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Isabelle T. Kreindler The Mordvinians : A doomed Soviet nationality ? In: Cahiers du monde

The Mordvinians : A doomed Soviet nationality ?

In: Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique. Vol. 26 N°1. Janvier-Mars 1985. pp. 43-62.

Résumé Isabelle Kreindler, Les Mordves. Une nationalité soviétique condamnée ? Bien qu'il ne soit à nouveau plus de mise de parler des déportations massives de huit nationalités soviétiques à l'époque de la guerre, les effets s'en font encore sentir tant sur les cinq nationalités qui ont recouvré leur patrie que sur les trois autres, toujours en exil. Cet article retrace rapidement l'historique des Mordves et les principaux jalons de leur tragique expérience, tout en étant centré sur les prolongements actuels de ces déportations sur le peuple mordve et sur la politique soviétique des nationalités en général.

Abstract Isabelle Kreindler, The Mordvinians. A doomed Soviet nationality? Although the Soviet war-time deportations of eight entire nationalities have again become a non-event of history, the effects, both among the five nationalities who have been restored in their homelands and especially among the three who are still in exile, are still very much felt. This article summarizes the background of the deported nationalities and of the basic events of their tragic experience, while focusing on the continuing ramifications of the deportations on the nationalities involved and on Soviet nationality policy in general.

Citer ce document / Cite this document :

Kreindler Isabelle T. The Mordvinians : A doomed Soviet nationality ?. In: Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique. Vol. 26 N°1. Janvier-Mars 1985. pp. 43-62.

doi : 10.3406/cmr.1985.2030 http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/cmr_0008-0160_1985_num_26_1_2030

ISABELLE T. KREINDLER

THE MORDVINIANS

A DOOMED

SOVIET NATIONALITY?

 

The

1979

census

recorded only 1,191,765 Mordvinians in

the

Soviet

Union,

a further decrease

of 70,905

since the

1970

census.*

This

ancient

Finnic

people,

indigenous to the Volga

area,

However,

is still the largest of Soviet Finno-Ugrian nationalities.

if

their

numbers

continue

to

drop

as

they

have

been during the past forty years, not only are they certain to lose this primacy
been
during
the
past
forty
years,
not
only
are they certain
to
lose
this
primacy
before
the
end
of
the
century
(see
table), but their very survival is in question.
Major Finno-Ugrian nationalities in the USSR (in thousands)
1926
1939
1959
1970
1979
Mordvinians
1,340.4
1,456.3
1,285.1
1,262.7
1,191.8
Estonians
-
-
988.6
1,007.4
1,019.0
Udmurts
504.2
606.3
624.8
704.3
713.7
Maris
428.2
481.6
504.2
598.6
622.0
Komi
375.9
422.3
430.9
475.3
477.5
Kare Hans
248.1
252.7
167.3
146.1
138.4
Finns
19.5
-
92.7
84.8
77.1
Source: V.I.
Kozlov, Natsional ' nosti
SSSR (Moscow, 1982):
285-287.
 

In

absolute

numbers,

259, 86Л Mordvinians have vanished

since

1939.

The

actual

loss,

if expected natural increase

is

taken into account,

is of course much greater.

Yet,

during

this

period

there

were

no

special

peoples.

Mordvinian disasters not

shared

by

other

Soviet

Furthermore, unlike their

*

Parts

of

this

paper were presented at seminars of the Center

for

Russian

and

East

European

Studies,

Stanford

University

and

of the Russian

and East European Research Centre of The

Hebrew University, Jerusalem. for their stimulating comments.

I

wish to thank the participants

Cahiers du Monde russe et soviétique, XXVI (i), Janv.-Mars 1985, pp. 43-62.

