Other Ethnic Groups

Russia Table of Contents

Besides the ethnic groups granted official jurisdictions in the Russian Republic and later in the Russian Federation, several minority groups have played an important role at some stage of the country's development. Among those that exist in significant numbers in parts of post-Soviet Russia are Germans, Koreans, and Roma.


According to the Soviet census of 1989, a total of 842,000 Germans lived in Russia. The remains of a large enclave that was settled along the Volga River beginning in the time of Peter the Great (r. 1682-1725), the "Volga Germans" were the ethnic basis of an autonomous republic before World War II. When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph V. Stalin (in office 1927-53) dissolved the republic and dispersed the German population into Central Asia and Siberia. Although some German prisoners of war remained in the Soviet Union after the war, many others returned to Germany in the decades that followed. By 1991 less than half of the German Russians claimed German as their first language.

Because of the discrimination suffered by the Volga Germans, the postwar constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) granted ethnic Germans in Russia the right to citizenship if they moved to Germany. Russia's German population began lobbying for reestablishment of the prewar Volga German Autonomous Republic in 1990. In 1991 President Yeltsin began discussions with the German government on creation of a German autonomous republic on the lower Volga near Volgograd. A protocol of cooperation signed in 1992 arranged for such a republic in exchange for significant financial aid from Germany. However, the proposed German enclave encountered strong local resistance from populations that would have been displaced by the Germans on the lower Volga; official discussion of the issue ended in 1993. In 1995 about 75,000 Russian Germans settled in Germany.


An increasing percentage of the approximately 321,000 Koreans living in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, in particular Uzbekistan, began migrating to the Russian Federation in l992 when various forms of discrimination against nonindigenous peoples increased in those republics. Most of these migrants to Russia have settled in Maritime (Primorskiy) Territory, where their commercial activities have competed with local merchants and stirred numerous anti-Korean incidents. In 1996 about 36,000 Koreans also were living on Sakhalin Island.

When economic conditions deteriorated in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) in the mid-1990s, the North Korean government allowed thousands of carefully chosen guest workers to find manual jobs in Vladivostok and other parts of the Russian Far East. As North Korean guest workers have sought asylum in Russia, the question of their repatriation has caused Russia a difficult diplomatic problem in its relations with North Korea and the Republic of Korea (South Korea), in view of Russia's intensified efforts to expand commercial ties with South Korea without alienating putative ally North Korea. Korean arrivals in Russia from Central Asia and from North Korea receive support from the Association of Ethnic Koreans and from South Korea. Another Korean émigré organization, the United Confederation of Koreans in Russia, lends vocal support to North Korea in its disputes with South Korea. Tensions between the two Korean populations were very strong by 1996. Russian migration officials feared a much larger influx of North Koreans if the North Korean government collapsed.


The 1989 Soviet census indicated that Russia was home to about 153,000 Roma, commonly known as Gypsies. However, the actual size of the population is unknown because many Roma do not register their nationality; experts assume that the true number is much higher than the official estimate. Most of the Roma currently in Russia are descended from people who migrated from Europe in the eighteenth century; they now call themselves Russka Roma. Another group, called the Vlach Roma, arrived after 1850 from the Balkans. Other Roma travel seasonally to Moscow from Moldova and Romania and back. Members of this group are often seen begging on Moscow streets; this activity has figured largely in the negative stereotype of the Roma among ethnic Russians.

Most Roma have been unable or unwilling to gain employment in any but a few occupations. In the Soviet era, metalworking was a designated Roma trade, but street commerce--selling whatever goods become available--remains the most common occupation. Roma were much involved in the black-market trade of the last Soviet decades. Roma musical ensembles have prospered in Soviet and post-Soviet times, but few individuals have access to such a profession.

In general, post-Soviet Russian society has included the Roma with other easily identified non-Slavic groups, particularly those from the Caucasus, who are accused of exploiting or worsening the economic condition of the majority population. In the 1990s, violence has erupted between Russians and Roma on several occasions. The wide dispersion of the Russian Roma population--there are at least six distinct groups, with little contact among them--has limited their ability to organize. In the 1990s, some Russian Roma have participated in international movements to gain support abroad. The various groups have widely varying political views. The elite musical performers and intelligentsia, for example, supported the socialism of the Soviet Union, but the wealthy Lovari group, which the government persecuted in Soviet times, is strongly antisocialist.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress