Πέμπτη, 26 Ιουνίου 2014

Russian and Soviet National Policy and Greek population in Donetsk

Greek communities in Azov area, nowadays region of Donetsk in South Ukraine, were established by Greek settlers, coming from Crimean peninsulaIn 1778, six years before Catherine the Great finally took Crimea from the Ottoman Empire, 18,000 Crimean Greeks, along with other Christians, mostly Armenians, living under Tatar rule, successfully petitioned the empress for permission[2] to move to Russia and emigrated to the shores of the sea of Azov, where they founded the city of Mariupol and several villages. At the same time the migrants obtained administrative and religious autonomy.[3] The decision for migration of Greeks from Crimea was part of a colonization plan of the newly conquered lands of Novorossia (South Ukraine) at the end of 18th century[4], led by Prince Grigory Potemkin, who was granted absolute rule over the area by Catherine the Great.  In addition, the exodus of all Christians (Greeks, Armenians, Vlachs, and Georgians) from Crimea helped Russia to annex the Crimean Khanate five years later, in 1783[5].
Speaking of Greeks of Mariupol we have to bear in mind that this term unites the two following entities: the Roomies (Rumaioi), whose language is divided into five dialects referred to the Greek, and the Aurums (Urum), who speak four dialects of the Tartaric language.[6] They both call themselves Greeks, mainly because of their confessional adherence to Orthodoxy, as the religion confession, since the 13th century, was the dominant criterion that had separated this part of population from the Muslim majority, in the Tartar Khanate. Moreover, in Crimea as supreme leader of Christians was recognized the Patriarch, who was designated Roum millet-bashi. Roum millet included all Orthodox Christians under Ottoman rule, regardless of their nationality in the modern sense.[7]
During the 19th century new waves of settlers, were established in the area of Azov. Lands were given to the peasantry, mostly from Ukraine and fewer from Russia, especially after the abolishment of serfdom in 1861,[8] in order to cultivate what was a sparsely populated steppe.[9] As a consequence, the significance of the Greek communities in the Region was reduced and all the privileges were eliminated including the administrative autonomy.[10] In the next years, city of Mariupol was connected by rail to the Donetsk Basin  and developed as a major port for the region.[11] The economical and social development that had taken place in Russian Empire had a significant impact on the self-consciousness of Greek population. The process of Russification, mainly amongst urban younger generations, had been accelerated.[12] This social phenomenon was not a Greek exclusivity, as the authorities, following the accession to the throne of Alexander III(1881), intensified their interventions in the economic, social and cultural life of particular national groups.[13]
At the same time, the tsarist policy resulted in the heightening of nationalist emotions by urban elites among the non-Russian ethnic groups. However, the revolution of 1905 and the movements of minorities (Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians and Muslim peoples) that demanded national autonomy within existing borders or legal non-discrimination[14] had no impact on the, predominantly rural and isolated, Greek communities of Azov. It is important to note that they always stood apart from the rest the Greeks, and in contrast to all the rest Greek communities, never maintained close ties with the traditional centres of Hellenism.[15]
On the Eve of the first World War, Russia was one of the world’s most ethnically heterogeneous states: “to the seventy million Great Russians constituting the main mass of the country, there were gradually added about ninety million “outlanders” sharply divided into two groups: the western peoples excelling Russia in their culture, and the eastern standing on a lower level[16]. After Tsar was toppled by the revolution of February 1917 new national movements were organised throughout the Empire[17]. It was apparent that, prior to the October Revolution of 1917, an “abyss had been created “between tsarism and the nationalities[18] because, mainly, of the lengthy and demoralizing war. 
In the period between the February and October Revolutions, the leadership of the Greek communities attempted to reorganise their internal communal life. Efforts were held for coordination amongst Greek groups, living in the Russian state. In Taganrog, in June, 1917, was held the National Assembly of the Greeks and was founded the “League of Greeks of Russia”, in order to coordinate attempts for autonomy of the Greek communities.[19]
These decisions and activities caused later the suspicion of the Soviet State, which moreover marked Greeks as class enemies, as many of them engaged in trade or other occupations.
In any case, after Bolsheviks had seized power, the Greeks of the Russian empire began to take different political positions. The majority opposed the Bolsheviks, not in a straight way, passing to counterrevolutionary camp, while another part collaborated with them.[20] Large Greek settlements took place, except from the Azov area, in Southern Russia, Northern Caucasus and Transcaucasia, where Pontic Greeks, immigrants from Ottoman Empire, lived. 
During the period from the October revolution until 1921, the situation in Ukraine was quite confused. The Ukrainian Central Rada (Council), a nationalist organisation founded in April 1917, tried to establish a Ukrainian state. Following the victory of the October Socialist Revolution the Rada declared itself the supreme organ of the “Ukrainian People’s Republic” and campaigned openly against Soviet rule.[21] The Brest-Litovsk treaty (3 March 1918), concluded by the Bolsheviks with the German government, allowed the entrance of the Austro-Germans troops in Ukrainian territory, including the Azov area. As a result of the occupation everywhere, primarily in the villages, insurrectionary acts by peasants began against the landowners and the Austro-Germans. Under these circumstances, even the isolated and with no politically conscious Greek peasantry was forced to take part in the insurrection. Many Greeks participated in “Makhnovshchina” movement, led by anarchist Nestor Makhno. The movement included poor peasants of all nationalities who lived in the region. The majority naturally consisted of Ukrainian and Russian peasants. “Then there were Greeks, Jews, Caucasians and other poor people of various nationalities. The Greek and Jewish settlements scattered in the region of the Sea of Azov maintained constant links with the movement. Several of the best commanders of the revolutionary army were of Greek origin, and until the very end the army included several special detachments of Greeks[22]
In 1919, a regiment from Greece, of 24,000 men, arrived in Crimea among the forces intervening on the Russian side in the Civil War.[23] This unsuccesful expedition exacerbated the position of Greek population in the new state of Soviet Union and forced thousands of Greeks to emigrate to Greece in next ten years.[24]
The final result of these years of revolution, civil war, and ethnic nationalist insurrection was the creation, in 1922, of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics[25] and Communist Party began a new policy for nationalities. We remind that “The Declaration of Rights of the Peoples of Russia”, adopted by the Bolshevik government on 15 November 1917, had already recognized equality and sovereignty of all the peoples of Russia; their right for free self-determination; freedom of religion; and free development of national minorities and ethnic groups on the territory of Russia.[26] But the main reason for the shift of national policy was the massive non-Russian opposition to new regime. Consequently, Soviet leaders attempted to gain the support of the national identities, thus local administrative units were established. As “communism war” policy was followed by the New Economic Policy, Communist Party launched the politics dubbed Korenizatsiya (Russian: коренизация)[27]. The term’s meaning is "indigenization", and derives from the Russian term "root population" for indigenous nationals. Korenizatsiya implied the introduction of the local languages into all spheres of public life and the use of local languages to the widest possible extent, particularly, in education, publishing, culture, and, most importantly, government and the Communist Party. Within the national minorities areas new institutions should be organized giving the state a national character everywhere, built on the recruitment and promotion of leaders from the ranks of minority groups.[28] The new “nationalities policy” was approved in 1923 by the 12th Party Congress.[29] 
In January-February 1923, the Executive Committee of the Council of Workers, Peasants, Soldiers and Red Cossack deputies in Governorate of Donetsk, led by the Statistical Office of Donetsk, held a general census of the Donetsk Region, where he gave the following results[30]:

According to census data, the Greeks of Azov spread over 123 population centers (70 large villages, 26 hutor [farms], 19 settlements, five small villages, 1 Stanitsas [Cossack village], 1 Sloboda, 1 kolkhoz) and the Greek population had the third position of the governor's major Donetsk. 89.7% of Greeks were farmers and 87.2% of them lived in mono-ethnic, i.e. purely Greek villages and only 2.5% in mixed.
In 1926 the Soviet Administration created three Greek national departments:
Mangus with 89% Greek population
Sartanski with 52% and
Velikogianisolski with 60%.[31]
The Greek ethnic departments included 14 of the 30 rural soviets
In 1926, in Ukraine there were 306 Russian ethnic rural soviets, 228 German, 137 Polish, 117of Jews 43 Bulgarian, 30 Greek, 14 Moldavian, 12 Czech, 2 russian and 1 Sweden, as a whole 891 soviets. The level of participation was 91,9% for the Bulgarians, 88,2% Greeks, 73% Germans, 90% Swedes, 31% Poles, 33% Moldovans  and 13,7% Jews.[32]
At the same time the Soviet administration established a number of greek language schools and allowed several magazines and newspapers to be published. Very soon it was proved that Farmers were not involved in the processes and new organizations, always suspicious, and not unjustly against state power. The results of the elections in the Greek rural soviets show that the level of participation remained very low until the beginning of the collectivization.[33] 

