National Identity and Language.

The Soviet Union during its lifetime was made up of a multitude of peoples and cultures. Not only did it consist of Russians but Ukrainians, Georgians, the numerous peoples of the Caucus, the Kazakhs, Chechens and peoples of the Eastern Steppes among others. Among these people were innumerable minorities with differing languages and cultures. A real challenge for the Soviet Union of the 1920s was how to reach these diverse peoples with the message of the revolution. Furthermore, how was the Soviet government supposed to classify the numerous minorities that made up its work force. The consensus it seemed was to look to language to be the classifier of the people.

To the Soviet bureaucracy, the idea of nationality and cultural identity was a very important part of the uniformity of the communism idea. These identities were encouraged to foster in order to break out from under the thumb of Russian chauvinism. Ethnic peoples were encouraged see themselves as as the nationality of their birth instead of being members of the Russian empire.[1] a distinction to make is that these peoples were encouraged to become Soviet States, not whole separate nationality’s.[2] It was the hope of the Soviet government that this ability to develop a different and unique culture, as well as the encouragement to function in the native language would help propel the backwards parts of the Union onto the level of the government operating out of Russia. To reach the population of the minority’s, there would be “national languages” “national cultures” and “national cadres”[3] What this would create, was a feeling of uniformity and national identity as all peoples, no matter the class or ethnicity, would be given similar or the same perspective on communist scholarship.

Especially important was the teaching of said scholarship and ideas in the language of the native peoples. The theory was that if they (the workers) were instructed in words they could understand the highest efficiency would be brought out of them. Unfortunatly this would have side effects that would result in minority’s being forced to learn languages or to be intergrated in cultures based on there ethnicity. These languages would be standardized as official languages. “All languages identified during the 1920s…would become official.”[4] Soon language newspapers and propaganda would help foster a soviet identity that would help spread the communist message around the Union.

[1] Yuri, Slezkine “The Soviet Union as a Communal Apartment,” Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (1994): 423.

[2] Yuri, Slezkine “The Soviet Union as a Communal Apartment,” Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (1994): 423

[3] Yuri, Slezkine “The Soviet Union as a Communal Apartment,” Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (1994): 422

[4] Yuri, Slezkine “The Soviet Union as a Communal Apartment,” Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (1994): 430


French Nationalism

Nationalism is a feeling of pride or patriotism to one’s country, it is the effort of an individual to attach their identity to their country. Nationalism was vital to the success of the French Revolution. Being united by history, a common language and customs made it possible for the French to stick together instead of tearing their nation apart. In Halsall’s introduction to Herder’s “Materials for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind”, he says that “people are not ‘naturally’ aware that they belong to a nation in the sense that they might be aware they belong to a family, clan, village, town, or locality.” A nation has larger boundaries and the people who belong to it will go to great lengths to not only define these boundaries but also to protect them. A nation’s physical boundaries are defined by agricultural landmarks, separating different groups of people by nature. Therefore, to define a nation, one has to establish a character belonging to that nation; a character preserved by its people through history. To Halsall, an important part of this character of a nation is language. He believes that a nation should be united by one language, and that to take that away would be begrudging the people “of its one eternal good”. To Halsall, language holds “tradition, history, religion, and basis of life, all its heart and soul”.

To Halsall, Nationalism is dependent on common language, traditions, and history. To him, it seems the past very much defines the future of a nation. What brings a people together and keeps them together is the stability of a nation’s “character”, and other cultures or languages hold a threat against this character. La Marseillaise calls for the “children” to rise up and protect the “fatherland”. This goes along with Halsall’s theory of a nation finding its identity and strength through their forefathers (or the founding fathers of their nation). The song goes on to say that the French need to unite against the “foreign cohorts” threatening their nation. This shows that they as a nation believe that foreigners taking over would ruin the nations character and thereby take away the identity they have attached to their nation. It is fitting that this became the marching song for the French troops because it reminded them why they were fighting- to protect the land as well as its traditions, language, and control of their interpretation of history that were so vital to its character.

von Herder: Materials for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind

In his “Materials for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind,” von Herder writes about the importance of cultural nationalism and the value of local culture. A German scholar, he believes that the people of Germany are brought together by their shared language and customs, and that these attributes make the nation unique to other countries. He compares a nation-body to that of a family and believes that the two are inherently the same because they are both natural. Von Herder also believes that nature creates families and the most natural state is a group or body of people who share a national character and come together as one. He also deplores the concept of a the expansion of states that create a “a wild confusion of races and nations under one scepter.” He states, “An empire made up of a hundred peoples and 120 provinces which have been forced together is a monstrosity, not a state-body.” Von Herder emphasizes the importance of a shared cultural tradition. “Has a people anything dearer than the speech of its fathers? In its speech resides its whole thought-domain, its tradition, history, religion, and basis of life, all its heart and soul. To deprive a people of its speech is to deprive it of its one eternal good…” Von Herder believes in the idea of a community of people united together through their shared practices, values, common language, and history.