44

ISABELLE T. KREINDLER

Baltic

relatives,

the

Estonians,

the

Mordvinians

have

one

of the lowest urbanization rates

and,

predictably,

enjoy a

fairly high fertility rate.(l)

Nor

have

they been affected by

emigration or transfer of population due to border adjustments

the

as

as a non-viable

drop

Walter Kolarz

some

of

work

Mordvinians

lation

assimilation,

the

Mordvinians as assimilating, a development which they consider to be both "natural and progressive. "(5) But predictions of the impending Mordvinian disappearance

Glyn

1972 work on Soviet multilingualism, judged their

as

have

case

their

other

Baltic

relatives,

the

Karelians

is

thus

and

Finns.

a

The

of

shrinking

Mordvinian

or

population

clearly

it,

assimilation,

revealed

far

Barbara

Anderson

terms

"national reidentification . " ( 2 )

The

Mordvinians

nationality.

in

saw

numbers

them

Writing

was

"in

a

the

Lewis,

future

smallest

in

as

a

on

Soviet

as

an

as

are generally dismissed

even

before

their

first

by

the

1959

census,

hopeless

position

in

the

Soviet

Bernard Comrie, in

points

"natural

to

dramatic

even

more

than

nationalities

while

Union. "(3)

a recent

the

of

"dubious,"

languages,

of

constantly

so-called

example

in

its

as

the

process

assimi

last

phase." Alexandre

well

as

that

of other

Soviet

scholars

also

Bennigsen sees their

nations"

"non-historic

constantly

inevitable. (4)

picture

have

been

sounded

many

times

in

the

past

and

yet

in

the

very

last

decades

of

the

twentieth

century

over

a

million

people

have

still

declared

themselves

Mordvinians.

It

is

the

purpose

of

this

paper to

analyze

the

historical

development

of

the

Mordvinian

nationality

focusing

on

the

factors

that

have

contributed

to

both

its

apparently

imminent

disappear

anceas

well

as

to

its

survival,

however

tenuous.

Such an

inquiry,

it

is

hoped,

will

be

of

since

the

Mordvinians

have

been

intrinsic interest in itself virtually ignored in Western

studies,

and

at

the

same

time

may

also cast

some

light

on

the

viability

of

other

nationalities,

whose

prospects

for

a

national future are often deemed not much brighter.

Mordvinian early history

The

ancestors

of

the

Mordvinians

originated

more

than

3.000

years

ago

in

the

area

between

the

Volga,

Oka

and

Sura

rivers.

They

first

appear

under

the

name

Mordens

in

the

writings

of

the

sixth-century

Gothic

historian

Jordanes.

Later,

they

are

intimately

linked

with

both

the

Khazar and

the Volga Bulgar states. (6)

 

Of

the

surviving

Volga

the

Mordvinians

were

one

of

the

first

to

come

nationalities, into contact

with

the

Russians

and,

the

were

as

first

the

differing

to

"tie

first

to

Russian Chronicles,

Soviet

their

interpretations

historical

fates

have

friendship"

"robbed," "conquered. "(7)

it,

were

in

be

"raped,"

also

or,

The

which

record

the

first

Russian-Mordvinian

encounter

in

1103

(though

toponymie

evidence

suggests

that

Russians

began

to

acquire

Mordvinian

lands

much

earlier),

present

and killings on both sides. (8)

a

uniformly

dreary

picture

of

ambushes,

burnings

In

the

THE MORDVINIANS

encounter

with

the

Russians,

the

45

Mordvinians had

several

disadvantages.

Perhaps

most

serious

was

their

di

vision

into

two

distinct

groups,

the Erzia Mordvinians and

the

Moksha

Mordvinians.

For

some

time

in

the sixth century,

and

possibly

even

earlier,

a

mysterious

event,

probably an

intrusion of a since vanished people,

had split the Mordvinians

into

two

separate

branches,

the

Erzia

in

the

northeast and

the

Moksha

in

the

southwest. (9)

Gradually

major differences

developed

in

customs,

language

and

even

physical

appear

ance (until their conversion to Christianity the

Erzia

and

Moksha

did

not

intermarry

and

even

today

intermarriage

share

Mordvinians

is

rare.) (10)

The

two

subdivisions

of

no

folk heroes

in

common

-

their

old

folksongs

sing

only

of

local heroes. Neither language has a common term to designate

speaker wishes

either

to

"Erzia and Moksha. "(11)

themselves

to

or

their language.

as

a

whole,

When

he

a

must

refer

Mordvinians

use

the

term

Another

serious

problem

was

their

geographic

location

in

close

proximity

to

powerful

neighbors

while

lacking

any

natural

barriers.

