29 January 1993

Doc. 6753



on population movements between

the republics of the former USSR1

(Rapporteur: Mr BÖHM,

Germany, CDU/CSU)

1.       The current and anticipated population movements within the former Soviet Union, along with the underlying reasons, are of the greatest significance for the future of people of all European states, notably with regard to external and internal security, economic development, appropriate levels of assistance to be financed from our countries' tax revenues, together with financing from private investment.

2.       In order to monitor and analyse these population movements and assess prospective trends, the religious and ethnic aspects of population coexistence must be taken into account in parallel with economic factors. National and national-cum-religious conflicts have erupted in the successor states to the former Soviet Union, bringing in their wake thousands of deaths and casualties and hundreds of thousands of refugees.

3.       Much of what is happening today is the result of the nationalities policy pursued by the communists, who endeavoured to institute supranational ethics and morality. The aim was to eradicate the diversity of national cultures and, in the longer term, national languages and to supplant them with the community of the "Soviet people".

      Almost all peoples living in the Soviet Union during the seven decades of communist hegemony experienced great difficulties in safeguarding their national identities on a cultural, religious, linguistic and also political level. All problems were compulsorily resolved along Soviet communist lines, thereby creating a facade of stability.

      In practice, the result was the predominance of the Russian element in all parts of the country. Migration was strictly regulated, with the result that until the seventies policy in this sphere showed clear signs of imperialism and colonialism. According to the official version, emigration was the expression of economic rationality, but in reality it was both based on ideology - the goal being to create a united classless world community -and underpinned to a much greater extent by an ambition to become a world power, an objective that hinged on the state territory and an ideologically unified citizenry. In implementing this policy, borders were drawn through regions settled by diverse ethnic groups, and power in the republics and autonomous regions was exercised principally by the representatives of the power centre. National customs, traditions and economic practices were thus made uniform and the communist planned economy was imposed with no regard whatsoever for the distinctive features of a region. This led to culture being defined as follows: "Culture in the Soviet state is socialist in content and national in form."

4.       Prior even to perestroika, this policy had failed because all the constituent nations (with the exception of the Latvians and the Estonians) had higher birth rates than the Russians and from the seventies onwards Russians began to emigrate from Central Asia. By 1989, Estonia and Latvia were the only places where there was still any significant Russian immigration.

5.        The disintegration of the Soviet empire shows that the scheme to unite peoples and nations in a centralised and bureaucratic manner could not be achieved. Following the collapse of communism, these peoples and nations are now regaining their historical dimensions and emerging as the components of future societies, that is as instruments through which informed political opinion can emerge in the area in question.

6.       At the same time, the potential danger that the Russians may sense a threat to their own identity as a result of the reaction to Russian colonialism should not be overlooked. Many autonomous regions of the Russian Federation have more Russians than members of the indigenous population, whose elites the Russians treat as minorities and who are subject to some discrimination. This leads to the development of power struggles in which ethnic and national arguments are advanced and employed by all sides.

7.       There is a danger attached to these developments of the national element degenerating and descending into nationalism, although this only takes place with the advent of repression. It is not the right to self-determination that is at the root of these conflicts, but rather the negation of the right to self-determination that sparks off the development of destructive forces.

8.        In the wake of the collapse of communism, the majority of the population welcomed the end of totalitarianism as a victory for democracy, the realisation of human rights and the triumph of oppressed national cultures. Today, the attitude of people in the former USSR is more subdued and more critical because democracy has, for many, taken the form of unemployment, inflation, expulsions and general disorientation. Whilst it is true that these nations and peoples represent the very factors which make it possible to overcome these negative trends, the main thrust of the policy of Council of Europe member states must be aimed at encouraging their emergence as democratic nation states: in other words they must be helped to realise their right to self-determination and affirmation of their sovereignty. If these states are built in a democratic fashion, they will also be inclined to co-operate across national borders and to relinquish a degree of sovereignty, thereby enabling their assimilation, in due course, into the process of European integration.

Reporting committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography (Doc. 6739).

Committee for opinion: Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: None.

Reference to committee: Doc. 6577 and Reference No. 1778 of 11 March 1992.

Opinion approved by the committee on 19 January 1993.

Secretary to the committee: Mr Dufour.

1 1 1. See Doc. 6739.