragmentation. Caucasian ethnic divisions have always been highly fluid, in part because of the other levels of self-identification which Caucasians have often considered more important than any Soviet-defined nationality. These may include clan, tribal, and regional divisions, religious identification (especially identification as Moslems), or a broad identity as mountaineers (gortsy) or Caucasians generally.

Several factors have been significant in determining the degree of linguistic and ethnic assimilation of indigenous North Caucasian ethnic groups. The most influential among these have been religion, especially the unique local blend of Sufi Islam, and anti-Russian sentiment. For historical reasons, these two are closely related. Other factors which have been important to a greater or lesser degree are the urban/rural division of a particular nationality, the degree of ethnic diversity or interethnic contact in a given region, and the existence of any pre-Revolutionary native-language literary or educational tradition.


  By Western cultural standards, the North Caucasus was economically and educationally backward before the Russian Revolution. Even more so than in the Russian Empire as a whole, literacy rates in the North Caucasus were very low before Communism. The numerous indigenous ethnic groups were mostly rural and highly dispersed, and the economy was based primarily on agriculture and trade in locally produced metalwork and textiles. Religious belief was a pervasive and highly influential factor in political and social development; "...Islam was not only practiced in an extremely conservative form, but classical Arabic was still being used as a spoken as well as a written language well into the 20th century," especially by political and intellectual leaders. In fact, 5% of the total population of the northeast Caucasus was local ulema--highly conservative, anti-Russian Moslem clerics-- who wanted classical Arabic as the only official language. Azeri Turkish, which at that point was not considered to be a separate language from Ottoman Turkish, was also widely spoken as a lingua franca among the general population.

In general, the Russian imperial influence was barely felt in the cultural sphere. The Moslem North Caucasian nationalities in particular, who traditionally comprised the vast majority of the population, felt much stronger ethnic, linguistic, and cultural ties to adjacent areas of the Middle East, and to the Islamic world at large, than they did to the rest of the Russian Empire. This was the stage upon which, after the Revolution, Lenin would have to direct his struggle to overturn the predominance of all other forms of identity in favor of class and Soviet identity.



Lenin, during his struggle to create a socialist state out of the Russian Empire, was a public proponent of the idea of self-determination for all peoples. At first glance, it may appear contradictory for a man who so strongly espoused class identity as the primary level of social division to support openly nationalist leaders, who held completely opposite views about the nature of socioeconomic structure. On the surface, it would seem that

Nationalism and Marxism are philosophically incompatible. Nationalism is predicated upon the assumption that the most fundamental divisions of humankind are the many vertical cleavages that divide people into ethnonational groups. Marxism, by contrast, rests upon the conviction that the most fundamental human divisions are horizontal class distinctions that cut across national groupings.
However, Lenin was above all else a pragmatist and a shrewd politician. He viewed the non-Russian lands that Russia had colonized as the weakest link in its chain of political power, and saw the opportunity to exploit anticolonial sentiment among the non-Russian peoples to his advantage. By exploiting their anti-Russian feeling, he could encourage them to rebel against the central government, which would further his own goals. By taking one step back and furthering ideals with which he was at odds, Lenin believed that he would later have the opportunity to take two steps forward along the road to communism, reshaping a new class order to replace the old imperial order that had been destabilized and destroyed.
Once Lenin's initial goal was accomplished and the tsarist government was overthrown, he had the opportunity to put his desires into action. In theory, Lenin believed in every nation's right to self-determination, a right which extended not only to established states, but to their component ethnic groups which historically had not had the opportunity to form states. However, he had a distinct practical preference for large states, believing that only a large state could be politically and economically self-sufficient.

The right to national self-determination for even the smallest ethnic groups was not a contradiction to the practical superiority of large states, however, because Lenin also believed that small nations would find it in their best economic interest to remain within the relatively protective environment of larger states. Unable to become self-sufficient enough to function alone in the world marketplace, small nations would ask to reunite with larger ones.

Peoples who did not seek to secede from the larger state, however, did not have the right to ask the central government for preferential treatment, however. But Lenin believed they would never feel the need to do so: the natural superiority of the Russian language and culture would convince small nations that assimilation was in their best interest, and therefore there would be no need to create discriminatory government policies against the use of native languages. According to early Leninist policy, "all nationality languages were equal and were to develop freely."

