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Involuntary settlements in the Soviet Union

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Title: Involuntary settlements in the Soviet Union  
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Subject: Gulag, History of Wikipedia, Kazakhstan, Ethnic cleansing, Enemy of the people, NKVD prisoner massacres, Index of Soviet Union-related articles, Nikolai Khokhlov, Collectivization in the Soviet Union, Ingrian Finns
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Involuntary settlements in the Soviet Union

Forced settlements in the Soviet Union took several forms. Though the most notorious was the Gulag labor camp system of penal labor, resettling of entire categories of population was another method of political repression implemented by the Soviet Union. At the same time, involuntary settlement played a role in the colonization of remote areas of the Soviet Union. This role was specifically mentioned in the first Soviet decrees about involuntary labor camps.

Population transfer in the Soviet Union that led to the creation of these settlements was performed in a series of operations organized according to social and national criteria of the deported.

Compared to the Gulag camps, the involuntary settlements had the appearance of "normal" settlements: people lived in families, and there was more freedom of movement; however, that was only permitted within a specified area. Since workers of these collective farms in the USSR did not receive cash for their work and ate food only from their own gardens, many 'special settlers' faced starvation. All settlers were overseen by NKVD (под надзором НКВД): once a month a person had to visit a local law enforcement office at a selsoviet in rural areas or at a militsiya department in urban settlements.

Exile settlements

Exile settlements (ссыльное поселение, ssylnoye poselenie) were a kind of internal exile. The system of political and administrative exile existed in the Imperial Russia as well. The most notable category of exile settlers in the Soviet Union (ссыльнопоселенцы, ssylnoposelentsy) were the whole nationalities resettled during Joseph Stalin's rule (1928–1953). At various times, a number of other terms were used for this category: special settlement (спецпоселение), special resettlement (спецпереселение), administrative exile (административная высылка, a term which refers to an extrajudicial way of deciding the fates of people "by administrative means").

Exiles were sent to remote areas of the Soviet Union: Siberia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the Russian Far East.

The population of the settlements

The major source of the population in exile settlements were victims of what is now called ethnic cleansing. The Soviet government feared that people of certain nationalities would act as "fifth column" subversives during the expected war, and took drastic measures to prevent this perceived threat. The deported were sent to prisons, labor camps, exile settlements, and "supervised residence" (residence in usual settlements, but under the monitoring of the NKVD).

Deportations from border territories in 1939–1941

Several waves of forced resettlement occurred from the territories on the Western borders. These territories included Murmansk Oblast and the recently annexed lands: parts of Poland and Romania (about 20,000 people: the men were deported to Siberia, while the women and children to Kazakhstan), and the Baltic States.

In territories annexed from Poland (the Kresy territories and the Białystok Voivodeship), the initial wave of repression of 1939 was in a way a continuation of the Polish operation of the NKVD and was rationalized as conviction of "social enemies", or "enemies of the people": military, police and administrative personnel, large landowners, industrialists, merchants. They were usually sentenced to 8–20 years of labor camps. In addition, the population along Poland's Eastern border, as well as forest-guards and railroad workers were interned. Massive deportations of the Polish population into remote areas of the Soviet Union took place in 1940–1941.

Estimates of the total number of deported Poles vary between 400,000 and 1.6 million people.

On 23 June 1940 Lavrenty Beria, head of the NKVD, ordered the Murmansk Oblast to be cleaned of "foreign nationals", both Scandinavians and all other nationalities. People of Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian (see also "Kola Norwegians") ethnicities were moved to Karelo-Finnish SSR. Germans, Koreans, Chinese, and others were moved to Altay.

Deportations of "exiled settlers" from Baltic States (Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians) and annexed part of Romania (Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina) were carried out in May–June 1941.

In 1941 a significant number[quantify] of Poles were amnestied and freed from "special settlement" (but still barred from border territories).

"Preventive" deportations of nationalities in 1941–1942

These deportations concerned Soviet citizens of "enemy nationality". The affected were Volga Germans, Finns, Romanians, Italians, and Greeks. At the end of this period Crimean Tatars were included in this wave of deportation.

