In the cliché-ridden propaganda of the Soviet era tsarist Russia was frequently dubbed the “prison of nations”. When the Soviets came into power this “prison”, by virtue of new national policies, transformed into a family of friendly and brotherly nations in whose bosom all the national cultures flourished.
To boast of the achievements under the Communist Party leadership, grandiose cultural festivals were arranged in the Soviet republics, folkloristic dance, song and instrumental groups were established and the revival of old peasant culture was encouraged. The slogan “socialist in content, nationalist in form” came to be applied to the new Soviet culture. Behind this deceptive facade of ethnographic originality, the tsarist prison of nations never ceased to exist: russification was carried out on a large scale, nationalist intellectuals were persecuted, a policy of extensive exploitation of land was pursued and nations were continuously resettled and mingled. The desired result was the birth of a new, Russian-speaking “Soviet nation”, and to lay the theoretical foundation for this a whole army of scholars was employed. The evolution of the Soviet nation was seen as the process of history within the cognizance of Marxist-Leninist principles which was as inevitable as the process of life itself.
The recent rapid collapse of the Soviet economic and political system has revealed the consequences of these brutal colonization policies: hundreds of culturally and economically crippled nations, with the smallest of them nearing the crucial point of extinction.
Similar developments have been observed in other parts of the world throughout the course of history. Brutal forces hiding behind beautiful slogans have been imposed on the weak and the small. Only in the second half of the 20th century has there been a painful attempt — which has suffered from many setbacks — to set out on a path of greater justice and mutual respect. The voices of all communities and groupings, however small, deserve to be heard in the large choir of mankind.
The authors of the present book, who come from a country (Estonia) which has shared the fate of nations in the Russian and Soviet empires, endeavour to publicize the plight of the small nations whose very existence is threatened as a result of recent history. Perhaps it is not too late to give a supporting hand to them without an attempt at either ideological brainwashing or economic exploitation.
20th August 1993
On the occasion of the second anniversary of the restoration of independent statehood in Estonia.
Ants Viires, Ph. D.