After

the

demise

of

the

Khazar

kaganate

in

the

early

eleventh

century,

the

Mordvinians

were

caught

in

the

struggle

between

the

Russian

princes

and

the

Volga

Bulgars.

This

struggle

was

largely

fought

on

Mordvinian

soil

with

the

Mordvinians often

forced

into

the

unhappy

of

supporting

own

their

petty

the

opposing

the

princes,

sides.

Though

organized

Mordvinians

had failed

to

role

under

form

anything

resembling

a

state

by

the

time

of

the

onslaught

of

the

Mongols

in

the

thirteenth

century.

Later,

as

the

Russians began to free themselves from the Mongols and slowly

advance

eastward,

the

Mordvinians

found

themselves

parti

tioned

between

the

Russians

on

the

west,

and

the

Golden

Horde

east.

foreclosed.

Any

ianswere united under Moscow. (12)

and

its

successor

for

state

the

Kazan1

existence

in

chance

With

independent

the conquest

of Kazan'

khanate,

was thus finally

the

on

1552,

all Mordvin

pressure of

the Russian advance the Mordvinians began to flee their

ethnic territory.

lands located directly

movement,

with the Mordvinian

Russian colonization

further

Even

before

the

final

conquest,

under

the

was

the

to

After the

in

fall of Kazan',

path of

the

outmigration

increased

and

be

augmented

cially

during

of

those

the

periodic

conversion

campaigns,

espe

the

eighteenth

century.

Whole

Mordvinian

villages

and fields "without their plowmen" as the folksongs lament. (13)

way

They

houses

would

in

be

abandoned

to

leaving

their

behind

faith

empty

fled

order

preserve

and

their

of

life,

but

having broken

with

their roots

they became more

vulnerable

to

conversion

and

russification

in

their

new

places

of

settlement,

where

it

was

only

a

matter

of

time

before

they

were

engulfed

by

the

Russians

once

more.

By

the

seventeenth

century

the

Mordvinian

homeland

had

become

central

Russian

territory

and

the

Mordvinians

there

a

mi

nority.

Many

Mordvinians

had

also

joined

the

Russians

and

Ukrainians in colonizing the new lands

in search of economic

opportunities. To this day they have remained one mobile nationalities in the Soviet Union.

of

the

most

46

ISABELLE T. KREINDLER

The Mordvinians in the tsarist Empire

The

history

of

the

Mordvinians

in

the

Empire

of

the

tsars

is

one

of

land

expropriations,

harsh

exploitation

and

assault

on

native

beliefs

and

customs

to

which

a continuous the

response was

at

first

rebellion

and

flight

but

ultimately

conversion and often full assimilation.

 

The

Russians deprived the Mordvinians not only of their

best

lands

but

also

of

their

"best"

people.

Native

leaders

were

either

killed

off

in

the

futile

uprisings

or

enticed

to

the

iansa nation of peasants. Like the other Volga nationalities,

most

burdened

Russian

side

by

offers

of privilege,

into

leaving the Mordvin

or

Crown

serfs

traumatic

most

Mordvinians

by

were

turned

State

taxes,

service

obligations

and

of

all

to

judge

by

the

folksongs,

military

recruitment.

Aside

from

restrictions

on

trading

in

the city

and

a

ban

on black-

smithing

(on

security grounds),

their burdens

were

in theory

the

same

as those of Russian peasants.

In practice,

however,

unscrupulous officials

took

advantage

of

their

ignorance

of

Russian

Even

in

and

the

Russian

ways

to

nineteenth

century,

make

as

to

 

their

lot

much

harder.

Herzen

reports,

officials

willingly

district. (U)

paid

a

double

bribe

be

assigned

to

a

native

 

In

the

Volga

area,

unlike

in

the

areas

of

received

later tsarist

conquests,

the

backing of the

Russian

Orthodox

Church

enthusiastic

state

in

its mission

to convert

the natives. (15)

This backing included both the "carrot" of rewards and

privileges

as

well

as

the

"stick"

of

extra

burdens

and

of

military

regiments

which

escorted

the

people

into

the

river

for

baptism.

