Cultural backwardness

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Cultural backwardness (Russian: культурная отсталость) was a term used by Soviet politicians and ethnographers. There were at one point officially 97 "culturally backward" nationalities in the Soviet Union.[1] Members of a "culturally backward" nationality were eligible for preferential treatment in university admissions.[2] In 1934 the Central Executive Committee declared that the term should no longer be used, however preferential treatment for certain minorities and the promotion of local nationals in the party structure through korenizatsiya continued for several more years.[3]


The People's Commissariat for Education listed five official characteristics of culturally backward nationalities:[4]

  • An extremely low level of literacy
  • An extremely low percentage of children in school
  • Absence of a written script connected to a literary language
  • Existence of "social vestiges" (oppression of women, racial hostility, nomadism, religious fanaticism)
  • An extremely low level of national cadres

List of nationalities identified as culturally backward[edit]

In 1932 the People's Commissariat for Education published an official list of "culturally backward" nationalities:[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Martin, 167
  2. ^ Martin, 56
  3. ^ Martin, 374
  4. ^ Martin, 166
  5. ^ Wixman, p. 20.
  6. ^ Wixman, p. 89.
  7. ^ Wixman, p. 149.
  8. ^ Wixman, p. 190.

Works cited[edit]

  • Terry Dean Martin (2001). The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939. United States: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-8677-7.
  • Wixman, Ronald (1984). The Peoples of the USSR: An Ethnographic Handbook. United States: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 978-0-87332-506-6.