Myths, Symbols and Politics
For decades, Soviet studies had been dominated by the concept that one of the main dramatic moments in the development of the Soviet social model was the confrontation between the Russian and the anti-Russian. In this sense, the relationship between the political center and its subordinate periphery was easily explained: the center tried with all its force to Russify the periphery, while the periphery opposed to it in every way, cultivating local languages and ethnic culture. This approach was based on the model of the British colonial empire, which was used to interpret political processes in the Soviet Union.
Due to painting everything in black and white, rich pallet of ethnoplolytical relationships and conflicts remained beyond the attention of the supporters of such approach, deeply rooted in Soviet reality and finally became the catalyst of bloody ethnic conflicts, destroying myths about friendship of people, hammered by Soviet propaganda for decades.
Obviously, the understanding of nationalism was different in different periods, and the attitude of the central government towards different types of nationalism was not the same. However, it is impossible not to acknowledge that the politicization of ethnicity carried out by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s and the creation of a hierarchical ethnopolitical administrative arrangement by them made ethnonationalism an important factor at all levels of domestic politics. If in 1958 and 1978 some Union republics fought against the policy of Russification, other issues were relevant to the ethnic minorities within them. Their focus was on the issue of access to high political positions, the right to use local economic resources, the allocation of state grants in favor of their own country, the right to education in their mother tongue, the preservation of their own culture and so on …
Great importance was attached to the historical concept, which had to give courage to both the dominant majority and the ethnic minority in making their own claims for certain privileges. Under Soviet unwritten laws, these privileges were only the right of indigenous peoples. This is why the concept of identity was given enormous political importance in the Soviet Union and also led to the artificial conversion of folk traditions that would have had less chance of surviving in the dynamic era of industrial and post-industrial civilizations in other conditions. For the same purpose, Soviet ideology was dominated by primordial assumptions. All this raised the issue of the prestige of the past, which was considered an invaluable source of arguments.
The ideological function of history was defined by the French historian Marc Ferro as a treatment and a struggle, thus emphasizing that historical icons were not free from acute urgency. In its turn, considering history as an ideology, American Nancy Hury singled out aspects of history such as: the legacy of the political system, the rationale for politics, and the barometer of political climate. In this article, I will speak namely about the ethnopolitical topicality of historical notions.
In people, the icons of the past are largely formed on the basis of modern surrounding reality. English social anthropologists posed a similar problem: “How does modernity define the face of the past?“ Since then, visions of the function of the past have developed significantly. Many anthropologists today share the view that “history is a representation of the past that is closely linked to the creation of an identity in the present“. It has also been proven that perceptions of the past can have a significant impact on the behavior of modern people.
Therefore, if our relationship with the past is characterized by a certain objectivity, it is in the process of endless changes that force us to make adjustments in the assessment of what happened in the past or to reconsider it radically. This article speaks about the process of reinterpreting the past. Moreover, the final products of this process, according to Eric Hobsbawm, are “new myths”.
In the Soviet Union, for the reasons listed above, reinterpretation of the past was especially relevant for historians. They felt obliged to create versions of history that would enhance the prestige of their republics or ethnic groups. That is why ethnonationalism, visibly or invisibly, has always existed in visions of history and was characteristic of local historians working in various republics of the Soviet Union. The ethnocentric versions of history constructed by them had a great impact on the respective ethnic groups, stirring up ethnic consciousness and leading to the formation of ethnic identity. At the same time, it is clear that an ethnocentric approach to the outside world contributes to the emergence of animosity between peoples – because “negative attitudes about strangers are transmitted through myths and legends“.
Historical conferences have been held annually in Georgia since the early 1970s to demonstrate friendship and fruitful common activities. Georgian, Abkhazian and Ossetian historians talked about their commitment to the principles of internationalism and their great achievements in the development of historical science. However, clouds were already gathering on the horizon. In the second half of the 1980s, disagreements arose between Georgian and Abkhaz historians about the ancient history of the Eastern Black Sea. First of all, it concerned the composition of the population of old Kolkheti. Georgian scholars here spoke first of all about the existence of Georgian-speaking tribes, which occupied the entire territory from the ancient past to the end of the antiquity. Colchians, Kerketes, Genioks, Misimians, Sanigs and sometimes Abazgs and Apshils belonged to Kartvelian tribes. In the last years of the Soviet Union, some Georgian historians developed the concept of Ingorokva and linked the appearance of Abkhazians in Abkhazia to their arrival in the 17th century.