"Punitive" deportations of nationalities in 1943–1944

These deportations concerned ethnicities declared guilty of cooperation with Nazi occupants: a number of peoples of North Caucasus and Crimea: Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks, Crimean Tatars, and Crimean Bolgars, as well as Kalmyks.

Deportations of Germans from the occupied territories in 1944–1945

The Red Army occupation lead to the deportation to Siberia of more than 200,000 ethnic Germans of Romania (around 75,000 Transylvanian Saxons), Hungary and Yugoslavia. Most of them died in prison camps. See Forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union for details.

After capturing East Prussia in 1945, virtually all of its pre-war population of three million was expelled to Germany (which was destroyed by war and crowded with refugees, but still a better place to live than Siberia). The depopulated area was then settled with people from the Western parts of the Soviet Union, mainly ethnic Russians.

Post-war deportations

Deportations after the end of World War II were not particularly differentiated or classified by "NKVD operations". The affected were people from the territories that were under the administration of the Axis Powers: family members of persons accused of loyalty to the Axis administration and of persons who continued resistance to Soviet power, which was classified as "banditism". A significant number[quantify] of former Ostarbeiters were "filtered" into exile as well. "Cleansing" of the annexed territories continued until early 1950s. In July 1949, revolts of the Romanian peasants of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina were repressed and lead to the deportation of around 95,000 people. (this figure was used in the reports presented to Stalin in 1951)


The term ukaznik derives from the Russian term "ukaz" that means "decree". It applies to those convicted according to various Soviet ukazes, but the most common usage refers to a series of decrees related to what later formalized in the Soviet law as parasitism, or evasion from socially-useful work. Among the first of these was the decree of 2 June 1942 "About the Criminal Answerability for Evasion from Socially Useful Work and for Antisocial Parasitic Way of Life in Agricultural Sector" (Об ответственности за уклонение от общественно полезного труда и за ведение антиобщественного паразитического образа жизни в сельском хозяйстве). It was usually applied to kolkhozniks who failed to carry out their work quota (trudodni, "labour-days"). The term of exile was 8 years. During 1948–1952 33,266 special settlers – "ukazniks" have been registered. Unlike other exile settler categories, children of these exiles were not subject to the Decree.

Religious persecution

A number of religious groups (such as Jehovah's Witnesses ("свидетели иеговы"), Truly Orthodox Christians ("истинно-православные христиане", Innokentians ("иннокентьевцы"), Adventists-Reformists ("адвентисты-реформисты")) were outlawed for violating the Soviet law "On the Separation of Church from the State and the School from the Church". In particular, members of these groups refused to join the Young Pioneers, the Komsomol, or to serve in Soviet Army. Usually members of these groups and especially influential members were subject to criminal law and treated on case-by-case basis. However on 3 March 1951, the USSR Council of Ministers issued a decree, "On Expulsion of Active Participants of the anti-Soviet Illegal Sect of Jehovists and their Family Members" (Постановление Совета Министров СССР о выселении активных участников антисоветской нелегальной секты иеговистов и членов их семей №1290-467 от 3 марта 1951 года). According to this decree, about 9,400 Jehovah's Witnesses, including about 4,000 children , were resettled from the Baltic States, Moldova, and western parts of Belarus and Ukraine to Siberia in 1951, an event known as "Operation North".

Only in September 1965, a decree of the Presidium of the USSR Council of Ministers canceled the "special settlement" restriction for members of these religious groups.[1]

Azerbaijanis from the Armenian SSR

By the decree of the


The above are the major, most populous categories of exile settlers. There were a number of smaller categories. They were small in the scale of the whole Soviet Union, but rather significant in terms of the affected categories of population. For example, in 1950 all Iranians, with the exception of persons of Armenian ethnicity, were resettled from the Georgian SSR, a population of some 4,776 persons.