In historical practice, however, many non-Russian nationalities, having been freed from the confines of Tsarist ethnic policy in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, were most reluctant to be brought into the socialist fold. The North Caucasian nationalities were certainly no exception to this tendency. They had become part of the Russian Empire in the early 19th century, over the vociferous and violent objections of the local Moslem populations. A series of guerrilla campaigns by the North Caucasian Sufi brotherhoods (tariqas) against the Tsar's troops, led by Imam Shamil, dominated the middle portion of 19th-century North Caucasian history. This anti-Russian sentiment continued after the dissolution of the Empire; the North Caucasus, like other non-Russian areas far removed geographically and psychologically from Moscow, could not be brought even minimally under Soviet control until the early 1920's. In fact, the local population continued to revolt sporadically against Russian central control throughout the 1920's and 1930's.

In order to complete the consolidation of Soviet power, Lenin had to calm the fears of non-Russian nationalities that they would be subject to linguistic and cultural Russification as a matter of Soviet government policy. To accomplish this, he instituted a program of korenizatsiya, in which local languages and culture were to be encouraged and local government institutions were to be staffed with personnel who spoke the languages of the people they served. At the 10th Communist Party Congress in 1921, even before the formation of the USSR, resolutions were adopted "against the growing tendency of larger, more powerful nations [Russians] to restrict or hamper the development of statehood, language, culture and education of the minorities." Each nationality was to be allowed, operating in its native language, its own courts, government and economic institutions, press, schools, cultural institutions, and education at all levels, both general and professional/technical.

The result of korenizatsiya was a general flowering in the 1920's of culture and education in local languages, one not seen previously, or indeed at any other time under Soviet rule. In fact, until the late 1930's, Russian language teaching continued to be rare in many areas, including Dagestan and Checheno-Ingushetia.


As the 1920's progressed, and even more so during the period following Lenin's death on January 21, 1924, Soviet domestic policy became increasingly confused and contradictory. The power struggle which accompanied Stalin's rise to leadership caused a fundamental shift in Soviet policy toward ethnolinguistic assimilation. By 1929, Soviet power was basically consolidated throughout the former Russian Empire; the policy of tolerance toward the distinctness of the Moslem peoples ended, and the onslaught against Islam in general and Moslem National Communists in particular began. The United Mountaineer Republic, which had been formed in 1918 in the aftermath of the Revolution and included the entire North Caucasus, was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920.

After a post-revolutionary name change to the Mountain Autonomous Republic, it was gradually dissolved during the early 1920's as pieces were broken off to form new Autonomous Oblasts. Dagestan was split off in January 1921 to form the Dagestan ASSR. In September of that year the Kabardian Autonomous Oblast (hereafter AO) was formed, followed in January 1922 by the Karachay-Cherkess AO. Four days later the Balkar Okrug was attached to the Kabardian AO, forming the Kabardino-Balkar AO. In July the Adygey-Cherkess AO was established, leaving only the Ingush and Ossetians in the Mountain Autonomous Republic. With their division into the Ingush AO and the North Ossetian AO on July 7, 1924, the Mountain Autonomous Republic ceased to exist. Stalin, as People's Commissar of Nationality Affairs, had successfully prevented the peoples of the North Caucasus from achieving any kind of administrative unity, or even cooperation. In so doing, he prevented a unified, conservative, anti-Russian state from forming.

Having accomplished the administrative fragmentation of the North Caucasus, Stalin then set out to further confuse the ethnolinguistic situation in order to enable increasing Soviet cof the historically troublesome area. Although official nationalities policy was still one of linguistic and cultural self-determination, the measures Stalin implemented in education and the official sphere showed an increasing tendency toward government control over every aspect of language and its use.

Especially confusing was the apparent contradiction between the stated goals of Soviet language policy and the means implemented in order to reach these goals. On one hand, "the Tsarist goal had been the exclusion of minority languages from various functions (education, literary usage); ultimately, the various ethnic groups were to end up as Russians." The aforementioned flowering of local languages in the 1920's included the development of writing systems for many small languages which had not had written forms before the Revolution, and which had been used rarely if at all in the official sphere. The effects of this policy were especially evident in the North Caucasus, where there was a profusion of such languages.

In a certain sense, the development of writing systems and education in minority languages which took place under Lenin and Stalin may be seen as a highly progressive phenomenon. During the first 15 years of Soviet rule, written languages were created for over 50 groups in the Soviet Union at large, and national schools were established, offering a curriculum with national content and instruction in local languages. By 1934, the Soviet government was printing textbooks in 104 languages. When the need to create new professional and technical terminology in national languages was perceived, new words were created based on roots found within the language itself, rather than borrowing terms from Russian.

Viewed from a different angle, however, the alphabet changes and linguistic modifications of the first half of Soviet rule can be considered an attempt to manipulate Caucasian ethnic identity through language change. In 1929, the Latin script was made "compulsory for all nationalities that had previously used Arabic; the state publishing house was ordered to cease all printing in Arabic characters, and the importation of Arabic typographic materials was prohibited." The Soviet government originally chose Latin script rather than Cyrillic because of the perception that the Moslem peoples would see an immediate switch to Cyrillic as an attempt at Russification, and that such a perception might provoke a violent, anti-Russian reaction.