It is apparent the von Herder relies on language as a source of German community, but also as a key aspect of the nation’s culture, tradition, and history. He states, “The best culture of a people cannot be expressed through a foreign language; it thrives on the soil of a nation most beautifully, and, I may say, it thrives only by means of the nation’s inherited and inheritable dialect.” Here, von Herder is implying that the best culture of people cannot lack a traditional and historical common language, which would mean that the inclusion of any foreign or external language would be a threat to this cultural well-being. He has also explicitly states that the best culture thrives only by the means of ancestral dialect.

If we take the United States, for example, which has been infused with a plethora of languages and cultures and has even been dubbed as a cultural “melting-pot,” I would presume that von Herder would consider this a nation lacking what he would consider a “national character.” Do you agree?

Perestroika and 100 wilted flowers

Perestroika and glasnost  were terms Gorbachev used to embody his cultural reforms and openness to Western influence. The Chinese, too, had a period of openness. In 1956 Mao said that,  “The policy of letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend is designed to promote the flourishing of the arts and the progress of science.” This “100 Flowers Movement” was ended in 1957 with political persecutions. Both Communist powers handled political dissonance in the second half of the 20th century differently, with the USSR embracing and the Chinese silencing controversy.  Though, to look at it all now, the USSR has been disbanded and China is still heavily controlled by a limited ruling class.

In 2009, Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov with a button that said “Peregruzka — Reset.” The word peregruzka, presented in the Latin and not the Cyrillic alphabet, would translate as “overload” instead of “reset”. Lavrov noticed the error immediately. Given this anecdote, should the United States continue to remain closed to foreign influences and cultures? Russia had a period of openness and voluntary consumption of foreign goods, whereas China had tried to limit all culture through administrative measures. Can the United States thrive on their genetically modified single-crop harvests, or will they eventually need to open themselves up to the world’s hundred flowers?

Political Languages

Both Viktorovich and Natalia touch on the impact of learning English in grade school and, to an extent, elaborate on how they expanded that knowledge as they got older. This language was designated as a critical foreign language in the Soviet Union. How should we interpret this given the geographical distance between the USSR and the next English speaking country? In the United States, the common elementary language is Spanish. Is this because of the strong political and cultural influences coming from the other American countries and Spain? Doubtful.


The interviews from Saratov touch on the global political importance of knowing English during the late Soviet Union. Many resources abroad (radio programs, “European News”) were English influenced. The Soviet understanding of this allowed it to be a competitive power in the technological, cultural, and arms races.  This allowed many citizens of the USSR to embrace and understand global news and influences. Viktorovich displayed an understanding of the varying cultures he encountered in the army. Could this empathy been nurtured by his exposure to the global community? If so, language was his entrance to the discussion.

The United States’ pre-occupation with Spanish (not a State-recognized critical language) is not geared toward embracing a global political community. In fact, the cutting of Russian research funding seems to insinuate movement in the opposite direction — isolationism. Either that or the United States does not recognize the global influence Russia holds and this unprecedented cut was made out of arrogance, ignorance, or a mix of both.2008-469--America-and-Russia-agree

Cultural Sustainability

My favorite definition of sustainability that I found was from the Free Dictionary.  Sustainability was defined as “to keep in existence, maintain.”  This definition was my favorite because it was the most inclusive one I could find.  Many other definitions spoke specifically about the environment.  While sustainability is most commonly used in reference to the environment and a “green” lifestyle, it can also be used in an economic or cultural sense as well.  I will be focusing on the cultural definition of sustainability.

In terms of culture, sustainability refers to maintaining certain cultural markers, such as language, traditions, ancestry, and religion.  Some of these can be very positive, such as keeping a language alive, or participating in a family ritual.  A negative example would be forbidding intermarriage as a way to continue “racial purity.”

Since the English began to rule Ireland, the Irish Gaelic language has been in steady decline.  Even in the Victorian Era, James Joyce wrote about university students enrolling in Irish classes to keep the language alive (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Today, according to a census reported in The Guardian, about 25% of the Irish population speaks Irish, which is odd, considering it is officially the country’s first language.  While some of the Irish refuse to speak a language other than English, in Irish speaking parts of Ireland, Irish Gaelic is taught in schools.  According to the Irish Central website, the number of Irish speakers is on the rise.  This is due to people wanting to preserve this language, an example of cultural sustainability.  Just as we try to conserve natural resources, Irish speakers are trying to conserve their language.  

The other example of cultural sustainability I will use is quite different.  This is because it is a movement to revive something that has been arguably gone for thousands of years.  The pagan revivalist movement is a movement dating back to the 1950s, that is attempting to revive the various world pagan religions that disappeared after the rise of Christianity.  Religions such as Druidry, the ancient religion of the Celts, or Greco-Roman beliefs are being followed by some people in modern society, particularly in the UK and US.  Some people are trying to revive these old religions because they identify with the culture that used to practice them.  For example, a German or German-American may worship the old Germanic or Viking gods.  Others just find a spiritual truth in these ancient practices.    While this example is not the most well-known, I find it extremely interesting, because it is a movement to resurrect a religion believed to be extinct.   Which brings up a question:  Does sustainability encompass not just keeping in existence, but bringing back to existence?

So, while one can maintain resources and economic structure, one can also maintain languages and religions.