Labor settlements

Labor settlements (трудопоселение, trudoposelenie) were a method of internal exile that used settlers for obligatory labor. The main category of "labor settlers" (трудопоселенцы, trudoposelentsy) were kulaks and members of their families deported in 1930s before the Great Purge. Labor settlements were under the management of Gulag, but they must not be confused with labor camps.

The first official document that decreed wide-scale "dekulakization" was joint decree of Central Executive Committee and Sovnarkom by 1 February 1930. Initially families of kulaks were deported into remote areas "for special settlement" without particular care about their occupation. In 1931–1932 the problems of dekulakization and territorial planning of the exile settlement was handled by a special Politburo commission known as Andreev-Rudzutak Commission (комиссия Андреева-Рудзутака) named after Andrey Andreyevich Andreyev and Yan Rudzutak. The plan to achieve goals like exploitation of natural resources and the colonization of remote areas with "special settlements" instead of labor camps was dropped after the revealing of the Nazino affair in 1933, subsequently the Gulag system was expanded.

The notions of "labor settlement"/"labor settlers" were introduced in 1934 and were in official use until 1945. Since 1945 the terminology was unified, and exiled kulaks were documented as "special resettlers – kulaks".

Free settlements

Free settlements (вольное поселение, volnoye poselenie) were for persons released from the confines of labor camps "for free settlement" before their term expiration, as well as for those who served the full term, but remained restricted in their choice of place of residence. These people were known as free settlers (вольнопоселенцы, volnoposelentsy).

The term was in use earlier, in Imperial Russia, in two meanings: free settlement of peasants or cossacks (in the sense of being free from serfdom) and non-confined exile settlement (e.g., after serving a katorga term).

In the Soviet Union, a decree of Sovnarkom of 1929 about labor camps said, in part:

"For gradual colonization of the regions where concentration camps are to be established, suggest the OGPU and Narkomat of Justice to urgently plan activities based on the following principles: (1) (2) (3) ".

The "free settlers" of the first category were often required to do the work assigned to the corresponding labor camp or some other obligatory work. Later, people could be assigned for "free settlement" in other places as well, even in towns, with obligatory work wherever a workforce was required.

Population statistics

For a long time the numbers of people prosecuted in the Soviet Union were based on various estimates, counted in tens of millions and varied by a wide margin. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union the researchers gained access to the archives of NKVD. The revealed numbers point rather to lower numbers of the estimate range. In particular, data on 1 January 1953, show "only" 2,753,356 of "deported and special settlers". Also, Dmitri Volkogonov in his book about Stalin quoted an MVD document that reports 2,572,829 on 1 January 1950.

Olga Shatunovskaya, a member of a special commission during the 1960s appointed by Khrushchev, has concluded in her report that "from January 1, 1935 to June 22, 1941, 19,840,000 enemies of the people were arrested. Of these, 7,000,000 were shot in prison, and a majority of the others died in camp." These figures were also found in the papers of Politburo member Anastas Mikoyan. Historian Dmitri Volkogonov, head of a special Russian parliamentary commission, citing KGB documents available after the fall of the USSR concluded that "from 1929 to 1952, 21.5 million [Soviet] people were repressed. Of these a third (7,166,666) were shot, the rest sentenced to imprisonment, where many also died."

See also


  1. Павел Полян, Не по своей воле... (Pavel Polian, Against Their Will... A History and Geography of Forced Migrations in the USSR), ОГИ Мемориал, Moscow, 2001, ISBN 5-94282-007-4
  2. V.N.Zemskov, Inmates, Special Settlers, Exile Settlers, Exiled and Evicted (Statistical-Geographical Aspect). In: History of the USSR, 1991, no.5, pp. 151–165. (in Russian)
  3. Ioniţoiu, Cicerone, Genocidul din România, Repere în procesul comunismului (in Romanian)
  4. International Socialism Journal, Forced migration in 20th century Balkans, 1995
  5. Lynne Viola, "The Unknown Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin's Special Settlements", Oxford University Press (2007) ISBN 0-19-518769-5

  • A decree about labor camps, 1919, in Russian
  • A decree about penal labor, 1929, in Russian
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