By the 1931-1932 school year, most national schools in the RSFSR had textbooks in the appropriate native language using the new Latin-based alphabet. This first alphabet change was supposedly intended to simplify the spelling systems of the national languages in order to make them easier to learn. The government view was that literacy, standardized spelling systems, and the development of written forms for national languages were prerequisites for ffective Sovietization. Literacy was a high priority of Stalin's at the time; if the Soviet Union were to modernize and catch up with the West as quickly as possible, it needed a literate and trained work force. However, the immediate effect of this policy, whether intentional or not, was to make the few previously literate inhabitants of the North Caucasus instantly illiterate. The movement away from the Arabic script cut them off from the rest of the Islamic world, which used it not only as a means of cultural, intellectual, and historical transmission in classical Arabic, but as a writing system for many languages unrelated to Arabic as well.

The Soviet government had barely completed the switch to the Latin alphabet when the pressure to change to Cyrillic began in the late 1930's, marking the beginning of a new phase in Soviet language policy. The policy for creation of new words in national languages changed to one of borrowing from Russian, and those who favored retaining terms derived from indigenous roots were accused of "bourgeois nationalism." In 1938 Russian language instruction became compulsory in national schools,beginning at age 7. Concurrently the number of hours of Russian language instruction increased, and pay for Russian teachers was raised to 15% more than that for other teachers. The size of Russian classes shrank to 15 students, and Russian-language versions of higher education textbooks and those for scientific and technical subjects appeared.

By 1939 all languages in the RSFSR were printed in the Cyrillic alphabet, and by 1940 "all non-Russian nationalities in the RSFSR were supplied with textbooks in their native language, based on a Cyrillic alphabet." The government justified this highly confusing second series of alphabet switches on the grounds that they were at the request of the peoples concerned, and that a single alphabet facilitated the development of literacy both in native languages and in Russian, "which was increasingly becoming a medium of interethnic communication." Also in 1940, a new linguistic policy was introduced, called the Common Rule, which required that all Russian-derived words in national languages had to be spelled as in Russian, regardless of whether this made sense in the language's own system of spelling and pronunciation.

Other reasons to suspect that Stalin had motives less noble than the intellectual enlightenment of Soviet ethnic minorities, especially the Moslem ones, were the specific decisions made in creating written forms of their languages and spelling. The Turkic languages of Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia have a high degree of similarity, mainly differing in vowel sounds. Written Arabic, like other Semitic languages, has a writing system based on consonant clusters. Printed Arabic generally does not indicate vowels, so in Arabic script the Turkic languages were often mutually comprehensible. Once written in the Stalinist Cyrillic transcription, for which there was a separate variation for each Turkic language, this was no longer the case. The alphabet shift succeeded in dividing and conquering Turkic speakers, at least on the linguistic level.


Specific information regarding Soviet language policy during the period from Stalin's death until the advent of glasnost' is very sparse and difficult to interpret; nearly every scholar attempting to examine this period has remarked on this fact. A notable exception to this tendency is the public debate which surrounded the 1958-1959 educational reforms, one section of which removed the requirement that non-Russian children study Russian, but also removed the requirement that Russian children study local languages. Choice of language of instruction was to be left to each child's parents.

Non-Russians saw this as a blow to the status of their languages. After all, non-Russian children who wanted the higher education or expanded career opportunities that were only available with Russian fluency would always have to study Russian. Languages with a relatively small number of speakers were particularly hard hit by this measure, since it was especially difficult and impractical to provide instruction in all subjects in languages seen as having minimal usefulness. In turn, the very fact that even native speakers of such languages could not use them in all areas of education and professional life served to limit their usefulness, perpetuating the cycle of linguistic marginality. What Russian child would bother to learn a North Caucasian language whose speakers numbered in the hundreds of thousands at most, the majority of whom by necessity were bilingual in Russian anyway?



In the end, the factors over which Soviet language policy was able to gain the greatest control were future career and educational opportunities available to speakers of a given language, the degree to which languages (especially smaller ones which had no written form before the Revolution, of which there were many in the North Caucasus) became "literary languages" able to express the full range of human thought and intellectual output, and the laand levels in which education was offered.

