Check Email | My Account | Contact Us

Search for on the web shopping
Sun, 03 Dec, 2023
contact us
education frontpage
a-z of references
general knowledge
plants & animals

Top links
- Sudoku
- Collectibles
Союз Советских Социалистических Республик
Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik

other languages
USSR flag Soviet coat of arms
( In Detail) ( In Detail)
State motto ( Russian): Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь!
( Transliterated: Proletarii vsekh stran, soedinyaytes'!)
(Translated: Workers of the world, unite!)
Capital Moscow
Official language None; Russian ( de facto)
Government Federation of Socialist republics
- Total
- % water
1st before collapse
22,402,200 km²
Approx. 0.5
- Total
- Density
3rd before collapse
293,047,571 (July 1991)
13.08/km² (July 1991)
- Declared
- Recognized

December 30, 1922
February 1, 1924
Dissolution December 26, 1991
Currency Soviet ruble
Time zone UTC +2 to +13 (modern Russia is +2 to +12)
National anthems
The Internationale (1922−1944)
Hymn of the Soviet Union (1944-1991)
Internet TLD .su
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, abbreviated USSR ( Russian: Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик (СССР) ; tr.: Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik [SSSR]), more commonly known as the Soviet Union ( Russian: Сове́тский Сою́з; tr.: Sovetskiy Soyuz) was an officially socialist state that existed during 1922 — 1991. From 1945 until its dissolution it was one of the world's two superpowers (the other being the United States).The Soviet Union was created and expanded as union of Soviet republics formed within the territory of the Russian Empire abolished by the Russian Revolution of 1917 followed by the Russian Civil War of 1918- 1920. The geographic boundaries of the Soviet Union varied with time, but since 1945 and until dissolution it approximately corresponded to that of late Imperial Russia, with the notable exclusions of Poland and Finland.The Soviet Union, founded three decades before the Cold War, became a primary model for future Communist states; the government and the political organization of the country were defined by the only permitted political party, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Jump to Page Contents

Pay as you go
No monthly charges. Access for the price of a phone call Go>


Flat rate dialup access from only 4.99 a month Go>

Surf faster from just 13.99 a month Go>

Save Even More
Combine your phone and internet, and save on your phone calls
More Info>

