Ethnically mixed marriages in the Soviet Union

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  • GeoJoumal Supplementary Issue 1 (1980) 31-34 Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft Wiesbaden


    Ethnical ly Mixed Marriages in the Soviet Union

    Komarova, O.D., Dr. Econ.

    Abstract: The paper deals with the influence of objective and subjective factors over the trends in the incidence of inter-ethnic marriages for the USSR as a whole and the indivi- dual Union republics. The author analyses the differences between the urban and the rural population in the level of mixed-marriage incidence, as well as in the frequency with which men and women belonging to the main ethnos of each republic enter into mixed marriage. The problems of what nationalities come together in mixed marriages and of the choice of nationality made by the children in mixed families are specially examined.

    Ethnic processes are a many-faceted phenomenon, if we are to take them not in the narrow sense of the word which only means changes in ethnic self-awareness but broadly, as shifts in all essential ethnically significant components of social life. Such shifts take place simultaneously on various levels that are closely interrelated.

    As V.I. Kozlov pointed out in his article (p. 12 of the present issue), mixed ethnic marriages are an integral part of ethnic processes, an important factor and a major indi- cator of their development. Families based on such mar- riages illustrate, to a varied extent, all the types and stages of ethnic processes, from change of language and trans- formations in the way of life, culture, customs, traditions and specific systems of values, to a different ethnic self- awareness which, in its final stage, becomes manifest in the second generation, when in choosing for the child the nationality of one parent the ethnic line of the second parent is interrupted. Mixed marriages being primary cells in which ethnic processes take place their study from the point of view of ethnography, ethnodemography and ethno- geography becomes an important and vital task.

    Just as other social phenomena, ethnic marriages are historically conditioned. Both in terms of synchrony and d iachrony, their quantitative and qualitative characteristics are influenced by a multitude of factors which can be con- ditionally subdivided into two major categories, the objec- tive and the subjective. The former category determines the

    actual possibility of ethnic contacts. Such factors include: the numerical ratio and the pattern of settlement of the nationalities that have contact with one another (mixed or ethnically segregated settlement) and the proportion of men and women in each of them; common features or differences in their way of life, culture and language; the strength of migration processes; the level of urbanization (probability of inter-ethnic contacts in cities is usually higher than in the rural areas owing to the more mixed composition of the urban population and also, because kinship ties and traditions governing life in rural districts are much less pronounced in the urban area); the degree to which the way of life and waxs of spending leisure time are standardized (since this determines to what extent people of different nationalities can come into contact in their free time), etc.

    All the above factors taken together form a necessary, but insufficient, pre-condition for the development of ethni- cally mixed marriages. Being a result of purposeful actions of a great number of persons, this process demands, apart from other things, profound shifts in human consciousness. We regard such shifts as being factors of the latter category, subjective factors, which include, in particular: the over- coming of religious prejudices traditionally associated with prohibition or, at least, disapproval of marriages between people with different religious beliefs; a respect inherent in socialism for other peoples' culture, their specific customs

  • 32 GeoJoumal Supplementary Issue 1 (1980)

    and traditions; weakening ethnocentric tendencies; the cultural growth of the Soviet Union's multinational popula- tion in general; the spread of bilingualism. As a result, nationality is ceasing to be the prime consideration for a Soviet citizen in choosing a wife or a husband (although preference is given to persons of kindred cultures and languages), and the future couples are more concerned about the personal qualities of their partners.

    The two categories of factors have their greatest joint effect in areas of close ethnic contacts, which include: first, the outlying zones of a people's area of settlement, near ethnic borders; secondly, major cities, sites of new projects, and regions of development of virgin and unused land; and, thirdly, ethnic ,,enclaves" surrounded by alien ethnic territory resulting from people's migrations beyond their ethnic borders and disturbing the compact character of the settlement of an ethnos. It is such areas and regions that are distinguished by the greatest number of mixed marriages.