An interesting sidebar in the development and retention of ethnic identity of North Caucasian peoples, which cannot be examined fully here, is the effect of the wartime deportations. The Chechens, Ingush, Karachai, and Balkars, internally deported to Central Asia and Siberia during the height of the Great Patriotic War in 1943-1944 for supposed disloyalty to the Soviet regime, are among those whose internal ethnic and linguistic divisions have historically been most manipulated by Soviet policy. They have had unusually high rates of native-language retention, even by Caucasian standards, and astonishingly high birthrates, the highest in the former Soviet Union except for Central Asia. It is almost as if their fertility were an attempt to make up for the large proportion of their populations (estimates range from 25-50%) who perished on the road into exile or during the period of deportation.

The Chechens have been a particularly onerous problem for Moscow, as the recent fighting demonstrates. It may be impossible to determine, however, whether the problematic nature of the relationship between the deported peoples and the central government is the result of Moscow's particularly harsh attitude toward them, or was its original cause.

In order to evaluate how well Soviet language policy has worked in the North Caucasus, one must first determine whether the policy's original intent was linguistic Russification, or simply the development of functional bilingualism among all the peoples of the Soviet Union.

It is true that a high overall rate of Russian bilingualism exists among these peoples, especially among the younger generation, and that it would be an administrative nightmare to train teachers, design curricula, and print textbooks in so many languages. Even if these problems could have been overcome, others would have remained: the logistical difficulties in determining which pupils speaking which languages should attend which schools, especially given the degree of ethnic heterogeneity within extremely compact geographical areas that is so common to the North Caucasus.

However, one glaring fact remains: the Soviet government never made a systematic attempt to perpetuate native language instruction for any people of the North Caucasus even through the middle school level. Even by the late 1980's, well into glasnost', most languages were only offered through the first few grades, if at all. In the Soviet Union "school usually [was] seen as a major means of reinforcing national culture," one which could "help form a nation as a living organism" and was "intended to contribute to the Soviet national development." If education in native languages and traditions is a highly significant factor in determining the future existence of non-dominant cultures, this suggests a policy of enforced Russian bilingualism at a bare minimum, if not one of complete linguistic Russification.

If the goal of Soviet language policy in the North Caucasus until the period of glasnost' was total linguistic Russification, it has hardly succeeded at all; in spite of everything, native language retention rates among the North Caucasian peoples are still extremely high, and very few non-Russians consider Russian their native language. If the original aim was the development of Russian-native language bilingualism, the plan has been a smashing success, especially considering how low literacy rates were even in native languages before the Revolution.

Soviet attempts to foster at least a functional bilingualism in Russian were fairly effective, but attempts at destroying original ethnic identities on a large scale did not succeed overall. If the Soviet government's intent was to create a "Soviet people," one which would speak only Russian and for whom national and state identity would coincide, it failed.

This failure is characteristic of the Soviet government's lack of foresight regarding the importance that the struggles for autonomy of various Soviet peoples would hold for the future viability of the Soviet state as a unit. Put simply, certain Soviet leaders believed that the national question was no longer a threat to state stability, and only by the late 1980's did it "become clear that in the realm of ethnic relations we [Soviets] came to believe that much of what we hoped for had become reality, considering the national question already solved once and for all," forgetting that "there is no understanding of the international without the national, that the friendship of peoples presupposes...not `friendship of all around one people,' but equal respect for all, whether great or small." Such a narrow perspective would soon prove instrumental in the collapse of the Soviet Union.



By the 1980's, native-language instruction was dying in the RSFSR, and was already largely a fiction in the North Caucasus. Even by the admission of Mikhail Kuzmin, the Minister of Minority Education, "the national schools were national in name only." Although the vast majority of pupils in the national schools were not native Russian speakers, national languages were primarily taught as just another subject, with Russian being the main language of instruction. Fully 19% of the school-age population in Russia was non-Russian; however, only about half of non-Russians attended schools where a language other than Russian was the language of instruction. Of the 120 linguistic groups which existed in 1934, by the 1980's only 18 national languages were being taught in Russian schools at all.

Even of this greatly reduced number, only two nationalities had a complete course of elementary and secondary education available in their native languages, and neither of these were Caucasian nationalities. As late into glasnost' as the 1989-1990 school year, no indigenous North Caucasian people had instruction available in its native language beyond the second grade, and the Chechens, the largest in number of students among North Caucasian peoples, had no native language instruction at all.

In keeping with the spirit of glasnost', which allowed greater freedom of expression on many levels with Soviet society, the atmosphere for open discussion of language policy improved greatly during the 1980's, both for the peoples of the North Caucasus and for ethnic minorities in the Soviet Union as a whole. By the 1990-1991 school year, the number of languages of instruction in Russia increased to 66, and an Institute of National Problems in Education was formed to increase national content in the school curriculum and implement new policy measures. Much like Russian Federation government as a whole, the educational system is in the process of decentralizing. Local administrations are asserting control at the oblast', region, and city level, "as are the newly emergent ministries of education in the autonomous republics and regions." If policymaking is carried out in a democratic manner, this may bode well for the future of minority language instruction, since at the local level each vote carries greater influence.