This weeks hot offer
24: Series 5 24: Series 5

In association with 26.97


Foreign relations
Demographics and society

History - Contents

The Soviet Union is traditionally considered to be the successor of the Russian Empire. The last Russian czar, Nicholas II, ruled until March 1917 and was eventually executed. The Soviet Union was established in December 1922 as the union of the Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Transcaucasian Soviet republics ruled by Bolshevik parties.By Soviet historiography, revolutionary activity in Russia began with the Decembrist Revolt of 1825, and although serfdom was abolished in 1861, its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants and served to encourage revolutionaries. A parliament, the State Duma, was established in 1906, after the 1905 Revolution but political and social unrest continued and was aggravated during World War I by military defeat and food shortages.A spontaneous popular uprising in Petrograd, in response to the wartime decay of Russia's physical well-being and morale, culminated in the toppling of the imperial government in March 1917 (see February Revolution). The autocracy was replaced by the Provisional Government, whose leaders intended to establish liberal democracy in Russia and to continue participating on the side of the Allies in World War I. At the same time, to ensure the rights of the working class, workers' councils, known as soviets, sprang up across the country. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, agitated for socialist revolution in the soviets and on the streets. They seized power from the Provisional Government in November 1917 (see October Revolution). Only after the long and bloody Russian Civil War of ( 1918- 1921), which included combat between government forces and foreign troops in several parts of Russia, was the new Communist regime secure. In a related conflict, the " Peace of Riga" in early 1921 split disputed territories in Belarus and Ukraine between Poland and Soviet powers.From its first years, government in the Soviet Union was based on the one-party rule of the Communist Party, as the Bolsheviks called themselves beginning in March 1918. After the extraordinary economic policy of war communism during the Civil War the Soviet government permitted some private enterprise to coexist with nationalized industry in the 1920s and total food requisition in the countryside was replaced by a food tax (see New Economic Policy). Debate over the future of the economy provided the background for Soviet leaders to contend for power in the years after Lenin's death in 1924. By gradually consolidating his influence and isolating his rivals within the party, notably Lenin's more obvious heir Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin became the sole leader of the Soviet Union by the end of the 1920s.In 1928 Stalin introduced the First Five-Year Plan for building a socialist economy, now, unlike the internationalism expressed by Lenin and Trotsky throughout the course of the Revolution, "in one country." In industry the state assumed control over all existing enterprises and undertook an intensive program of industrialization; in agriculture collective farms were established all over the country (see Collectivisation in the USSR). The Soviet Union became a major industrial power; but the plan's implementation produced widespread misery for some segments of the population. Collectivization met widespread resistance from peasants, resulting in a bitter struggle against the authorities in many areas, famine, and estimated millions of casualties. Social upheaval continued in the mid- 1930s, when Stalin began a purge of the party (see Great Purges), eliminating many Bolsheviks who had participated in the Revolution with Lenin. Yet despite this turmoil, the Soviet Union developed a powerful industrial economy in the years before World War II.Although Stalin tried to avert war with Germany by concluding the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, which involved the engagement of Red Army into Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia in order to secure them from Nazi invasion and invasion of Poland in 1939, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. It has been debated that the Soviet Union had the intention of invading Germany once it was strong enough. The Red Army stopped the Nazi offensive, with the Battle of Stalingrad from late 1942 to early 1943 being the major turning point, and drove through Eastern Europe to Berlin before Germany surrendered in 1945 (see Great Patriotic War). Although ravaged by the war, the Soviet Union emerged from the conflict as an acknowledged superpower.
Red Army soldiers in Berlin after the fall of Nazi Germany
Red Army soldiers in Berlin after the fall of Nazi Germany
During the immediate postwar period, the Soviet Union first rebuilt and then expanded its economy, while maintaining its strictly centralized control. The Soviet Union aided postwar reconstruction in Eastern Europe, set up the Warsaw Pact and Comecon, supplied aid to the eventually victorious Communists in the People's Republic of China, and saw its influence grow elsewhere in the world. Meanwhile, the Cold War turned the Soviet Union's wartime allies, the United Kingdom and the United States, into foes.Joseph Stalin died on March 5, 1953. In the absence of an acceptable successor, the highest Communist Party officials opted to rule the Soviet Union jointly, although a struggle for power took place behind the facade of collective leadership. Nikita Khrushchev, who won the power struggle by the mid- 1950s, denounced Stalin's use of repression and eased repressive controls over party and society (see de-Stalinization). During this period the Soviet Union launched the first satellite Sputnik 1 and man Yuri Gagarin into orbit. Khrushchev's reforms in agriculture and administration, however, were generally unproductive, and foreign policy towards China and the United States suffered reverses. Khrushchev's colleagues in the leadership removed him from power in 1964.Following the ousting of Khrushchev, another period of rule by collective leadership ensued, lasting until Leonid Brezhnev established himself in the early 1970s as the preeminent figure in Soviet political life. Brezhnev presided over a period of Détente with the West while at the same time building up Soviet military strength; the arms buildup contributed to the demise of Détente in the late 1970s. Another contributing factor was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.After some experimentation with economic reforms in the mid- 1960s, the Soviet leadership reverted to established means of economic management. Industry showed slow but steady gains during the 1970s, while agricultural development continued to lag. Throughout the period the Soviet Union maintained parity with the United States in the areas of military technology but this expansion ultimately crippled the economy. In contrast to the revolutionary spirit that accompanied the birth of the Soviet Union, the prevailing mood of the Soviet leadership at the time of Brezhnev's death in 1982 was one of aversion to change.Two developments dominated the decade that followed: the increasingly apparent crumbling of the Soviet Union's economic and political structures, and the patchwork attempts at reforms to reverse that process. After the rapid succession of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, transitional figures with deep roots in Brezhnevite tradition, Mikhail Gorbachev made significant changes in the economy (see Perestroika) and the party leadership. His policy of glasnost freed public access to information after decades of government regulations.In late 1980s constituent republics of the Soviet Union started declaring sovereignty over their territories or even independence citing Article 72 of USSR Constitution, which stated that any constituent republic was free to secede. Many republics proceeded to produce legislation contradicting the Union laws in what was known as "The War of Laws." In 1989 Russian SFSR, which was then the largest constituent republic (with about 2/3 of population and territory) convened a Congress of Deputies. Boris Yeltsin was elected the chairman of the Congress. On June 12, 1989 the Congress declared Russia's sovereignty over its territory and proceeded to pass laws that attempted to supersede some of the USSR's laws. The period of legal uncertainty continued for the next three years as constituent republics slowly became de-facto independent.A referendum for the preservation of the USSR was held on March 17, 1991, with the population voting for preservation of the Union in most republics. The referendum gave Gorbachev a minor boost, and in the summer of 1991 a new Union Treaty was designed and agreed upon by most republics which would have turned the Soviet Union into a much looser federation. The signing of the treaty, however, was interrupted by the August Coup - an attempted coup d'état against Mikhail Gorbachev by conservative members of the Communist Party, referred to as " Hardliners" by the Western media. After the coup was defeated, Yeltsin came out as a hero while Gorbachev's power was greatly reduced. The balance of power tipped significantly towards the republics. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were immediately granted independence, while the other 12 republics continued discussing new, increasingly looser, models of the Union. On December 8 1991 Presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed Belavezha Accords which declared the Union dissolved and established the Commonwealth of Independent States in its place. While doubts remained over their authority to dissolve the Union, on 25 December 1991, Gorbachev resigned as the president of the USSR and turned the powers of his office over to Boris Yeltsin. The following day, the Supreme Soviet, the highest governmental body of the Soviet Union, dissolved itself. This is generally recognized as the official, final dissolution of the Soviet Union as a functioning nation. Many organizations such as the Red Army and Militia forces continued to remain in place in the early months of 1992, but were slowly phased out or absorbed by the newly independent nations.