The Georgian version of the ancient history of the Eastern Black Sea gained new topicality when historian Teimuraz Mibchuan became involved in its discussion. In his book, published before the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, he for the first time presented his own concept of the ancient history of Colchis. According to him, the whole area from the river Chorokhi to the town of Gagra was the ancient settlement of the Svans. They were the first Kartvelian tribes, settled on the eastern Black Sea coast.
Abkhazians viewed this issue completely differently. To them, the Kerketes, Genioks, Misimians, and Sanigs, or other peoples living in the eastern Black Sea, were not Svans, but “the immediate ancestors of the Abkhaz people”. Particular attention of Abkhaz authors was paid to Apshilas and Abazgas. They argued that the appearance of the Abkhazian ancestor of these tribes in the area of ancient Colchis was not due to migration from the mountains, but to the specification of the nomenclature of local tribes, made by some late ancient authors (Pliny, Ariane) who lived in these areas and were better acquainted with the situation.. In this sense, the ancestors of the Abkhazians have long lived on the territory of the Eastern Black Sea, unlike the Georgian population, which appeared there late. The attitude of Abkhazian scientists towards the Kingdom of Colchis was also different from that of Georgian. Abkhaz authors considered it not as a single centralized state, but as an unsustainable formation consisting of ethnic groups with different languages, including Georgians and Abkhazians. In any case, if the Georgians perceived the Kingdom of Colchis as uniquely Georgian, the Abkhazians would have doubted this issue. They also saw an Abkhazian component in the kingdom.
The Abkhazian-Georgian controversy was also reflected in the entry of Christianity into Georgia. The existing facts tell us that Christianity appeared in Eastern and Western Georgia simultaneously in the IV century, but in different ways. Eastern Georgia was converted to Christianity by St. Nino, who arrived in Mtskheta from Cappadocia via the Mtkvari River valley and had such a great influence on the King of Kartli that he declared Christianity the official religion of his kingdom. The Church of Georgia considers St. Nino to be the first “national saint”. In western Georgia, Christianity penetrated from Byzantium in the 4th century and Pitiunti (ancient Greek name of Bichvinta) became one of the main centers of Christianity in the Caucasus. Abkhaz authors like to highlight the fact that in Pitiunti archaeologists have found the ruins of the only large three-nave temple in Georgia of the 5th century. According to them, a church was built there specifically for Abkhazians in 551, and the residence of “Abkhazian” Catholicoi was located there, whose spiritual power extended to the whole Western Georgia..
It should be noted that due to the existence of the Abkhazian problem during the Soviet era, historical studies on this territory of Georgia were under the strict control of the local government. Historical concepts that went beyond the permissible framework were either not published or were severely criticized. For example, in order to avoid irritating Abkhazians, the re-publication of Ingorokva’s book “Giorgi Merchule” was banned and the publication of the works of his supporters was prevented in all respects.. At the same time, the chapters of the history textbook for teaching in Abkhazia, which dealt with the early medieval period, in particular the formation of the Kingdom of Abkhazia, was written by a Georgian scholar, Mariam Lortkipanidze. She emphasized the superiority of the Georgian population in the Kingdom of Abkhazia and the gradual Georgianization of the kingdom – the ecclesiastical obedience to the Catholicos of Kartli, the spread of the Georgian language and script. Mariam Lortkipanidze also emphasized the fact that Abkhazians played an active political role not only in the Abkhaz kingdom, but also in the later united Georgia. Against her, the Abkhazian author (Zurab Anchabadze) argued in his part that the Abkhazian upper class did not reconcile its subordinate position in a united Georgia and from time to time arranged uprisings..
Abkhazians also protested against books and articles published in Georgia, in which they saw not only the neglect of their own past, but also signs of its appropriation and “Georgification.” As far back as the late 1970s, Abkhazian historians compiled a complete list of such publications, which included about thirty authors. Famous Georgian historians such as Mariam Lortkipanidze, Simon Kaukhchishvili, Sargis Kakabadze, economist Paata Gugushvili, others were among them.