Elections in Greek Rural Soviets

Women elected


Greeks chairmen of Soviets


Communists elected


With no right to electoral participation






Shortages in the harvest and difficulties with the supply system invoked difficulties in the food supply in urban areas. Facing serious economic problems and without the active participation of farmers, Stalin and the All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks) (VKP(b)) decided to change political orientation. Its main goal was the rapid industrialization. Within this framework, in 1927, after the XV Congress of the VKP(b) a significant impetus was given to the, so called, Collectivization and dekulakization, that was pursued between 1928 and 1933.
Despite the intense state campaign, collectivization, was not popular amongst peasants,[34] contributed to famine (Holodomor )in 1932 and 1933, and incited numerous peasant revolts in Ukraine.[35] “Collectivisation met with special difficulties in areas with Greek agricultural population, especially in the Caucasus. The authorities reacted with exile and forced resettlement of Greek farmers –especially those of the Crimea, Mariupol, Southern Russia, and Abkhazia”.[36] During a campaign of political repression the majority of the Greek farmers became members of the new agricultural collectives. According the data in 1931, in Azov area there are 3.814 collectivized Greek agricultural entities (70,5%).[37]
Between 1933 and 1938 began purges of the leaderships of the national republics and territories. It was proclaimed that local elites had become hired agents and their goal was the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism. The deportations and prosecutions started with Poles and Germans. The persecution of Greeks in USSR was gradual: at first the authorities shut down the Greek-language schools, cultural centres, Greek Orthodox churches, and publishing houses.
During the so-called “Grecheskaya Operatsiya” (i.e. Greek Operation), launched on Stalin's orders in December 1937 (Directiva Νο 50215) and signed by N. Yezhov, chairman of the Soviet secret police NKVD, there were mass arrests of Greeks. In Donetsk Region, 3.125 Greeks were sentenced to death and 109 were transported to gulag for 5-10 years. In 1938, 345 more Greeks were executed and 49 were detained in Gulag. Victims of the persecutions were farmers, workers teachers and members of the ethnic intelligentsia.[38]
After the de-Stalinization, during  Khrushchev leadership, and 20th Party Congress in 1956, in which was denounced Stalin's purges and repressions Greeks in Azov area were gradually allowed to return to more normal life, but in a modest way. The only activity relating to their ethnic identity, until the end of ’80s, was from scholars of Kiev University, led by Andriy Biletsky, that compiled a detailed description of the language and recorded the folklore.
After the collapse of Soviet Union started a new attempt to preserve a sense of Greek identity, however the majority of the ethnic Greek population of the region consider Russian their mother language, and the problem of the self-identification is facing new challenges.