Politics - Contents

Party Congress of the CPSU
Party Congress of the CPSU
The government of the Soviet Union administered the country's economy and society. It implemented decisions made by the leading political institution in the country, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).In the late 1980s, the government appeared to have many characteristics in common with liberal democratic political systems. For instance, a constitution established all organs of government and granted to citizens a series of political and civic rights. A legislative body, the Congress of People's Deputies, and its standing legislature, the Supreme Soviet, represented the principle of popular sovereignty. The Supreme Soviet, which had an elected chairman who functioned as head of state, oversaw the Council of Ministers, which acted as the executive branch of the government. The chairman of the Council of Ministers, whose selection was approved by the legislative branch, functioned as head of government. A constitutionally based judicial branch of government included a court system, headed by the Supreme Court, that was responsible for overseeing the observance of Soviet law by government bodies. According to the 1977 Soviet Constitution, the government had a federal structure, permitting the republics some authority over policy implementation and offering the national minorities the appearance of participation in the management of their own affairs.In practice, however, the government differed markedly from Western systems. In the late 1980s, the CPSU performed many functions that governments of other countries usually perform. For example, the party decided on the policy alternatives that the government ultimately implemented. The government merely ratified the party's decisions to lend them an aura of legitimacy. The CPSU used a variety of mechanisms to ensure that the government adhered to its policies. The party, using its nomenklatura authority, placed its loyalists in leadership positions throughout the government, where they were subject to the norms of democratic centralism. Party bodies closely monitored the actions of government ministries, agencies, and legislative organs.The content of the Soviet Constitution differed in many ways from typical Western constitutions. It generally described existing political relationships, as determined by the CPSU, rather than prescribing an ideal set of political relationships. The Constitution was long and detailed, giving technical specifications for individual organs of government. The Constitution included political statements, such as foreign policy goals, and provided a theoretical definition of the state within the ideological framework of Marxism-Leninism. The CPSU leadership could radically change the constitution or remake it completely, as it did several times throughout its history.The Council of Ministers acted as the executive body of the government. Its most important duties lay in the administration of the economy. The council was thoroughly under the control of the CPSU, and its chairman - the Soviet prime minister - was always a member of the Politburo. The council, which in 1989 included more than 100 members, was too large and unwieldy to act as a unified executive body. The council's Presidium, made up of the leading economic administrators and led by the chairman, exercised dominant power within the Council of Ministers.According to the Constitution, as amended in 1988, the highest legislative body in the Soviet Union was the Congress of People's Deputies, which convened for the first time in May 1989. The main tasks of the congress were the election of the standing legislature, the Supreme Soviet, and the election of the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, who acted as head of state. Theoretically, the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet wielded enormous legislative power. In practice, however, the Congress of People's Deputies met infrequently and only to approve decisions made by the party, the Council of Ministers, and its own Supreme Soviet. The Supreme Soviet, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, and the Council of Ministers had substantial authority to enact laws, decrees, resolutions, and orders binding on the population. The Congress of People's Deputies had the authority to ratify these decisions.The judiciary was not independent. The Supreme Court supervised the lower courts and applied the law, as established by the Constitution or as interpreted by the Supreme Soviet. The Constitutional Oversight Committee reviewed the constitutionality of laws and acts. The Soviet Union lacked an adversarial court procedure known to common law jurisdictions. Rather, Soviet law utilised the system derived from Roman law, where judge, procurator and defense attorney worked collaboratively to establish the truth.The Soviet Union was a federal state made up of fifteen republics joined together in a theoretically voluntary union. In turn, a series of territorial units made up the republics. The republics also contained jurisdictions intended to protect the interests of national minorities. The republics had their own constitutions, which, along with the all-union Constitution, provide the theoretical division of power in the Soviet Union. In 1989, however, the CPSU and the central government retained all significant authority, setting policies that were executed by republic, provincial, oblast, and district governments.