During the 1980s, the ethnocentric approach was increasingly occupying on the minds of Abkhaz scholars, but it was no less relevant to their Georgian counterparts. In the late 1980s, in Georgian publications often were found the evidences in Ingorokva’s style, providing that the indigenous and main population of the Kingdom of Abkhazia was Georgian tribes, so the Kingdom of Abkhazia should be considered Georgian, especially since it pursued a “Georgian policy.” Moreover, it was proved that the Kingdom of Abkhazia was more backward than other Georgian kingdoms of that period and that it took much of its own arrangement from Egrisi.. Obviously, all this angered Abkhazians. It would be wrong to think that versions of radical ethnocentric history suddenly appeared only in the second half of the 1980s. First of all, Georgian and Abkhazian authors for long time had different views on the distant past. Over time, the secretaries of the Abkhazian district committee, gave preference to the ideology that shared an anti-Georgian position. On the other hand, as I have already mentioned, the most radical approaches and statements from both sides were censored and could not be made public. This became clear in the late 1980s, when Georgian newspapers began publishing letters and reviews that had been written in previous years, but remained unpublished due to censorship.
Relations between Georgians and Abkhazians deteriorated sharply in 1988-1989, when emotions from special scientific publications spilled over into the pages of popular newspapers and magazines. At that time, a group of Abkhaz intellectuals wrote an extensive letter to the XIX Union Party Conference (June 1988), which was soon called the “Abkhazian Letter”. The main content of this appeal was approved by a part of the Abkhazian community at the meeting in the village of Likhni on March 18, 1989, and was soon sent to the Soviet leadership, the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and the directors of some leading academic institutes. The request of the Abkhazians was for the return of the status of the Soviet Socialist Republic to Abkhazia, which it received in 1921. In the second half of the 1980s, this demand was voiced in numerous letters sent by Abkhazians to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. A 87-page brochure was devoted to substantiating this claim, detailing the historical path of Abkhazia and its current state. Abkhaz intellectuals claimed that they had to protect their ethnic identity and place of Abkhazians on the ethnic map of the world. Part of Abkhazians considered that the reason for that was deliberate, multiyear anti Abkhaz activities of Georgian government. Their letter began with a historical excursion stating that “Abkhazians were the oldest indigenous people of the Western Caucasus, living in this region in the IV-III millennium BC.” The status of the autochthonous population was so important to them that they did not want to share it with anyone and categorically rejected the thesis about “two indigenous peoples”, which was popular among Georgian authors. At the same time, Abkhazians argued that for centuries Abkhazia had sought to maintain its own political independence. They linked the peak of strength of the Abkhazian kingdom to the VIII-X centuries, when, in their opinion, the Kingdom of Abkhazia annexed the western Georgian lands. In the following centuries, this kingdom was represented as an “Abkhazian-Georgian” state, which in medieval sources was still referred to as the Kingdom of Abkhazia. The letter stated that after its collapse, Abkhazia maintained its independence until the Ottoman conquest in the 16th century. The authors of the letter argued that Abkhazia deliberately made the decision to join Russia in 1810.
Limiting themselves to the short term harsh repression of the Abkhazians by the Russian Empire, which led to their mass migration to the Ottoman Empire, and silent about the policy of Russification, Abkhaz intellectuals were primarily angry at the Georgification policy, which was initially pursued by the Georgian Church and then by the government of First Democratic Republic and finally, Lavrenty Beria tried to bring it to fruition. The authors of the letter took a detailed look at the political history of Abkhazia during the Soviet period and tried to show that, unlike many other republics and parties and against the will of the people, Abkhazia was gradually losing its status in the first decade after the revolution: its development was ongoing from an independent republic within Georgia to an autonomous republic. The authors blamed Georgian nationalism for all this, which had only one goal – to destroy the consciousness of the Abkhaz people and its complete assimilation.