At the national level, however, the government's position seems unclear. The 1992 Law on Education of the Russian Federation states, in part, that "citizens of the Russian Federation have the right to receive primary general education in their native language. They also have the right to select the language of instruction of their preference from the range of options provided by the educational system." It does not, however, state which languages should be offered, or even what criteria should determine language offerings. In addition, no administrative unit below the republic level has the legal right to choose the language of instruction at or above the secondary school level. This is especially significant in contexts such as the North Caucasus, where numerous ethnic groups are too small to have an administrative division of their own to protect their interests. Also highly relevant in the fragmented linguistic environment of the North Caucais the lack of criteria for determining the distinction between a language and a dialect, or what policy should be if demand for a given language of instruction is deemed insufficient to offer it.

Of some comfort, however, is that the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as amended December 10, 1992, includes guarantees that "the right of ethnic communities to cultural autonomy is guaranteed" and that "state agencies, agencies of local self-government, enterprises, institutions, social organizations and individual persons may establish educational, scientific, and cultural enterprises and institutions." Presumably, this would mean that even if the state did not see fit to offer instruction in a given language, private parties could fill the gap and establish educational and cultural institutions. Admission to these could be based on any criteria, whether linguistic, ethnic, religious, or otherwise. In fact, this process has already begun. In the words of M. Makhmutov, member of the Soviet Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, in 1989 "in Russia, in many republics a national rebirth [was] in mushrooms after the rain, hundreds of informal associations have risen up." Such organizations could serve the neglected linguistic and educational needs of ethnic minorities in much the same way that private language and religious instruction exists in the United States and other countries.

In summary, current law would allow the language policy of the Russian Federation to take a variety of directions in the North Caucasus. Much like Russia's overall future prospects for democratic consolidation, the degree to which the small Caucasian peoples will achieve self-determination is limited to the degree to which the central government will allow them to exercise their will.



Allen, W.E.D., and Muratoff, Paul. Caucasian Battlefields: A History of the Wars on the Turco- Caucasian Border, 1828-1921. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, England, 1953.

Anderson, Barbara A. and Silver, Brian D. "Some Factors in the Linguistic and Ethnic Russification of Soviet Nationalities: Is Everyone Becoming Russian?" in Hajda, Lubomyr and Beissinger, Mark (eds.), The Nationalities Factor in Soviet Politics and Society, Westview Press: Boulder, San Francisco, and Oxford, 1990.

Balzer, Harley T. "Plans to Reform Russian Higher Education," in Education and Society in the New Russia. Anthony Jones (ed.) M.E. Sharpe: Armonk, NY and London, 1994.

Bennigsen, Alexandre, and Wimbush, S. Enders. Muslim National Communism in the Soviet Union: A Revolutionary Strategy for the Colonial World. University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London, 1979.

Broxup, Marie Bennigsen (ed.) The North Caucasus Barrier: The Russian Advance towards the Muslim World. Hurst & Company: London, 1992.

Connor, Walker. The National Question in Marxist-Leninist Theory and Strategy. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, 1984.

Gammer, Moshe. Muslim Resistance to the Tsar: Shamil and the Conquest of Chechnia and Dagestan. Frank Cass c/o International Specialized Book Services, Inc.: Portland, Oregon, 1994.

Geiger, Bernhard; Halasi-Kun, Tibor; Kuipers, Aert N.; Menges, KarlH. Peoples and Languages of the Caucasus. Mouton & Co.: Gravenhage, 1959.

Glagolev, P. and Petukhova, O. "Nerusskie shkoly i zadachi ikh ukrepleniya." Narodnoe obrazovanie, no. 9, Sept. 1947.

Gubarev, S.F. Deiatel'nost' kommunisticheskoi partii po sozdaniyu i razvitiyu sovetskoi shkoly v natsional'nykh respublikakh Severnogo Kavkaza (1920-1941), Daguchpediz: Makhachkala, 1979.

Hall, Paul Rondall. "Language Contact in the USSR: Some Prospects for Language Maintenance Among Soviet Minority Language Groups." Ph.D. diss., Georgetown University, 1973.

Jones, Anthony. "The Educational Legacy of the Soviet Period," in Anthony Jones, ed. Education and Society in the New Russia. M.E. Sharpe: Armonk, NY and London, England, 1994.

Karklins, Rasma. Ethnic Relations in the USSR: The Perspective from Below. Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1986.