Leaders of the Soviet Union
The official leader of the Soviet Union was the First/General Secretary of the CPSU. The head of government was considered the Premier, and the head of state was considered the President. The Soviet leader could also have one (or both) of these positions, along with the position of General-Secretary of the party.
List of Soviet Premiers
(Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR (1923-1946); Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR (1946-1990); Prime Minister of the USSR (1991))
List of Soviet Presidents
(Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets (1917-1922); Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR (1922-1938); Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (1938-1989); Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (1989-1990); President of the Soviet Union (1990-1991))

Foreign relations - Contents

Map of countries that were members of the Warsaw Pact.
Map of countries that were members of the Warsaw Pact.
Once denied diplomatic recognition by the capitalist world, the Soviet Union had official relations with the majority of the nations of the world by the late 1980s. The Soviet Union also had progressed from being an outsider in international organizations and negotiations to being one of the arbiters of Europe's fate after World War II. A member of the United Nations at its foundation in 1945, the Soviet Union became one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council which gave it the right to veto any of its resolutions (see Soviet Union and the United Nations).The Soviet Union emerged from World War II as one of the two major world powers, a position maintained for four decades through its hegemony in Eastern Europe (see Eastern Bloc), military strength, aid to developing countries, and scientific research, especially into space technology and weaponry. The Soviet Union's growing influence abroad in the postwar years helped lead to a Communist system of states in Eastern Europe united by military and economic agreements. Established in 1949 as an economic bloc of Communist countries led by Moscow, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) served as a framework for cooperation among the planned economies of the Soviet Union, and, later, for trade and economic cooperation with the Third World. The military counterpart to the Comecon was the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet economy was also of major importance to Eastern Europe because of imports of vital natural resources from Russia, such as natural gas.Moscow considered Eastern Europe to be a buffer zone for the forward defense of its western borders and ensured its control of the region by transforming the East European countries into stable allies. Soviet troops intervened in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and cited the Brezhnev Doctrine, the Soviet counterpart to the U.S. Johnson Doctrine and later Nixon Doctrine, and helped oust the Czechoslovak government in 1968, sometimes referred to as the Prague Spring.In the late 1950s, a confrontation with China led to the Sino-Soviet split and a tense confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States over the Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.The KGB (Committee for State Security), served in a fashion as the Soviet counterpart to both the FBI and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) in the U.S. It ran a massive network of informants throughout the Soviet Union, which was used to monitor violations in law. The foreign wing of the KGB was used to gather intelligence in countries around the globe. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was replaced in Russia by the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) and the FSB (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation).The KGB was not without substantial oversight. The GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate), not publicized by Russia until the end of the Soviet era during perestroika, was created by Lenin in 1918 and served both as a centralized handler of military intelligence and as an institutional check-and-balance for the otherwise relatively unrestricted power of the KGB. Effectively, it served to spy on the spies, and, not surprisingly, the KGB served a similar function with the GRU. As with the KGB, the GRU operated in nations around the world, particularly in Soviet bloc and client states. The GRU continues to operate in Russia today, with resources estimated by some to exceed those of the SVR [1] [2].
Joe 1, the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb
Joe 1, the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb
In the 1970s, the Soviet Union achieved rough nuclear parity with the United States. It perceived its own involvement as essential to the solution of any major international problem. Meanwhile, the Cold War gave way to Détente and a more complicated pattern of international relations in which the world was no longer clearly split into two clearly opposed blocs. Less powerful countries had more room to assert their independence, and the two superpowers were partially able to recognize their common interest in trying to check the further spread and proliferation of nuclear weapons (see SALT I, SALT II, Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty).By this time, the Soviet Union had concluded friendship and cooperation treaties with a number of states in the non-Communist world, especially among Third World and Non-Aligned Movement states like India and Egypt. Notwithstanding some ideological obstacles, Moscow advanced state interests by gaining military footholds in strategically important areas throughout the Third World. Furthermore, the Soviet Union continued to provide military aid for revolutionary movements in the Third World. For all these reasons, Soviet foreign policy was of major importance to the non-Communist world and helped determine the tenor of international relations.Although myriad bureaucracies were involved in the formation and execution of Soviet foreign policy, the major policy guidelines were determined by the Politburo of the Communist Party. The foremost objectives of Soviet foreign policy had been the maintenance and enhancement of national security and the maintenance of hegemony over Eastern Europe. Relations with the United States and Western Europe were also of major concern to Soviet foreign policy makers, and relations with individual Third World states were at least partly determined by the proximity of each state to the Soviet border and to Soviet estimates of its strategic significance.When Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as General Secretary of the CPSU in 1985, it signalled a dramatic change in Soviet foreign policy. Gorbachev pursued conciliatory policies towards the West instead of maintaining the Cold War status quo. The Soviet Union ended its occupation of Afghanistan, signed strategic arms reduction treaties with the United States, and allowed its allies in Eastern Europe to determine their own affairs.After the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 25 December, 1991, the Russian Federation claimed to be the legal successor to the Soviet state on the international stage despite its loss of superpower status. Russian foreign policy repudiated Marxism-Leninism as a guide to action, soliciting Western support for capitalist reforms in post-Soviet Russia.

