This paper investigates ethnic and racial identities in the Soviet Union through the lens of interethnic intimacy. Soviet authorities consistently celebrated mixed marriages as proof of the unbreakable “friendship of nations” and as a sign of the imminent emergence of a Soviet people. Nevertheless, the offspring of mixed families found it difficult to transcend nationality and be simply “Soviet.”
Just as some U.S. scholars have argued that the very idea of interracial marriage is predicated on scientifically questionable assumptions about the reality of race, the concept of interethnic marriage in the Soviet Union rested on a belief in the existence of distinct and pure nationalities or–as they came to be called in the 1960s–“ethnoses.” The increasingly primordial and racialized attitudes toward nationality in the final decades of the Soviet Union, along with the requirement that every Soviet citizen declare a single “nationality” for the internal passport, posed an insoluble dilemma for ethnically mixed people. Their subjective sense of identity often failed to coincide with their “official” or “passport” categorization, in part because nationality was increasingly seen as a matter of “blood” (or its proxy, phenotype). Thus, despite the avoidance of the term “race” in the USSR, the children of interethnic marriage in Soviet Central Asia faced many of the same challenges as racially mixed people in North America and Europe. This paper draws on more than 80 in-depth oral history interviews with members of ethnically mixed married couples and their adult offspring in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.
Adrienne Edgar is an associate professor of modern Russian and Central Asian history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She holds a B.A. in Russian from Oberlin College (Ohio), an M.A. in international affairs and Middle East studies from Columbia University (New York), and a Ph.D. in history from U.C. Berkeley. Before obtaining her doctorate, Edgar worked for several years as a newspaper reporter and editor of the foreign policy quarterly World Policy Journal. She has received research grants and fellowships from IREX, the Social Science Research Council, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and has held post-doctoral and visiting scholar appointments at Harvard University, the University of Melbourne, the Humboldt University (Berlin) and the University of Heidelberg. Her book, Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan, was published by Princeton University Press in 2004. She is currently completing a monograph on interethnic marriage in Soviet Central Asia. Edgar has published articles on nationality politics, ethnicity, and gender in Soviet Central Asia in Slavic Review, Russian Review, Kritika, Ab Imperio, and Central Asian Survey; one of these won the annual article prize of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. Edgar serves on the editorial board of Central Asian Survey and was recently elected to the board of directors of the U.S.-based Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES). She is also an editor of the book series “Investigations in East European History” (Harrassowitz Verlag, Germany).