The

Church

also

made

some

attempts

at

more

enlightened

methods

by

opening

schools.

However,

as

Prince

Shcherbatov

complained at

the end

of

the

eighteenth century,

"not

only

did

they

[the

schools)

fail

to

promote

the

faith,

but

made

it

filled

despised

with

[•••! most children died

and

remained

the rest

ignorant of Christ's

while

grievance

were teachings. "(16)

The

ruthless

conversion

methods

and

the

subsequent verts'

exactions

and

constant

interference

with

the

con

way

of

life

earned

the

Church

widespread

hatred.

During

the

peasant

revolts,

the

Volga

natives often

wreaked

vengeance on the clergy.

In

the

1773-1775 Pugachev uprising,

for example,

132

members

of

the

 

clergy

were

killed

in

the

Kazan' province alone. (17)

 

And

yet with

time,

Russian Orthodoxy did take root among

the

Mordvinians.

The

old

Mordvinian

animist

faith

had

de

veloped

no

institutional

forms

-

there

was

no

regular

clergy

and

writing

system

to

help

preserve

the

old

beliefs

and

rituals. By the nineteenth century, memories of the old religion

Kuz'ma

sians),

considerable difficulties in determining its content. Included

among

angel Gabriel and St. Nicholas. Alekseev's movement, which

had

put down

thousands to prayers in the meadow, was cruelly

had

Alekseev

had

grown

so

dim

that

when

the

the

a

Mordvinian

prophet,

by

faith,"

(dubbed

tried

his

to

Kuz'ka

restore

Mordvinian

"old

God,

the

he

the

Rus

arch

Mordvinian

the

Virgin

Mordvinian

gods were

Mary,

attracted

by the state. (18)

 

THE MORDVINIANS

 

47

In

the

nineteenth century,

Orthodoxy

had

become

almost

universal

among

the

Mordvinians.

The

few

who

had

still

managed to avoid

conversion

had fallen under

heavy

Russian

influence

were replete with Russian words. (19) A visiting Finnish scholar

in

acted like "devout Christians," a

gods

so

that

even

the

that

prayers

the

to

their

animist

were

the

1850 ' s

to

observed

Mordvinians

strongly

attached

Orthodoxy

and

point echoed by all Russian observers as well. (20)

 

Of

all

the

Volga

nationalities,

the

Mordvinians

were

not

only

the

most

profoundly

christianized

but

also

the

most

strongly

in

the

affected

by

Russian

culture

and

language.

Already

eighteenth century,

writers

single out the Mordvinians

from the other natives as least differing

Physically,

the

"even

from the Russians. (21)

the

Erzia,

resembled

handsome appearance,

as

a

tsarist

eth

the

Mordvinians,

were

noted

than

especially

for their

Russians

more

and

handsome

the

Russians,"

nographer

put it. (22)

 

Since

the

Russians

usually

settled

language

made

rapid progress

in

in

the

close

Mordvinian

proximity,

their

munities.

to Tsar Alexis that "even their wives and children speak

Russian. "(23)

The earliest written record of the Mordvinian language, the

many

words of Russian origin. (24)

Mordvinian

Dutch-Mordvinian lexicon published

com

A seventeenth-century bishop optimistically reported

(He

was

later

murdered

in

Later

by

the

Mordvinians.)

1692,

samples

contained

of

speech,

usually

odes

and

panegyrics,

reflect

a

growing

Russian influence.

By

the

nineteenth

century one

finds

nu

merous descriptions of Mordvinian communities speaking their

native

was 1868 the Kazan1

Translating Commission of the Russian Orthodox Missionary

Society received its charter to publish in various Volga lan

considered to be so widespread

language with an

admixture of Russian

words

or even

beginning to forget their language altogether. (25)

The

knowledge

of

Russian

among

that

the

when in

Mordvinians

guages,

Mordvinian was specifically excluded on the grounds

that

they

"are

completely

russified. "(26)

It

was

considered

only

a

matter

of

short

time

before

the

Mordvinians

would

totally

merge

with

the

Russians.

In

his

work

on

Samara

Mordvinians written in

1886,

M.