Republics - Contents

Farmers in the Kazakh SSR (circa 1960)
Farmers in the Kazakh SSR (circa 1960)
The Soviet Union was a federation of Soviet Socialist Republics (SSR). The first Republics were established shortly after the October Revolution of 1917. At that time, republics were technically independent from one another but their governments acted in closely coordinated confederation, as directed by the CPSU leadership. In 1922, four Republics ( Russian SFSR, Ukrainian SSR, Belarusian SSR, and Transcaucasian SFSR) joined into the Soviet Union. Between 1922 and 1940, the number of Republics grew to sixteen. Some of the new Republics were formed from territories acquired, or reacquired by the Soviet Union, others by splitting existing Republics into several parts. The criteria for establishing new republics were as follows:
  1. to be located on the periphery of the Soviet Union so as to be able to exercise their alleged right to secession;
  2. be economically strong enough to survive on their own upon secession; and
  3. be named after the dominant ethnic group which should consist of at least one million people.
The system remained almost unchanged after 1940. No new Republics were established. One republic, Karelo-Finnish SSR, was disbanded in 1956. The remaining 15 republics lasted until 1991. Secession remained theoretical, and very unlikely, given Soviet centralism, until the 1991 collapse of the Union. At that time, the republics became independent countries, with some still loosely organized under the heading Commonwealth of Independent States.Some republics had common history and geographical regions, and were referred by group names. These were Baltic Republics, Transcaucasian Republics, and Central Asian Republics.In its final state, the Soviet Union consisted of the following republics. (See Republics of the Soviet Union for the list and timeline of other Union republics that existed over time.)