Sotirios Dimopoulos Ph.D. Sociology

[1] Greeks established colonies in Crimea (Tavris) as early as the 6th century B.C. Koromila, Marianna, “The Greeks and the Black Sea from the Bronze Age to the Early 20th Century Panorama Cultural Society, 2nd edition, Athens 2002.

[2] L. B. Kouzmitchov, K.A. Xachharadzi, «K pereseleniyu Krimskih grekov v rossiou», «Greki Ukraini, Istoria I Soavremennosti», Donetsk, 1991, p. 48.
[3] Photiadis, Kostas, “O Ellinismos tis Krimeas – Mariupol, dikaiola sth mnimi”, Athens 1990, pp.37-40.
[4]Whatever the reasons, the result of these territorial annexations was the incorporation of a host of non-Russian nationalities into the tsarist, and originally ethnic Russian, state”, Clem, Ralph S, “The ethnic dimension of the Soviet Union”, Part 1, inContemporary soviet society, sociological perspectives”, Ed. Jerry Pankhurst and M. P. Sacks, NY 1980, p. 17.
[5] E Druzhinina, E. I. Kiuchuk-Kainardzhiiskii mir 1774 (ego podgotovka i zakliuchenie). Moscow, 1955, p. 286.
[6] Quoting below the most important researches about the dialects of Rum and Urum of Crimea and Azov area :
F. Hartahai, «Christianstvo v Krimy», Simferopol, 1864,
B. I. Grigorovich, «Zapiski antikvara o poezdke ego na Kalky I Kalmiys», Odessa, 1874,
F. Braun, «Mariupolski Greki», “Zivaya Starina”, v. 1, 1890, pp. 78-92,
A.L. Berte-Delagard, «Issledovanie nekotorih nedoumennih voprosov srednevekovia v Tavride», Odessa, 1914,
I.I. Sokolov, «O yazike grekov Mariupolskogo I Stalinskovo okrygov», “Yazik I Literatyra”, v. 4, 1930, pp. 49-67,
«Mariupol i ego okrestnosti», Sbornik, Mariupol 1892, p. 38,
D. Spiridonov, «Istorichnii interes vivtsenia govirok Mariupilskih grekiv», «Shidni svit»,, 1930, Νο 12 (3), pp. 171-181,
M.B. Sergievskii, «Mariupolskie gretseskie govori», Izvestia AN SSSR, otd. Obchestvennih nauk, 1934, pp. 548-550.

[7] “In the Orthodox millet of the Ottoman empire, Christianity had kept a Byzantine Greek ethnic alive, as in a chrysalis…” Anthony D. Smith, “National Identity”, Athens 2000, p. 56.

[8]  Pipes, Richard , “Russia under the Old Regime”, 1995.
[9] According to the general census in 1897 population in Donbas consisting of: Ukrainians 52,4 %, Russians 28,7%, Greeks 6,4%, Germans 4,3%, Jews 2,9%, Tartars 2,15% in «Pervaia vseobschchnaia perepisnaseleniia Rossiiskoi imperii, 1897 g.», S. Petersburg, 1904-5, 13:74-75.
[10] Photiadis, Kostas, “O Ellinismos…”, p. 41.

[11] “…the emancipation of serfs , the real beginnings of a railroad system an expanding internal market, and the creation of a consideranble banking system helped establish the preconditions of modern economic growth” John McKayForeign Entrepreneurship and Russian Industrialization, 1885-1913”, University of Chicago Press 1970,  p. 3.

[12] Panayiotides, Theologis, “O Ellinismos stin Rossia”, Athens, 1993, 1st ed. 1919, pp.18-19.