Kerr, Stephen T. "Diversification in Russian Education," in Education and Society in the New Russia. Anthony Jones (ed.), M.E. Sharpe: Armonk, NY and London, England, 1994.

Kirkwood, Michael. "Glasnost', `The National Question,' and Soviet Language Policy." Soviet Studies, vol. 43, no. 1, 1991, pp. 61-81.

Kumanev, V.A. "Universal Literacy of the Formerly Backward Peoples of the Soviet Union: A Factor of Their Social Self-Awareness," in Language and Society: Anthropological Issues, eds. William McCormack and Stephen A. Wurm, Mouton: New York, 1979.

Kuzmin, Mikhail. "The Rebirth of the National School in Russia." Unpublished English translation of manuscript, originally published in Russian in Vestnik obrazovaniya, circa 1992. (Publication information provided by Prof. Ben Eklof, Institute for the Study of Russian Education, Indiana University. Inquiry for precise information in process with the Russian Federation Ministry of Education.)

Lipset, Harry. "The Status of National Minority Languages in Soviet Education." Soviet Studies, Oct. 1967, vol. XIX, no. 2.

Makhmutov, M. "Razmyshleniya o sud'bakh natsional'noi shkoly." Narodnoe obrazovanie, no. 7, July 1989.

Pares, Bernard. A History of Russia. Dorset Press: New York, 1953.

Pipes, Richard. The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917-1923, revised edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964.

Simon, Gerhard. Nationalism and Policy Toward the Nationalities in the Soviet Union: From Totalitarian Dictatorship to Post-Stalinist Society. Westview Press: Boulder, San Francisco, and Oxford, 1991.

van Den Berg, G. "Constitutional Aspects of the Law on Education of the Russian Federation," in van Den Berg, G. (ed.) Comments on the Law on Education of the Russian Federation. Acco (Academische Cooperatief c.v.): Leuven, Belgium, 1993.

Weinreich, Uriel. "The Russification of Soviet Minority Languages." Problems of Communism vol. 2, no. 6, 1953, pp. 46-57.

Wixman, Ronald. Language Aspects of Ethnic Patterns and Processes in the North Caucasus. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1980.

-----. The Peoples of the USSR: An Ethnographic Handbook. M.E. Sharpe: Armonk, NY, 1984.

(anonymous) "Programma `Natsional'nye (Nerusskie) uchebnye zavedeniya RSFSR (1990-1995 gg.)" Ministerstvo Narodnogo Obrazovaniya RSFSR: Moscow, 1990.

-----. "Law on Education of the Russian Federation." English translation in Comments on the Law on Education of the Russian Federation, Jan de Groof (ed.). Acco: Leuven, Belgium, 1993.

-----. "Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Russian Federation." Version amended as of December 10, 1992. English translation in Comments on the Law on Education of the Russian Federation, Jan de Groof (ed.). Acco: Leuven, Belgium, 1993.

-----. Natsional'nyi Sostav Naseleniya SSSR po Dannym Perepisi Naseleniya 1989 Goda. Respublikanskiy Informatsionno-Izdatel'skiy TSentr: Moscow, 1990.



(Tables and annotated information from Ronald Wixman, Language Aspects of Ethnic Patterns and Practices in the North Caucasus, p. 82.)


Language Population

Abkhaz 72,104

Circassian of which 144,847

Cherkess 46,286

Kabard 98,561

Karachay 27,223

Balkar 34,232

Ossetian 171,716

Chechen 226,496

Ingush 47,409

Kist 413

Avar 212,692

Dargin 130,209

Lak, Tabasaran, Dzhek (Kryz), etc. 91,880

Lezgin 159,213

Kumyk 83,408

Nogay 64,080

Udi 7,100

Tat 95,056


SOURCE: Russia, Tsentral'nyy Statisticheskiy Komitet, Pervaya vseobshchaya perepis' naseleniya Rossiyskoy Imperii 1897 goda, (Sankt-Peterburg, 1905), Svodnyy tom, table 13.






(Table and footnoted information from Ronald Wixman, Language Aspects of Ethnic Patterns and Processes in the North Caucasus, p. 83.)