Economy - Contents

The DneproGES, one of many hydroelectric power stations in the Soviet Union
The DneproGES, one of many hydroelectric power stations in the Soviet Union
Prior to its collapse, the Soviet Union had the largest centrally directed economy in the world. The government established its economic priorities through central planning, a system under which administrative decisions rather than the market determined resource allocation and prices.Since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the country grew from a largely underdeveloped peasant society with minimal industry to become the second largest industrial power in the world. According to Soviet statistics, the country's share in world industrial production grew from 4 % to 20 % between 1913 and 1980. Although many Western analysts considered these claims to be inflated, the Soviet achievement remained remarkable. Recovering from the calamitous events of World War II, the country's economy had maintained a continuous though uneven rate of growth. Living standards, although still modest for most inhabitants by Western standards, had improved.Although these past achievements were impressive, in the mid-1980s Soviet leaders faced many problems. Production in the consumer and agricultural sectors was often inadequate (see Agriculture of the Soviet Union and shortage economy). Crises in the agricultural sector reaped catastrophic consequences in the 1930s, when collectivization met widespread resistance from the kulaks, resulting in a bitter struggle of many peasants against the authorities, famine, particularly in Ukraine, but also in the Volga River area and Kazakhstan. In the consumer and service sectors, a lack of investment resulted in black markets in some areas.
Scientists working on Voskhod 1
Scientists working on Voskhod 1
In addition, since the 1970s, the growth rate had slowed substantially. Extensive economic development, based on vast inputs of materials and labor, was no longer possible; yet the productivity of Soviet assets remained low compared with other major industrialized countries. Product quality needed improvement. Soviet leaders faced a fundamental dilemma: the strong central controls of the increasingly conservative bureaucracy that had traditionally guided economic development had failed to respond to the complex demands of industry of a highly developed, modern economy.Conceding the weaknesses of their past approaches in solving new problems, the leaders of the late 1980s were seeking to mold a program of economic reform to galvanize the economy. The leadership, headed by Mikhail Gorbachev, was experimenting with solutions to economic problems with an openness ( glasnost) never before seen in the history of the economy. One method for improving productivity appeared to be a strengthening of the role of market forces. Yet reforms in which market forces assumed a greater role would signify a lessening of authority and control by the planning hierarchy, as well as a significant diminuition of social services traditionally provided by the state, such as housing and education.Assessing developments in the economy was difficult for Western observers. The country contained enormous economic and regional disparities. Yet analyzing statistical data broken down by region was a cumbersome process. Furthermore, Soviet statistics themselves might have been of limited use to Western analysts because they are not directly comparable with those used in Western countries. The differing statistical concepts, valuations, and procedures used by Communist and non-Communist economists made even the most basic data, such as the relative productivity of various sectors, difficult to assess.

Geography - Contents

The Soviet Union occupied the eastern portion of the European continent and the northern portion of the Asian continent. Most of the country was north of 50° north latitude and covered a total area of approximately 22,402,200 square kilometres. Due to the sheer size of the state, the climate varied greatly from subtropical and continental to subarctic and polar. 11 % of the land was arable, 16 % was meadows and pasture, 41 % was forest and woodland, and 32 % was declared "other" (including tundra).The Soviet Union measured some 10,000 kilometres from Kaliningrad on the Gulf of Gdańsk in the west to Ratmanova Island ( Big Diomede Island) in the Bering Strait, or roughly equivalent to the distance from Edinburgh, Scotland, east to Nome, Alaska. From the tip of the Taymyr Peninsula on the Arctic Ocean to the Central Asian town of Kushka near the Afghan border extended almost 5,000 kilometeres of mostly rugged, inhospitable terrain. The east-west expanse of the continental United States would easily fit between the northern and southern borders of the Soviet Union at their extremities.

Demographics and society - Contents

This map shows the 1974 population density of the Soviet Union.
This map shows the 1974 population density of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union was one of the world's most ethnically diverse countries, with more than 150 distinct ethnic groups within its borders. The total population was estimated at 293 million in 1991. The majority of the population were Russians (50.78%), followed by Ukrainians (15.45%) and Uzbeks (5.84%). Other ethnic groups included the Georgians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Tajiks, Chechens, and others. After all Soviet republics gained independence, Russia remained the largest country in the world by area, and still remains one of the most ethnically diverse.

