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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Ivanov speaks on ethnic division

Russian author Vyacheslav Ivanov sharply criticized former Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and his policy of ethnic division in the former Soviet Union in a speech yesterday afternoon.

Nearly 80 people converged on the Rockefeller Center for the Social Sciences to see Ivanov, who is this term's Montgomery Fellow, deliver a speech titled, "Stalin's Legacy: Ethnic Conflicts in the Former U.S.S.R."

Referring to the ethnic and religious unrest that has plagued the republics of the former Soviet Union since the fall of the Communist regime in the late 1980s, Ivanov said, "What we see now in Russia is what Stalin began."

Ivanov described Stalin's policy of dividing Russia's numerous linguistically different ethnic groups through forced migration and through division by republic boundaries as a "sophisticated way of controlling by dividing."

Using old Soviet ethnic distribution maps, Ivanov demonstrated how Stalin's policy deliberately sought to foster simultaneous ethnic domination and subservience.

"For every ethnic group, you may find another one that can dominate it," Ivanov said. "Practically, not a single group is outside of this complex system of being dominated ... and dominating."

Ivanov also described Soviet attempts to marginalize many cultures. Eighty of 200 linguistically different ethnic groups were ignored by the Soviet census, according to Ivanov.

Ivanov said when he was the first president of the Linguistic Institute of Moscow, he wrote to the Soviet prime minister to complain, only to receive a personal response that read, "The memory of our computers is restricted."

Ivanov also cited the case of the Tat and Mountain Jews of southern Daghestan, who were listed in the 1930 and 1950 Soviet censuses, but were curiously excluded from the 1970 census.

"Some bureaucrats decided they didn't exist," he said. "You live in a sort of nightmare without really knowing what's happening."Ivanov criticized Western writers and activists who expressed support for Stalin's ethnic distribution policies.

"Stalin and his followers wanted to show national culture was flourishing," Ivanov said. "But there was fictitious freedom of self-expression for every ethnic group."

Ivanov, a noted Russian author, linguist and semiotician, lost his professorship at Moscow State University in 1958 for his association with Nobel Prize-winning author Boris Pasternak, the author of "Doctor Zhivago," and was banned from teaching and traveling for 30 years.

After Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev's reform in the late 1980s, Ivanov published his works in exile. He has written 20 books and more than 1,000 articles, including "The History of Slavonic and Balkan Names of Metals" and "The Asymmetry of the Brain and of the Sign System."

After travel restrictions were lifted from Russia, Ivanov left to accept visiting professorships at universities in Germany, Hungary, Stanford University and Yale University.

Upon regaining his freedom, he was elected to the first people's congress in the former Soviet Union and returned to teaching at Moscow State.

He currently serves as head of the study of world culture at Moscow State University.