Ethnic group 1926 1959 1970

Mingrelians 242,9 ---- ----

Svanetians 13,218 ---- ----

Batsbi 7 ---- ----

Abkhaz 56,957 65,430 83,240

Abaza 13,825 19,591 25,448

Circassians of which: 205,195 313,704 419,568

Adygei 65,270 79,631 99,855

Cherkess 139,925 30,453 39,785

Kabards 203,620 279,928

Karachai 55,123 81,403 112,741

Balkars 33,307 42,408 59,501

Ossetians 272,272 412,592 488,039

Ingush 74,097 105,980 157,605

Chechens 318,522 418,756 612,674

Avaro-Andi-Dido Peoples 197,392 270,394 396,297

of which:

Avars 158,769 270,394 396,297

Andi 7,840 ---- ----

Akhvakhs 3,683 ---- ----

Bagulals 3,054 ---- ----

Botlikhs 3,354 ---- ----

Chamalals 3,438 ---- ----

Godoberi 1,425 ---- ----

Karata 5,305 ---- ----

Tindi 3,812 ---- ----

Dido 3,276 ---- ----

Bezheta 1,448 ---- ----

Khunzals 106 ---- ----

Khvarshi 1,019 ---- ----

Archi 863 ---- ----

Laks 40,380 63,529 85,822

Dargins 108,963 158,149 230,932

Kaytaks 14,430 ---- ----

Kubachi 2,371 ---- ----

Lezgins 134,529 223,129 328,829

Aguls 7,653 6,709 8,831

Rutuls 10,495 6,732 12,071

Tsakhurs 19,085 7,321 11,103

Kumyks 94,549 134,567 188,792

Nogai 36,274 38,583 51,784

Tabasarans 31,983 34,700 55,188

Shakhdag peoples of which: 913 ---- ----

Budukhs 1 ---- ----

Dzheks 607 ---- ----

Khinalugs 105 ---- ----

Tats 28,705 11,463 17,109

Mountain Jews 25,974 25,225 n.a.

Udi 2,455 3,678 5,919


SOURCES: USSR, Tsentral'noe Statisticheskoe Upravlenie, Itogi vsesoyuznoy perepisi naseleniya 1970 goda (Moskva: "Statistika," 1973), vol. 4, Natsional'nyy sostav naseleniya SSSR, table 1.

USSR, Tsentral'noe Statisticheskoe Upravlenie, Itogi vsesoyuznoy perepisi naseleniya 1959 goda (Moskva: Gosstatizdat, 1962), SSSR: Svodnyy tom, table 53.

USSR, Tsentral'noe Statisticheskoe Upravlenie, Vsesoyuznaya perepis' naseleniya 1926 goda (Moskva: Izdanie Tsentralnogo Statisticheskogo Upravleniya, 1929), vol. 17, SSSR: Svodnyy tom, tables 6 and 9.




(taken from Ronald Wixman, Language Aspects of Ethnic Patterns and Practices in the North Caucasus, p. 141.)

Territory Ethnic group % of population


Daghestan ASSR Daghestani peoples 74.3

Russians 14.7


Checheno-Ingush ASSR Chechens 47.8

Ingush 10.7

Russians 34.5


North Ossetian ASSR Ossetians 48.7

Russians 36.6


Kabardino-Balkar ASSR Kabards 45.0

Balkars 8.7

Russians 37.2


Karachay-Cherkess AO Karachai 28.2

Cherkess 9.0

Russians 47.1


Adygey AO Adygei 21.1

Russians 71.7


Abkhaz ASSR Abkhaz 15.9

Georgians 41.0

Russians 19.1

Armenians 15.4


South Ossetian AO Ossetians 66.6

Georgians 28.3

Russians 1.6


SOURCE: SSSR, Tsentral'noe Statisticheskoe Upravlenie SSSR, Itogi vsesoyuznoy perepisi naseleniya 1970 goda (Moskva: Statistika, 1973), vol. 4, Natsional'nyy sostav naseleniya SSSR, tables 3, 6, and 16.






(Information from Ronald Wixman, Language Aspects of Ethnic Patterns and Processes in the North Caucasus, p. 145.)




Language When established Alphabet Latinized Cyrillicized


Abkhaz mid-19th cent. Cyrillic 1928 1954

Abaza 1932 Latin ---- 1938

Kabardino- Arabic and

Cherkess mid-19th cent. Cyrillic 1923-4 1938

Adygey 1927 Latin ---- 1938


Balkar 1924 Latin ---- 1939


Iron 18th cent. Georgian and Cyrillic 1923 1938

Digor Arabic 1923 ----

Chechen mid-19th cent. Cyrillic and Arabic 1923 1938

Ingush 1923 Latin ---- 1938

Avar mid-19th cent. Arabic 1928 1938

Dargin late 19th cent. Arabic 1928 1938

Lak late 19th cent. Arabic 1928 1938

Lezgin late 19th cent. Arabic 1928 1938

Kumyk late 19th cent. Arabic 1927 1938


Ak Nogay 1928 Latin ---- 1938

Kara Nogay 1928 Latin ---- ----

Tat (Jewish) ? Hebrew 1928 1939






(Table from Ronald Wixman, Language Aspects of Ethnic Patterns and Practices in the North Caucasus, p. 179.)