One of the important moments that caused dissatisfaction of Abkhazians was the attitude of the Georgian history towards Abkhazians and history of Abkhazia, which was expressed the best in Ingorokva’s monograph. Abkhaz authors noted that although this approach was officially criticized in the 1950s, it became an official target for Georgian historians. Many of them, in different ways followed it in their own concepts (Niko Berdzenishvili, Simon Kaukhchishvili, Mariam Lortkipanidze, Sargis Kakabadze. Among the anti-Abkhazian works was the jubilee encyclopedia of the “Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia”). Abkhaz authors wrote that the activity of Georgian historiography in recent years was a continuation of the open struggle against the Abkhaz people, the struggle “for the legal justification of Georgia’s historical right to own a country called Abkhazia”. Consequently, they presented Georgian historiography not as a simple science, but as an “established geopolitical doctrine”, which was aimed at the formation of a “Greater Georgia” in the future.
In 1989, the tension reached its peak. During this period, radical nationalist rhetoric was spread in the ongoing movements in Georgia aimed at gaining independence, which was supported by representatives of Georgian culture and art. These ideas were widely disseminated through the media, including the popular newspapers “Literaturuli Sakartvelo”, Sakhalkho Ganatleba”, and “Sakartvelos Akhalgazrdoba”. In the fall of 1988, the slogan “Georgia for Georgians” first appeared on the pages of “Literaturuli Sakartvelo”, and there were frequent discussions that “there should be nothing non-Georgian in Georgia”.“ At the same time, the saying was going about the abolition of autonomy. That is why the development of the Georgian democratic movement, in Abkhazia was perceived as a threat and attempts were made to disrupt rallies dedicated to Georgia’s independence, including on May 26, 1990 in Gagra. At the same time, the articles were published dedicated to the formation of the Georgian nation and the history of Georgian statehood. Revealing a primordial approach, the authors of articles in the Georgian press were looking for the roots of the “Georgian ethnos” in ancient times. According to them, it has existed for a long time and despite all the problems, was constantly striving for consolidation. An article published in the Young Communist newspaper in May 1989 outlines: Taking advantage of our millennial kindness, with our courteous consent, the Adyghe tribes (Apshils and Abazgs) migrated from the North Caucasus several centuries ago, and we settled them in the heart of our Georgian land … the visiting tribes took the name of the ancient Georgian tribe – Abazgebi and, taking advantage of our naivety, intruded the Adyghe language on Georgian Abkhazian, who for millennia could not speak any language other than the native Georgian. Now descended from the mountains, wrapped in our national body, and claims for our land“.
Zviad Gamsakhurdia was one of the leaders of the national movement that started in Georgia. Former human rights activist and one of the leaders of the Georgian Helsinki Group, writer and future president of Georgia was the son of the famous writer Konstantine Gamsakhurdia. He became the leader of the movement that fought for the freedom of Georgia since the 1980s. At the same time, Gamsakhurdia took Ingorokva’s ideas to strengthen his political vision. In a famous letter to Academician Andrei Sakharov in 1989, he wrote that in the first millennium BC “Abkhazia was part of Kolkheti, one of the oldest Georgian states”, and in the Middle Ages the name “Abkhazia” was often closely associated with Georgia, but in modern times as “Abkhazians” are incorrectly mentioned the North Caucasians, Adygean tribe Apsua, relative of the Circassians, which in the 17th century began to occupy the mountainous part of historic Abkhazia, assimilated the Georgian population and fortified there. Gamsakhurdia referred to Abkhazians as “Apsuas” and compared them to “Arabs who settled in the historical lands of Egypt and Israel.” While in the autonomies he saw “a clear trace of Stalinism’s crimes against the peoples of the Soviet Union” and believed that they were created to provoke inter-ethnic animosity. Articles with similar content were included in the magazine “Matiane”, which was published by the Georgian Helsinki Group under the leadership of Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Gia Chanturia, the leader of the National Democratic Party, an opponent of Gamsakhurdia, also believed that Abkhazians came to Abkhazia only in the 18th century.
