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Book Review: The Hidden Nations

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The Hidden Nations: The People Challenge the Soviet Union
by Nadia Diuk and Adrian Karatnycky (New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc. 1990); 284 pages; $22.95.

Many of the “captive nations” of central and eastern Europe reclaimed their freedom in 1989 and 1990. Non-communist democratic governments were elected in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Following democratic elections, East Germany ceased to exist, being reunited with West Germany into one German state. And the Soviet occupation forces in these countries have begun their military retreat to the east.

In each of these lands, economic reforms were begun to denationalize state industry by selling them off to private owners. Life in these nations is slowly returning to “normal” — the term used by the citizens of these countries to refer to a non-communist society.

But it would be a grave mistake to assume that all of the prisoners of communism in the eastern half of Europe have been freed from Soviet imperialism. There we many more captive nations still waiting for liberation inside the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Soviet Union remains one vast prison house in which over a hundred national and ethnic groups still await their chance to possess political independence or autonomy.

The United States is a land of predominantly one language and one culture. And when Americans speak of freedom, they usually have in mind only the liberty of the individual.

But in Europe, individuals are often more self-conscious in viewing their sense of personal identity as inseparable from their language and their culture. In the European geographical environment — where so many different linguistic groups live side-by-side, there is often the fear that another national group will submerge one’s own. Historically, “s has been a real danger, as one national group oftentimes has used the power of the state to gain advantages for its members through the oppression of others.

This dilemma is intensified in eastern Europe. Within the various states, national and ethnic groups have occupied different patches of territory — like the squares on a chessboard. National independence has come to mean the avenue for the protection and preservation of one’s language and culture.

For these people then, freedom has come to have two dimensions: freedom of one’s nation and freedom of the individual within one’s nation. Unfortunately, freedom as national independence has too often eclipsed full appreciation of freedom in the sense of individual liberty. But it is in the context of these two meanings of freedom that the situation in the Soviet Union must be understood.

The Hidden Nations: The People Challenge the Soviet Union by Nadia Diuk and Adrian Karatnycky offers a good overview of the “nationalities problem” in the U.S.S.R. As an ideology, Marxism has no nationality. It views people in terms of “social classes’! — the “exploited” and the “exploiters” — not in terms of nationalist groupings.

But historically, the Soviet system has revolved around the Russians, who are the largest national group within the U.S.S.R. They dominate the political apparatus and possess the greatest share of the economic privileges that flow from governmental control of the economy. Particularly since Stalin’s time, Russians have migrated into the other national areas of the Soviet Union; and they usually view themselves as superior colonial residents living among inferior natives.

Even when Russians reside in these areas for two or more generations, they rarely learn the local languages and they often live apart in their own districts. Their political control in the other “Soviet Republics” has been used to “Russify” these areas. Attempts have been made to replace the local languages with Russian. Monuments and historical sites representing the histories and traditions of these other national groups have often been destroyed. And since all power and privilege flows from Moscow, submission to the Russian masters has been the only avenue for having a higher economic and social standard of living.

The authors explain the nature and extent of the economic privileges that the Russians in general have obtained at the expense of the other national groups in the Soviet Union. They then present histories of the revival of national consciousness and the fight for national independence in the various regions of the U.S.S.R.: in the Ukraine; the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; the Caucacus Republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan; the central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kirgizia, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

The only shortcoming in their analysis is their evaluation of the Russians. The authors highlight the revival of Russian nationalism in recent years and explain how many Russians have increasingly come to view themselves as one of the captive nations in the Soviet Union. But the authors tend to focus on the dark side of Russian nationalism, e.g., anti-Semitism and anti-Westernism.

These elements are unfortunately all too present. But the authors do not, in my opinion, give sufficient emphasis to those Russians who detest the Soviet system — &test it because they have suffered the most from communism,and who desire to rid Russia of communist rule precisely because they want a “normal” Russia — a Russia that is democratic, respectful of individual freedom, and free-enterprise in nature.

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    Dr. Richard M. Ebeling is the recently appointed BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel. He was formerly professor of Economics at Northwood University, president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).