Ethnic group 1926 1959 1970


Balkars 33,307 42,408 59,901

Karachai 55,123 81,403 112,741

Chechens 318,522 418,756 612,674

Ingush 74,097 105,980 157,605

Ossetians 272,272 412,592 488,039

Avars 197,392 270,394 396,297

Dargins 125,764 158,149 230,932

Kumyks 94,549 134,967 188,792

Laks 40,380 63,529 85,822

Lezgins 134,529 223,129 323,829

Adygei) 79,631 99,855

Cherkess) 205,195 30,453 38,785

Kabard) 203,620 279,928



SOURCE: Tsentral'noe Statistickeskoe Upravlenie, Itogi vsesoyuznoy perepisi naseleniya 1970 goda, vol. 4, table 1;____, Vsesoyuznaya perepis' naseleniya 1926 goda, vol. 17, table 6.






(Table from Ronald Wixman, Language Aspects of Ethnic Patterns and Practices in the North Caucasus, p. 179.)


Ethnic group 1926 1959 1970


Balkars 33,307 42,408 59,901

Karachai 55,123 81,403 112,741

Chechens 318,522 418,756 612,674

Ingush 74,097 105,980 157,605

Ossetians 272,272 412,592 488,039

Avars 197,392 270,394 396,297

Dargins 125,764 158,149 230,932

Kumyks 94,549 134,967 188,792

Laks 40,380 63,529 85,822

Lezgins 134,529 223,129 323,829

Adygei) 79,631 99,855

Cherkess) 205,195 30,453 38,785

Kabard) 203,620 279,928



SOURCE: Tsentral'noe Statistickeskoe Upravlenie, Itogi vsesoyuznoy perepisi naseleniya 1970 goda, vol. 4, table 1;____, Vsesoyuznaya perepis' naseleniya 1926 goda, vol. 17, table 6.






(Data from Ronald Wixman, Language Aspects of Ethnic Patterns and Practices in the North Caucasus, p. 181.)



Ethnic group 1959 1970

Inside Outside Inside Outside


Abkhaz 96.7% 69.3% 97.8% 71.9%

Adygei 99.0 85.9 99.1 84.9

Cherkess 99.3 53.2 98.7 67.6

Abaza 96.1 78.3 97.8 41.5

Kabards 99.2 78.9 99.1 79.2

Karachai 99.6 83.1 99.5 89.3

Balkars 98.9 89.3 98.8 86.8

Ossetians 98.1 70.4 98.5 66.9

Ingush 99.4 96.6 99.3 92.4

Chechens 99.7 97.7 99.6 94.5

Avars 99.3 80.6 99.3 81.6

Kumyks 99.0 89.4 99.3 91.0

Nogai 86.7 95.3 86.6 95.2

Laks 98.3 82.2 98.3 80.9

Dargins 99.2 90.5 99.1 92.5

Tabasarans 99.5 89.6 99.5 83.4

Lezgins 98.1 87.5 98.8 88.9


SOURCE: Tsentral'noe Statisticheskoe Upravlenie, Itogivsesoyuznoy perepisi naseleniya 1970 goda, vol. 4, tables 4, 6, and 16.






(table from Ronald Wixman, Language Aspects of Ethnic Patterns and Practices in the North Caucasus, p. 194.)


Ethnic group 1959 1970


Daghestanis 1.6* 1.9

of which:

Avars 0.8* 1.0

Dargins 0.9 1.2

Lezgins 3.0* 3.7

Kumyks 1.4 1.2

Laks 3.2 3.7

Tabasarans 0.5 0.1

Nogai 1.9* 1.8*

Rutuls 0.07 0.03*

Aguls 0.4 0.04

Tsakhurs 0.01 0.08*


Chechens 1.0 1.2

Ingush 1.9 2.4

Ossetians 4.9* 5.4*

Kabards 1.9 1.8

Balkars 2.2 2.3

Cherkess 6.7 5.4

Abaza 1.8* 2.5

Karachai 1.5* 1.6

Adygei 3.2 3.4

Abkhaz 3.1 3.05

Udi 5.3 3.4

Tats 24.6 24.7



*Among these peoples there were more speakers of other languages as native tongues (excluding that of the given nationality) than of Russian.


SOURCE: Tsentral'noe Statisticheskoe Upravlenie, Itogi vsesoyuznoy perepisi naseleniya 1959 goda, SSSR, table 53; ____, Itogi vsesoyuznoy perepisi naseleniya 1970 goda, vol. 4, table 4.

 Go back to North Caucasian Bibliography
 Go back to Amjad Jaimoukha's Main Page

 This page is hosted by GeoCities. Please visit the site for a free home page and excellent service.