However, after coming to power, Gamsakhurdia drastically changed his attitude towards Abkhazians. In 1991, ahead of a general union referendum on the future of the Soviet Union scheduled for March 17, Gamsakhurdia called his own referendum on Georgia’s independence (March 31). Wanting to gain the support of national minorities and their refusal to participate in the joint union referendum, Gamsakhurdia began to focus on “common Colchian descent” and “genetic kinship,” the unity of Georgian and Abkhazian history and culture. He emphasized the prestige of Abkhazian origin in the Georgian consciousness and spoke of their chivalrous nobility. He blamed in the tensions in Abkhazia Russia’s imperial policy and the “adventurism” of Abkhaz officials led by Ardzinba. Ahead of the presidential elections, Gamsakhurdia included in his pre-election program a clause on maintaining the status of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia within Georgia. Zviad Gamsakhurdia also supported the 28-26-11 quota system, according to which ethnic Abkhazians (18% of the Abkhaz population) should get 28 seats in the new legislative body, Georgians (46% of the Abkhaz population) 26, and other ethnic groups a total of 11. Abkhazians. Regarding the secession from Georgia, Gamsakhurdia said that he was ready to recognize their right to self-determination, but on the other side of the Caucasus.
At the same time, it should be noted that representatives of historical science were actively involved in political processes in Abkhazia as well. The Abkhazians were especially proud of their genetic ties to the ancient peoples of Asia Minor, the Hittites, the Kashke and Abesha, and emphasized the fact that they possessed one of the most ancient states and had the greatest influence on the Indo-European Hittites. Among the Abkhaz authors who shared this concept were historian Stanislav Lakoba and archaeologist Sergei Shamba. Lakoba later occupied the position of the Speaker of the Parliament of the de facto Republic of Abkhazia, while Shamba served as the de facto Minister of Foreign Affairs. Vladislav Ardzinba was also a historian by profession and a specialist in ancient Asia, and he repeatedly appealed to this concept in his speeches.
Vladislav Ardzinba also participated in writing the textbook “History of Abkhazia”. Together with Vyacheslav Chirikba, he is the author of the introduction to this book, which deals with the origins of the Abkhaz people. In it, Abkhazians are presented as the ancient population of the whole of modern Abkhazia and part of the territory of present-day Russia. The Abkhazian language is considered to be one of the oldest languages in the world and is part of the Abkhazian-Adyghe linguistic group, which in turn was part of the North Caucasian linguistic unity. t is clear that the purpose of such a guide is to update the events of the distant past, raise the Abkhazian consciousness, create a pillar for it in the depths of history, and admire the imagination of the great deeds of its ancestors.
The confrontation with Georgia also led to the emergence of quite extravagant historical constructions in Abkhazia. For example, some historians have seen this confrontation as part of a global struggle against evil. Under the latter, they viewed a multinational state with “imperial pride” that had a negative starting point. According to some of the authors, the Georgians were the carriers of destructive energy, who opposed the people of goodness – the Abkhazians.
History, Religion, Demographics
At a time when Abkhazians felt that their language, culture and identity were in danger, any fact (or pseudo-fact) indicating to the antiquity of these people, their ancient life on the territory of Abkhazia and the representatives of the Abkhaz people who became world famous became of great importance to them. That is why the famous Abkhazian writer Aleksei Gogua was actively developing the theory of Ioane Petritsi’s Abkhazian identity. Georgian historian Mariam Lortkipanidze rightly criticized Aleksei Gogua for his mistreatment of historical facts. Another subject of dispute between Lortkipanidze and Gogua was the demographic issue. Mariam Lortkipanidze argued that by 1921, Abkhazians made up only 17.6% of the Abkhaz population. In fact, according to the 1926 census, the number of Abkhazians was 27.8%. The number of Megrelians deported to Abkhazia also caused a big dispute between these two figures. According to Aleksei Gogua, the number of Georgians settled was 200,000. Mariam Lortkipanidze claimed that from 1926 to 1959 Georgian population in Abkhazia increased by 79 thousand.
In 1988-1989, the issue of religious affiliation of Abkhazians was also raised. Many Georgian authors, by that time followed the Ingorokva’s concept, viewing the Christian population of medieval Abkhazia as Georgians, pointing to the weakening of Christianity there after the settlement of the Barbarossa pagan tribes from the North Caucasus, who soon converted to Islam. During all these years, the Georgian media was actively cultivating the image of Christian Georgia, which was surrounded by Muslim peoples who were hostile to it. Abkhazians, who were presented only as Muslims, played an important role in this regard. Georgian television broadcast stories about Abkhazians’ close ties to Iran and Turkey.
