Between late 1941 and 1957, around 2.5 million ethnic Germans, Turkic and Caucasian Muslims and Caspian Kalmyk Mongols were collectively deported from their ancestral lands on the edges of the USSR and forcibly resettled in the ‘inland’ on charges of anti-Soviet activities and collaboration with the Nazi occupiers during WWII. While several deported groups were allowed to return in the early post-Stalin years, others, like the Soviet Germans and Crimean Tatars, only had the theoretic opportunity to do so after the demise of the USSR. The brutal deportations and the initially harsh conditions in exile had a deep impact on the national psychology and identity of the affected peoples and on their relations with the centre.
The introduction and ten articles that make up this work roughly reflect four discussions. The first, post-introduction chapter by Juliette Denis examines the background and the organisational process of the Stalinist-Soviet deportation policies. It argues that the collective deportations were no sudden-onset event, but rather the outcome of a policy of border security launched in the 1930s, which included surveillance and displacement of borderland minorities deemed unreliable and historically restive by the Kremlin and the NKVD. The strategic importance and the real or perceived vulnerability of certain border areas explains why certain nationalities and communities were singled out for collective deportation, whereas others who also had Nazi collaborators, like Galicians, Cossacks and Turkestanis for example, were not.
A second and, in our opinion, most interesting discussion that emerges examines, as in the chapter by Marc Elie, the living conditions and the coping mechanisms of the deportees in exile as well as the perceptions and attitudes among the host communities in detail. The following chapter by Grégory Dufaud goes deeper into the policy changes and reforms in the Soviet deportation policy after Stalin’s death and focuses on the gradual relaxation and eventually abolishment of the so-called Special Colonies where part of the deportees lived. It puts the policy changes against the background of a post-Stalin power struggle among the Soviet leadership and the by then increasingly obvious economic inefficiency of the Gulag and colony system. Finally, this contribution also discusses the question why some deported peoples were rehabilitated and allowed to return to their homelands while others were not.
The third discussion that we distinguish in this work is more case-based and treats the impact of the deportations on the national psychology and identity of the peoples concerned. Cases that are examined in-depth in this regard by Aurélie Campana and Sophie Tournon are those of the Crimean Tatars and the Meshketians, Shiite Turks from the Georgian-Turkish border region of Meshketi. Partly in the same line is the chapter on the Chechens and Ingush by Aurélie Campana. The article describes the return and of both peoples, the restoration of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR and the social dynamics in this entity that eventually led to national mobilisation in the 1980s. Particular attention is paid to the role of traditional Sufism in the preservation of a national identity in exile and in the face of post-return attempts at russification by the centre. The article also argues that the secession of Chechnya did not enjoyed unanimous support among the Chechen population.
The fourth discussion goes deeper into what we could call the ‘hangover’ of the deportations and the sometimes difficult process of return and reintegration. Although the pre-deportation national autonomies were often restored, returnees as often had to face hostile authorities and resistance from Slavic and other populations who settled the areas which they had forcibly left more than a decade before. Detailed case studies in this regard include that of the Karachais and Balkars by Aude Merlin and Svetlana Akkieva as well as the previously mentioned case of the Chechens and Ingush by Aurélie Campana. Some ‘punished peoples’ like the Crimean Tatars and the Meshketians had to wait for Perestroika and the demise of the USSR to make return a feasible option. In the meantime, they faced the challenges to preserve an identity in exile and to try to get keep their interests on the agenda. A dedicated chapter by Aurélie Campana describes the return process of the Crimean Tatars to the Crimean peninsula after 1991.
Sophie Tournon goes deeper into what she calls the ‘indefinite postponement’ of the return of the Meshketians — who were the target of communal violence in Uzbekistan in 1989 — to their ancestral region. Very few actually returned to Meshketia. Instead, the community is now spread over the former Soviet space and Turkey. Finally, the chapter by Alexander Osipov discusses how the issue of the deportations and their legacy is being perceived and dealt with in Russia and what the consequences of the deportations and rehabilitations were and are for the country. Finally, the conclusion by Pavel Tolian and Sophie Tournon goes deeper into the various ways of commemoration of the deportations among the formerly ‘punished peoples’.