    Specific features in the Union republics' socio-economic and ethnic and cultural development give rise in each of them to a definite, objective situation that may, to a greater or lesser degree, be favourable for mixed ethnic marriages. Therefore, in the Soviet Union there are pronounced regio- nal differences in the proportion of mixed ethnic marriages. Their statistics are provided by censuses, results of current surveys, as well as selective socio-demographic and ethno- graphic surveys.

    As far as the figure for mixed marriages is concerned, the materials of the last, 1979 population census in the Soviet Union are yet to be processed and the results are to be published. Nevertheless, an analysis of the relevant materials of the preceding, 1970 census and the trends of socio-economic development in recent years (including a comparison with the situation during the 1959 census) makes it possible to follow the main tendency of mixed marriages in this country.

    The proportionate share of mixed marriages is steadily rising in the Soviet Union: there were 13.5% of mixed families out of their total number in 1970, as against 10.2 % in 1959. As is seen from Tab 1, the proportion of mixed marriages was especially high (up to one-fifth and even more) in the Latvian SSR, Kazakh SSR and the Ukraine. Those republics have favourable conditions for ethnic contacts, in particular, a multinational composition of the population (the share of the non-indigenous population is 67.4 % in Kazakhstan, 43.2 % in Latvia and 25.1% in the Ukraine); a great number of industrial, mining and con- struction projects are to be found in their territories which draw together workers of different nationalities throughout the country; they also have a fairly great share of the urban population. The lowest share of mixed ethnic marriages is to be found in Armenia (3.7 % in all), which has the most homogeneous ethnic composition of all the Union republics: Armenia has nearly 90 % of indigenous population.

    Apart from significant regional differences, the level of mixed ethnic marriages in the Soviet Union is also charac- terised by striking differences in the indicators for urban and rural areas. It has already been pointed out that more favourable conditions for mixed marriages are obtaining in cities owing to both objective and subjective factors. While the average indicator of the share of such marriages for all urban areas throughout the Soviet Union is 17.5 %, in some of the republics, such as Moldavia, Byelorussia and the Ukraine it is as high as one-fourth or even one-third of the total.

    Tab I The Proportion of Mixed Ethnic Marriages to all Marriages for 1970 (per cent)

    Sources: Results 1974

    The significant rise in the proportion of mixed mar- riages in the cities of Middle Asian (Soviet Central Asian) republics is a relatively new phenomenon. It is increasing even more rapidly than in any other regions of the country. Thus, while the share of mixed families for the urban area throughout the Soviet Union went up by 15 % between 1959 and 1970, the increase in Middle Asia was 40 %. This is not only because many people of different nationalities stream to the regions of major construction projects in Middle Asia. It is also due to advances in general culture and education and a transformation in the system of values of the indigenous population as well as the gradual dis- appearance of religious survivals which prevented mixed marriages in the past.

  • GeoJoumal Supplementary Issue 1 (1980) 33

    In the rural area such processes are much slower because of deeply-rooted traditions and the established way of life and as a result of greater ethnic homogeneity in each par- ticu[ar residential area. Hence, a lower share of mixed ethnic marriages among the rural population. However, just as in the urban area, the indicator in the rural area varies greatly for individual republics: it is a mere 2.0 to 2.6 % in the villages of the Azerbaijan SSR and Armenian SSR, while in Moldavia, Kirghizia, Latvia and Kazakhstan it rises up to 10 or even 17 %; for some of the autonomous republics, oblasts and even districts (not included in Tab 1), it is as high as 30 %. For a number of regions, such as the Karelian and Komi ASSR, the Jewish Autonomous Region and the Koryak, Nenets, Khanty-Mansyisk and Chukotsk Auto- nomous Areas, the share of mixed marriages in the rural is equal to, or even greater than that of the urban area. This appears to be due, on the one hand, to the great number of recently arrived people of different nationalities settled in the rural area and, on the other, to the dispersed character of their settlement over those regions which facilitates con- tacts between people of different nationalities.

    Another important feature characterizing ethnically mixed marriages, besides their share in the total number of marriages, is the combination of the nationalities of hus- band and wife in mixed families. The ethnic combination in mixed families that predominates in a given region serves to indicate what ethnic processes are most prevalent there: consolidation, assimilation or integration.

