Soviet Massive Deportations

7 Février, 2008
Campana Aurélie

The Bolshevik and the Soviet governments made wide use of deportations to expand their rule over given regions and secure borders from suspicious nationalistic elements. The Soviet regime was not the first to employ such methods. Although the Bolsheviks declared the Tsarist regime’s forced removals illegal, they rapidly forgot, as underlined by Nikolai Bugai, this earlier statement.1 In 1919, Bolsheviks ordered the deportation of the Cossacks who opposed their power.

Whether economically or politically motivated or even ethnically driven, official documents essentially use three interchangeable terms to name deportations: vyselenie literally meaning “expulsion, deportation”, pereselenie, signifies “migration” or “transmigration”, and deportatsia, deportation. These three words are integrated into the Soviet terminologies. They are used to refer to massive deportations: deportations of opponents to the regime and their family. For instance, the Kulaks, first designating prosperous peasants who owned large farms and herds of cattle, later became a term in Soviet terminology applied to all peasants who opposed the collectivization in the 1920s. The term “massive deportation” specifically refers to the Stalinist regime’s forced ethnic-based removals dating from the middle of the 1930s. While “massive deportation” was used in official Soviet documents as such, or under the expression “deportation of the entire Balkar people”, it has been popularized by scholars studying deported peoples wishing to underscore their massive nature (for a general bibliography, see the chronological index).

During the course of the Second World War, wholesale deportations became an instrument of the Stalinist national policy. They profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. Beyond the security issue, deportations were intended to punish people who opposed Sovietization or developed widespread nationalistic sentiments. By creating ethnically non-homogenous regions, deportations also played a role in the Sovietization process. The Peoples’ Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) carried out all of these very special operations. So doing, it further reinforced its position in front the military to which it was opposed since the pre-war period.

Massive deportations not only meant brutal expulsion and scattering throughout the Soviet territory, but it also entailed the negation of the collective existence of all the deported peoples. All historical, symbolical and material signs of the deportees’ life in their natal territory were destroyed; villages and roads were renamed using Russian names; official history and manuals were rewritten; and political structures were dismantled.

  • 1. Nikolai Bugai, Soglasno vasemu ukazaiju, Moscou: Associasija issledovatelej rossijskogo obshchestvo XX veka, 1995: 4-5

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Campana Aurélie, Soviet Massive Deportations, Violence de masse et Résistance - Réseau de recherche, [en ligne], publié le : 7 Février, 2008, accéder le 27/04/2020,, ISSN 1961-9898
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