Grebnev saw the assimilation

process

reaching

its

end

- "another

hundred

years

and

only

the memory of their names will

 

"(27)

Yet

the

1897

census,

which

was

based

on

the

mother

tongue,

recorded

1,023,841

Mordvinians.

While

the

Russian

language,

especially

among

the

men

who

left

the

villages

for

outside

work,

was nearly

universal,

the

Mordvinian lan

guages

(Moksha

and

Erzia)

survived,

however

inundated

with

Russian

words.

Besides, the Russian words had become

"nativized"

sometimes

beyond

recognition. The Russian word

for happiness,

In

for

example,

schast'e,

had

become

in

Erzia

utsiaska . (28)

some of the remote villages,

especially

among

the more conservative Moksha, the Mordvinian national char acter continued to be expressed also visually in the women's clothing. (29) Finally, but this is impossible to measure with any precision, a feeling of national uniqueness was still

48

ISABELLE T. KREINDLER

preserved.

The sources do not report wide intermarriage with

the

spouse was not considered

undesirable. An amateur ethnographer, who in the late 1890' s

Russians,

though a

Mordvinian

spent

become

thoroughly

had

his summer near a Mordvinian village and had

friends with a piously Orthodox and seemingly

reported the following

to "why don't you Mordvin-

good

russified

young

Mordvinian,

outburst to his casual question as

ians marry Russian girls?" (30)

"Why

and ours

exterminate ians!" the

slight

our

own?

We'll start marrying Russians,

maids! [

you can't

There are many Mordvin-

No,

|

will remain old

Mordvinians!

Even

some

of

the

Mordvinians who hid their national origins

and

had

made

successful

may

have

preserved,

at

least

for

a

time,

careers, a certain feeling

toward

their people.

The

wealthy

Simbirsk society,

ported

it

for he himself was a Mordvinian passing

Simbirsk

industrialist

took

an

Shatrov,

unlike

help

the

rest

of

active interest and generously sup

Shatrov' s motive,

natives,

fellow

the

Simbirsk Native Chuvash School.

revealed,

was

a

desire

to

was

later

as a Russian. (3D

 

In

the

last

part

of

the

nineteenth century,

a movement

for

Mordvinian

national

awakening

arose

from

unexpected

quarters.

It

was spearheaded by

N.I.

Il'minskii,

a

lay mis

sionary

of

the

Russian

Orthodox

Church

and

the

head

of

its

Translating

Commission.

Il'minskii,

a

former

linguistics

professor,

 

was

fired

with

the

mission

to

turn

non-Russian

nominal

converts

to

Orthodoxy

into

true

believers.

That,

he

was convinced,

which

the

could

be

achieved only through the mother

penetrate

into the

there

were

tongue

was

broke

the

inner

recesses

still

enough

closer

than

ban

as

indeed

most

of

tongue

of

Mordvinians

the

Mordvinian translations the Kazan'

alone

"could

heart. "(32)

Believing that

for

whom

the

mother

they

knew,

Il'minskii

languages,

Russian

Since

against

and organized a Mordvinian section at

the

Translating Commission.

the

Mordvinian

other

Volga

languages,

were

at

the

pre-literate

stage,

a

great

deal

of

language

study

and

language development had

to

be

carried

out

before actual translating work could begin.

For

this

work

Il'minskii

usually

attracted

literate

natives

wherever he could find them and trained

others in his special

native

schools.

M.E.

Evsev'ev,

with

whom

modern Mordvinian

was

one of his discoveries

and

nearly every

culture begins, pre-revolutionary in

some

way

and

early

connected

with

Soviet

Mordvinian

leader

Il'minskii' s

activities.

was

The

educated Mordvinians associated with Il'minskii, unlike the

few Mordvinians who had managed to get an education earlier,

did not hide

their origins

and were

not lost to their people.

In

1882,

Il'minskii' s commission, as part of its linguistic

preparatory

work,

published

Samples

of

Mordvinian

folklore

in

Erzia,

which

is

valued

by

ethnographers

to

this

day.

(In

1896

a

Moksha

edition

was

also

brought

out.)

