People's Commissariat for Nationality Affairs

People's Commissariat for Nationality Affairs [Народный комиссариат по делам национальностей РСФСР; Narodnyi komissariat po delam natsionalnostei RSFSR, or Наркомнац; Narkomnats]. A central government department set up on 26 October 1917 by decree of the Central Executive Committee of the RSFSR. Officially its purpose was to implement Vladimir Lenin’s nationality policy, as it was outlined in the Declaration of the Rights of the Nations of Russia. In fact its main task was to restore Russian rule over the various nations that had come under the Russian Empire. Its sole chief was Joseph Stalin, who had written a theoretical treatise on the nationality question. His aim was to unite the different nations under one centralized, Soviet government and to prevent the outlying countries from separating from Russia. The central Narkomnats worked through 18 national narkomnats or departments, which together formed a collegium and then (19 May 1920) a Council of Nationalities consisting of the chiefs of the national departments and chaired by Stalin. The Ukrainian Narkomnats was created in May 1918 ‘to assist the Ukrainian people in its liberation from German occupation.’ In reality it assisted the Russian Red Army to overthrow the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic and to install the Soviet regime, and later on it eradicated vestiges of nationalism within the Communist Party of Ukraine and the Ukrainian SSR government. The Narkomnats was also responsible for invading Georgia and crushing its independent government in early 1921. The Narkomnats played a key role in setting up Soviet national republics and integrating them into the USSR. Having fulfilled its mission the Narkomnats was dismantled in May 1924.

Jurij Borys

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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