In response, since the late 1980s, Abkhazians have sought to distance themselves from association with Islam and emphasize their own ancient Christian roots. Stanislav Lakoba, for example, argued that Abkhazians had been Christians since ancient times, and that Islam, which had penetrated there in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, could not be deeply rooted. At the same time, he mentioned the successful attempts of the Arabs and Turkey to convert Georgians to Islam. During all these years, Abkhaz scholars have shown great interest in their Christian heritage. In 1989, some Abkhaz authors tried to show that St. Nino came to the Caucasus by sea and first converted Abkhazians to Christianity and then left for the rest of Georgia. However, this version could not gain a foothold in Abkhazia itself. Later, Abkhazian archaeologist Mikheil Gunba associated Abkhazian Christianity with the name of Andrew the First-Called. He not only unjustifiably aged the Christian tradition of Abkhazia, but also tried to show that it was already spread to the masses. Therefore, according to the followers of this version, Abkhazia had no other way but orthodoxy.
A new subject of Georgian-Abkhazian dispute became the demographic problem in the late 1980s. For the first time it was clearly mentioned in the “Abkhazian letter”. Later it was actively used by Abkhazian authors. The reason became the numerous statements of Zviad Gamsakhurdia and other Georgian politicians that 17% of the population of Abkhazia (ie Abkhazians) have incredible privileges and exploit the rest of the population. That is why Abkhazian scientists have applied to ethnodemographic statistics to prove a drastic change in the ethnic composition of the local population in 100-150 years. One of the first to start analyzing this data was Inal-ipa. He claimed that until the middle of the 19th century, Abkhazians had settled from the Enguri River to Sochi, although the territory controlled by the Abkhazian princes included a section from the Enguri River to the Bzipa River. Inal-ipa claimed that all these lands were mostly inhabited by Abkhazians and that almost no other ethnic groups lived there. The tragic result of the wars in the Caucasus, for Abkhazians became Muhajir – the forced deportation of large numbers of Abkhazians to the Ottoman Empire in 1840-1870. Abkhaz authors cited data showing that before World War I, Abkhazians made up about 60% of Abkhazia’s population. Abkhazian authors attributed the sharp decline in their numbers to Georgia: initially during the First Democratic Republic, in their opinion, the Samurzakhans were recorded as Georgians, which was repeated in 1926-1939. In 1940-1950, along with the deportation of ethnic minorities (Turkish Meskhetians, Greeks, Assyrians, Kurds) outside of Georgia, there was a planned settlement of Georgians in Abkhazia. As a result, according to these authors, within a hundred years, Abkhazians have become a minority of the dominant population.
They viewed this issue differently in Georgia. In October 1992, Eduard Shevardnadze stated that the decline of Abkhazian population in Abkhazia was a natural process, to which Georgians had no connection.
The ideological struggle between Georgians and Abkhazians was on the one side over cultural superiority (who first became involved in ferrous metallurgy, converted to Christianity, established a written tradition and who were prominent cultural and political figures of the ethnic past), on the other side – territorial priority (who was the oldest population in Abkhazia); and on the third – on state priority (who created the ancient forms of statehood in western Georgia). From the point of view of both sides, any clear and unambiguous answer to these questions could legitimize the right of any of them, either on the territory of Abkhazia or on political power in Abkhazia. All this gained special significance in the 1980s, when the strife of Abkhazians reached its climax. That is why the Georgian-Abkhazian controversy over what was going on in the deep past has gone beyond history and historical interpretations unacceptable to both sides have been seen as an insult to national sanctities.
In fact, the Georgian-Abkhazian confrontation involved the intellectual appropriation of the past, when many things were in common in that past. The examples given clearly show the role of the past as the most important symbol of identity.
Instead of Conclusion
The theorists of nationalism, who often wrote about the enormous mobilizing power of nationalist ideology, noted the great importance of the glorious past and ancestors, and emphasized the use of this image by the media and schools to shape identity and worldviews in general. Historical notions of this kind, or “collective memory,” are clearly part of what Mark Basinger calls “symbolic capital,” which plays an important role in nationalist mobilization. However, few if any tried to look at the ideologies that were embedded and becoming popular in certain republics of the Soviet Union. However, it is no longer a secret that along with the communist ideology, nationalist ideologies were formed and spread in the Soviet republics, which had an ethnic nature due to the ethno-administrative arrangement of the state. This was facilitated by the ideological support of the state as of a society of “collective individuals”. That is why, speaking of the ideological nature of the Soviet regime, we must bear in mind that it not only promoted the domination of communist ideology, but also the development of nationalist ideologies.