Moksha

and

Erzia

primers,

as

well

as

Russian

primers

for

Moksha

 

THE MORDVINIANS

49

and

Erzia,

soon followed.

Eventually,

the Gospels

were issued

in

several

dialects

of

both

languages. (33)

ll'minskii

also

encouraged

the

opening

of

Mordvinian

schools,

in

which

the

language

of

instruction,

however,

remained

largely

Russian. (ЗД)

In

a 1910 work devoted to national movements,

the scene

among

the

so-called

particular

culture

that

"in large

and

religion."

"under

favorable

L. Shtern-

inorodtsy (non-

and found the Volga nationalities in general

part assimilated

he

berg

surveyed

Russian natives)

and

the

with

left

the

open

Mordvinians

in

Russians

in

the

However,

possibility

conditions,

they could

still enter the path of a national rebirth. "(35)

Mordvinian national blossoming after 1917

Of

their

all

Mordvinians entered

"path

they lacked

meager national resources an elite. The overwhelmingly

peasant masses viewed themselves primarily as Erzia

possible

the

Volga

of

nationalities,

rebirth"

over

the

under

on

circumstances. any organized

were

and

national

all

devoid

the

worst

Dispersed

form,

the

country,

possessed

of

basically

illiterate

or

Moksha.

There

was

only

a vague

awareness of a

common

Mordvinian identity.

 
 

Initially,

there

was

so

little

confidence

in

the

Mordvin

iansthat, unlike other Volga nationalities,

they

failed

to

secure

their

own

autonomous

unit.

Only

in

1930,

at

a

time

when

national

autonomies

were

being largely

drained of any

real power

finally

which in 193A was raised to the Autonomous Republic level.

they may

have had earlier,

own

autonomous

were

the Mordvinians

(province),

granted

their

oblast1

 

The

most

obvious

obstacle

 

to

Mordvinian

autonomy

was

their

dispersion.

Spread

over

11

provinces of European

Rus

sia

as

well

as

in Siberia and Kazakhstan,

they did

not com

mand

a

majority

in

any

province

or

even

uezd

(district).

However,

more

than

a

third

of

the

Mordvinians

were

still

living

in

their

historical

area.

With

skilful

carving

from

various

provinces,

it

was

possible

to

form

a

unit

with

a

slight Mordvinian majority. But such gerrymandering was re

jected

Perhaps more important than economics was the presence of

many Russians

within

a powerful patron

opposition as

who, though

only 25% of the population,

thanks to Lenin's backing. In the Mordvinian case, Lenin

on the grounds

a

Mordvinian

was

in

the

that this would

unit.(36)

Nor

ignore economic factors.

the

who showed little enthusiasm for being included

Mordvinians have

did

the center to overrule the local Russian

case

with Crimean Tatars,

were able to secure their republic

seems

to

have

remained disinterested,

while

Stalin was

sonally

opposed to Mordvinian autonomy. (37)

per

Compounding

at

the

problem

was

of

physical

of

Not

Erzia,

dispersion

of

that

two

to

an

Il'minskii's

the

Mordvinian

could

communities

bind

the

lack

a common

only

so

idiom

least

them spiritually.

Moksha

and

unintelligible,

dialects. (38)

were the

as

Mordvinian languages,

be

enormous

at

times

mutually

of

range

different

but each

spite

of

contained

In

50

ISABELLE T. KREINDLER

 

work,

neither

language

had

yet

developed

into

a

literary

standard,

lishing

the

so-called

reviving what they considered to be a backward and primitive language and culture:

"The faster the Mordvinians shake loose the remaining

above

making

Mordvinian

language

education

were

little

and

pub

extremely difficult.

the

all

psychological.

"great

power

But

greatest obstacles to Mordvinian

On

one

chauvinists"

hand,

who

saw

awakening were

the

Russian

value

in

elements of their national

way

of

life,

the

better [

|

Mordvinians must dissolve

themselves among

the

Rus

sians f

|

they must shift

as

soon as possible

to

the

more advanced Russian culture. "(39)

 

On

the other hand,

there were many Mordvinians who refused

to

take

themselves

seriously.

Mordvinian

literature

of

the

1920' s

is

full of