The extensive multinational empire that the Bolsheviks inherited after their revolution was created by Tsarist expansion over some four centuries. Some nationality groups came into the empire voluntarily, others were brought in by force. Generally, the Russians and most of the non-Russian subjects of the empire shared little in common—culturally, religiously, or linguistically. More often than not, two or more diverse nationalities were collocated on the same territory. Therefore, national antagonisms built up over the years not only against the Russians but often between some of the subject nations as well.For seventy years, Soviet leaders had maintained that frictions between the many nationalities of the Soviet Union had been eliminated and that the Soviet Union consisted of a family of nations living harmoniously together. However, the national ferment that shook almost every corner of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s proved that seventy years of Communist rule had failed to obliterate national and ethnic differences and that traditional cultures and religions would reemerge given the slightest opportunity. This reality facing Gorbachev and his colleagues meant that, short of relying on the traditional use of force, they had to find alternative solutions in order to prevent the disintegration of the Soviet Union.The concessions granted national cultures and the limited autonomy tolerated in the union republics in the 1920s led to the development of national elites and a heightened sense of national identity. Subsequent repression and Russianization fostered resentment against domination by Moscow and promoted further growth of national consciousness. National feelings were also exacerbated in the Soviet multinational state by increased competition for resources, services, and jobs.

Religious groups
Ascension church in Perm, Russia
Ascension church in Perm, Russia
The state was separated from church by the Decree of Council of People's Comissars 1918 January 23. Official figures on the number of religious believers in the Soviet Union were not available in 1989.But according to various Soviet and Western sources, over one-third of the people in the Soviet Union, an officially atheistic state, professed religious belief. Christianity and Islam had the most believers.Christians belonged to various churches: Orthodox, which had the largest number of followers; Catholic; and Baptist and various other Protestant sects, the Baptists (Protestants) suffering the most government persecution with children being forbidden to attend home services and church leaders frequently imprisoned.Government persecution of Christians continued unabated until the fall of the Communist government. There were many churches in the country (7500 Russian Orthodox churches in 1974).Although there were many ethnic Jews in the Soviet Union, actual practice of Judaism was rare in Communist times. Jews were the victims of state-sponsored anti-semitism and were one of the few Soviet citizens allowed to emigrate from the country.Other religions, which were practiced by a relatively small number of believers, included Buddhism, Lamaism, and shamanism, a religion based on spiritualism. The role of religion in the daily lives of Soviet citizens varied greatly.The majority of the Islamic faithful were Sunni. Because Islamic religious tenets and social values of Muslims are closely interrelated, religion appeared to have a greater influence on Muslims than on either Christians or other believers.Two-thirds of the Soviet population, however, had no religious beliefs. About half the people, including members of the CPSU and high-level government officials, professed atheism. For the majority of Soviet citizens, therefore, religion seemed irrelevant.

Holidays - Contents

Date English Name Local Name Remarks
January 1 New Year's Day Новый Год Arguably the largest celebration of the year. Most of the traditions that were originally associated with Christmas in Russia (Father Frost, a decorated fir-tree) moved to New Year's Eve after the Revolution and are associated with New Year's Eve to this day.
January 7 Christmas Рождество Orthodox Christmas. Not an official holiday in the Soviet Union, ignored by most and celebrated only by serious believers. Since the revolution the Orthodox Christmas has been celebrated in Russia as a purely religious holiday. It is now an official holiday in Russia but is still largely celebrated as a religious date unlike in the rest of the world which celebrates it as both;
February 23 Red Army Day День Советской Армии и Военно-Морского Флота ("Day of the Soviet Army and Navy") Formation of the Red Army in February 1918, not a free day. Is currently called День Защитника Отечества in Russia
March 8 International Women's Day Международный Женский День An official holiday marking women's liberation movement, popularly celebrated as a cross between American Mother's Day and Valentine's Day.
April 12 Cosmonauts Day День Космонавтики (Day of Cosmonautics) День Космонавтики - The Day Yuri Gagarin became the first man in Space, in 1961. Not a day off.
May 1 International Labor Day (May Day) Первое Мая - День Солидарности Трудящихся ("International Day of Worker's Solidarity") Celebrated on May 1 and May 2. Now celebrated as "Celebration of Spring and Labor."
May 9 Victory Day День Победы End of Great Patriotic War, marked by capitulation of Nazi Germany, 1945
October 7 USSR Constitution Day День Конституции СССР 1977 Constitution of the USSR accepted - December 5 previously
November 7 Great October Socialist Revolution Седьмое Ноября October Revolution 1917; it is currently called День Примирения и Согласия ("Day of Reconciliation and Agreement") and is celebrated on a Nov. 4, at least officially.
Change Text Size:
[A] [default] [A]

go back print page email to a friend make us your home page

about | terms of use | contact us
© 2023