Due to the hierarchical state arrangement of the Soviet Union, different groups were subordinated to each other. In other words, the Soviet government artificially created and supported the ranking of the ethnopolitical system. At the same time, political relations between ethnic groups were quite complex and looked different both at the republican level and at the level of autonomies. For example, at the level of a particular allied republic, Georgians were a “titular” nation, while Abkhazians were an ethnic minority. While within their own autonomy, Abkhazians were considered a “titular nation” despite being a demographic minority. At the same time, the politically “titular” population in the Soviet Union has always had certain privileges, and namely its representatives held key political positions in their own national formations. Under the conditions of hierarchical territorial-political arrangement, this inevitably led to a rift between the various levels of government.
From a strategic point of view, the focus was on the status of a “titular” nation. Only indigenous peoples who had lived in the area for centuries and possessed a distinct cultural and linguistic diversity could claim it in the Soviet Union. Consequently, language, culture and deep historical heritage would inevitably become an important political resource in this area. This was not always clearly understood by the population, including scientists. However, this was well understood by the local authorities, and it is not occasional that at their initiative the local scientists’ articles on the origins and early history of the “titular” nations were often published in the local press. Even more exemplary are the common public holidays celebrated by local authorities to mark the origins of statehood or the founding of a city. Such events activated social memory and legitimized the political status of the “titular” population.
It should also be noted that history textbooks were under the strict control of local authorities, and namely they incorporated simplified primordial historical schemes into the masses, with the aim of scientific justification of the steadfastness of the political title of the “titular” nation. Therefore, it would be naive to think that the icons of history and historical ancestors were only the “fruits of creativity” of scientists whose creative lives were within a certain sterile framework. Edward Said well demonstrated the important role played by unscientific colonial interests and similar Eurocentric stereotypes in the formation of the Eastern image (“Orientalism”), which was established not only in the consciousness of Europeans but also in European science. Even earlier, Franz Boas, the founder of the American School of Ethnology, began to work on the idea of the great influence of culture and cultural codes on the perception of the world by the bearers of this culture. As in the case of Orientalism, the main factor influencing the formation of the image of history was political interests, which exerted pressure on the scholar and society as a whole through a network of social institutions. As a result, under Soviet conditions, scientists came under intense pressure not only from academia but also from the social and political space.
In any case, as it turned out, perceptions of particular ancestors played a major role in identity formation and were closely linked to the priorities of political attitudes towards members of other ethnicities. The goal of the “titular” nation of the republic was the integration of the ethnic minority and for this general historical scheme was created, which introduced the minority in the history of the “titular” nation and made it a part of the latter. For their part, ethnic minorities have been cultivating their own icon of history and trying their best to distance their own history from the history of a “titular” nation. By doing so, they aimed to protect the right to the status of independent indigenous peoples, which would allow them to demand certain political rights. Not only the horizontal connections on which Benedict Anderson wrote were of great importance to identity in such a situation, but vertical as well, which would connect closely contemporaries with ancestors. The ethnic identity components discussed above were ultimately geared towards politics, and in Soviet conditions where the politicization of ethnicity had legal grounds, this was inevitable.
The environment of constant ethnic differences, which created an atmosphere of threat to the ethnic values, the political and territorial status of specific ethnic groups, pushed the local intelligentsia towards consolidation. These conditions were dominated by corporatism and nothing was said about pluralism of historical versions. Those who disagreed with the mainstream version of history would often find themselves in social isolation. Based on that appeared the unity of groups of historians, which became clear in the ongoing ideological battles on the historical front. Moreover, the enormous role of history in the consciousness of local ethnic groups was highlighted by the fact that among the leaders of national movements there were many professional scholars who were involved in creating versions of the history of their own peoples. And this is not accidental, as local national ideologies have largely relied on ethnic versions of history.
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