Identity, Social Mobility and Ethnic Mobilization: Language and the Disintegration of the Soviet Union
Posted: 20 Nov 2015 Last revised: 3 Oct 2017
Date Written: March 28, 2016
The disintegration of the Soviet Union is an essential case for the study of ethnic mobilization. However, analyses in this article demonstrate that commonly-used measures of ethnic diversity show little consistent relationship with events of mass ethnic mobilization during the period 1987-1992 in either the ethnofederal regions of the Soviet Union or the federal regions of Russia. Instead, the analyses indicate that the degree to which regional populations spoke a metropolitan language was the driving force behind this mobilization. These findings are consistent with recent literature on identity politics, which holds that noticeable and difficult-to-change traits make certain identities politically salient. However, while this literature has largely focused on inherited physical characteristics, I argue that proficiency in a metropolitan language functions in a similar manner by marking non-speakers as outsiders and thus preventing their social mobility. Language may therefore underly much purportedly ethnic political behavior in states with linguistic cleavages.
Keywords: Separatism, Identity Politics, Eurasia
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