    The most frequent type of mixed marriage is that between persons of the indigenous population of a republic and Russians. Depending on the republic, such marriages account for one-fourth or one-third of all mixed ethnic families. An almost equal share is taken up by marriages between spouses both belonging to one of the ethnic re- gions' main peoples. For instance, the frequency of mar- riages between Letts and Lithuanians is high in the Baltic Area, between Bashkirs and Tatars, Bashkirs and Chuvashes, Tatars and Mordvinians in the Volga Area, between Uzbeks and Tajiks in Middle Asia, and so on.

    As for marriages between Russians and Ukrainians they are not only widespread within the ethnic boundaries of both these peoples, but also in all other Soviet republics. According to statistical surveys of the last 20-25 years, the general frequency of marriages between Russians and Ukrainians not only equals their theoretical probability, but sometimes even exceeds it; this shows that in such marriages the husband and wife practically do not take each other's nationality into consideration (Bromley 1977).

    For a number of regions in the Soviet Union, a study of the mixed families' composition makes it possible to trace the process of ethnic consolidation. Specifically, this

    process has been shown by statistics of mixed marriages in some parts of Siberia and the Soviet Far East, in the Middle Asian republics and Northern Caucasus.

    Taken by itself, a mixed marriage does not usually mean that a husband or wife is to change his or her nationa- lity. As has already been pointed out, the problem of ethnic orientation in such families is faced by the second genera- tion, the children. The choice of nationality by children in mixed families (in the Soviet Union the choice between the father's and mother's nationality is made freely by the children when they reach 16 years of age) influences the trends of ethnic processes to a considerable extent, for instance, changes in the size of specific ethnoses; this was discussed in more detail by V.I. Kozlov in his article we have already referred to.

    As the data of ethno-sociological surveys have shown, children in this country usually choose the nationality of their father or mother depending on their ethnic environ- ment, ethno-social situation and socio-cultural status of each one of their parents, etc. Even children from families of a similar ethnic composition, may choose different nationalities in various regions, depending on the ,,prestige" of a given nationality in a certain environment. For in- stance, children from families of Russian women and Ukrainian men prefer their mothers' nationality and con- sider themselves to be Russians in the Russian Federation, especially in cities with a predominantly Russian popula- tion. On the contrary, in the Ukraine children from such families usually regard themselves as Ukrainians. The most difficult problem is the national determination of children born into mixed families when both parents are separated from their respective ethnoses and live in an ethnic environ- ment foreign to both of them.

    It should be pointed out that the proportionate share of men and women belonging to the republic's indige- nous nationality who enter a mixed marriage varies in different Union republics. In the most highly developed republics, such as the Russian Federation, Byelorussia, Moldavia and the Ukraine women of the indigenous natio- nality are as ready to intermarry with other nationalities and sometimes do so even more frequently than men. On the contrary, in the Central Asian republics, especially in the rural area, local girls dare intermarry with members of other, non-indigenous nationalities even more rarely than men. In this, they are still greatly influenced by their older relatives who often try to keep up old-time traditions with regard to a woman's position in the family. As these sur- vivals are eliminated, the existing disproportion will doubt- less disappear.

    Generally speaking, the number of mixed ethnic marri- ages is expected to increase in the future throughout the Soviet Union and in every individual republic. This assump-

  • 34 GeoJoumal Supplementary Issue 1 (1980)

    tion is based on the entire socio-economic development of the Soviet Union which facilitates inter-ethnic contacts and which helps advance international features of our culture and the awareness of belonging to the Soviet people. Mixed marriages serve as a good basis of furthering this process, since they not only demonstrate the feasibility of successful co-existence between people of different nationalities with- in a single family but also instil into the new generations a flexible approach to the choice of a future spouse with re- gard to his (her) ethnic affiliation.


    Bromley, Y.V. (ed.): Sovremennye etnicheskie protsessy v SSSR....


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