Stalin Destroyed Non-Russian Intelligentsias Before Launching Broader Great Terror Of 1937 – OpEd


In what some activists see as a distant mirror of current events in Russia, Stalin in the three years leading up to the Great Terror of 1937 systematically destroyed the intellectual elites of the non-Russian republics, an action that was largely ignored at the time and that has seldom been given the attention it clearly deserves.

On the one hand, Stalin’s actions against the non-Russian intelligentsias in the early 1930s not only were generally ignored by Russian intellectuals and foreign governments but also left many of the non-Russians without the kind of intellectual leadership that might have enabled them to better resist Moscow’s actions against them in the ensuing decades and even to this day.

And on the other, this Moscow approach, attacking the non-Russians on the periphery in preparation for attacking those at the center seems to be such a deeply embedded pattern of Muscovite policy that its past episodes deserve to be better known so as to put everyone on notice what attacks on the non-Russians now may mean for everyone in the future.

A valuable contribution to such an effort is made by Choganol Donisi, a historian who heads the Kyiv-based Committee of Representatives of the Moksha People and is the director of the Center for Finno-Ugric Studies in the Ukrainian capital (

He points out that “the only politicians who spoke out against the baseless decision to whitewash the bloody Bolshevik regime” in those years “were our Finno-Ugric brethren” whom Moscow consistently and successfully attacked as promoters of fascism and thus unworthy of anyone’s attention.

According to Donisi, the arrests and killings in Mordvinia and other Middle Volga republics “occurred immediately after analogous processes in Kharkiv in the case of ‘The Union of the Liberation of Ukraine’ and in Minsk in the case of ‘the Union of the Liberation of Belarus.’” The charges were the same with only slight changes in vocabulary and targets.

 “In the spring of 1935, in Saratov, Penza, Tambov and Saransk, the force organs of the USSR went after the Moksha intelligentsia,” a group of scholars and activists who sought to protect that nation against Soviet efforts to destroy it and fold it into first an artificial Mordvin identity and then into an even broader and more artificial Soviet one.

According to Tatar historian Kamil Galeyev, Donisi continues, it is these long-ago events into which one must look in order to understand the current disastrous position of the peoples in this region. Having lost their intellectual leaderships, these peoples lost much of their ability to resist, a loss felt to this day ( 

Although neither Donisi nor Galeyev draws this point, it seems obvious that both believe that Putin is following the Stalinist playbook to the letter, attacking the non-Russian intelligentsias because they have fewer defenses and seldom attract support in the West before launching a broader attack on the others closer to the center.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

One thought on “Stalin Destroyed Non-Russian Intelligentsias Before Launching Broader Great Terror Of 1937 – OpEd

  • March 29, 2023 at 6:09 am

    Yeah, right. After, first, he gave them even alphabet. Article full of baseless argumentation.


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