[13] Pipes, Richard “The formation of the Soviet Union”, rev. ed. New York, 1968, pp. 1-49.
[14] Ascher, Abraham, “The Revolution of 1905, A Short History”, Stanford University Press, 2004.
[15] Karpozilos A., « Oi Ellines tis Mariupolis (Zdanov) kai i dialektos tous», Archeion Pontou XL 1985, pp. 98-103.
[16] Trotsky, Leon, “The History of the Russian Revolution”, v. II, Greek ed. “Allagi”, Athens, 1983, p. 336.
[17] for the oppressed nations of Russia the overthrow of the monarchy inevitably meant also their own national revolution”, Ibid.
[18] National Factors in Party and State Development”, Resolution adopted by the Twelfth Congress of the Russian Communist Party, April 1923, in appendix to Stalin, «Marxism and National, Colonial Question», Moscow 1923, 279-287.
[19] Panayiotides, Theologis, “O Ellinismos…”, pp.21-28.
[20]The Greeks of Russia and the Soviet Union Migrations and Displacement, Organisation and Ideology”, I.K. Hassiotis (ed.), Athens 1997, pp. 25-32.
[21] , History of Soviet Russia, 1917-1923, Athens 1977.
[22] Arshinov, Petr, “History of the Makhnovist Movement (1918-1921)”, Greek ed. “Athens (n.d.), p. 156.
[23] «Istoria tou ellinikou ethnous», v 15, Athens 1975,  p. 112.
[24]The Greeks of Russia…”, pp.299-305
[25] Clem, Ralph S, “The ethnic…” p. 21.
[26] Ellenstein, Jean, «La conquete du pouvoir 1917-1921 », 1st ed. 1973, greek ed. 1980, Athens, pp. 10-11.
[27] Connor, Walker, “The National Question in Marxist-Leninist Theory and Strategy”, Princeton University 1984, p. 256.
[28] Holybnychy, Vsevolod, “Some Economic Aspects of Relations among Soviet Republics.”  In Ethnic Minorities in the Soviet Uniion,edited by Erich Coldhagen, New York 1968, 51.
[29] History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union”, Russian ed. Moscow 1978, Greek ed. Athens 1980, p. 409.
[30] K. Boenko, A. Dinges «Tsislo ziteleix I mesta gretseskih obsin Donetskotskoi gubernii v 1923», in «Ukraina-Gretsia Istoria I Sutsacnist» Kiev 1995, pp. 39.
[31] Yakubova, Larisa, «Mariupolski Greki (Etnitsna Istoria) 1778r-potsatok 30-h XX st”, Kiev 1999, p. 111.
[32] «Vtoroe Vseukrainskoe Soveshanie po rabote sredi natsiomnalnih menshistv», 27-30 November 1930, Kiev, p. 47.
[33] Yakubova, Larisa, «Mariupolski…”, p. 114.
[34] M.L. Bogdenko, «K istorii natsalnogo etapa sposnoi kollektivizatsii selskogo xoziaistva SSSR», j. “Voprosi Istorii”, 1963, N. 5, p. 28.
[35] S. Merl, “Golod 1932-1933 Genotsid Ukraintsev dlia osuscestvlenia politiki russifikatsii?” Otetsestvennaia Istoriya, 1995, n.1. pp.49-61.
[36]The Greeks of Russia…”, p. 602.
[37] Yakubova Larisa, «Sotsialno-Ekonomitsne stanovishe etnitcnih menchin v USSR (20-i potsatok 30-x rokiv XX st.)», Kiev 2004, pp. 296-297.
[38] V.N. Nikolski, «Direktiva No 50215 (Repressia 30-x gg kak stredstvo likvidatsii obstsinih traditsii grekovin «Ukraina-Gretsia», 1995, pp. 92-93 and V.N. Nikolski, «Grazdane Gretsii, repressirovannye v Donbasse v1937-1938 g.g.», in «Ukraina-Gretsiia: Dosvid druzhnikh zviazkiv ta perspektyvy spivrobitnytstva». Tezy dopovidei mizhnarodnoi naukovoi konferentsii», Mariupol 1996, pp. 71-73.

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