When You Cease to Exist: The State of Statelessness in the Former Soviet Union

By USCRI August 2, 2020

3“I was born in a country that doesn’t exist anymore.” This was something our Russian language professor said to my class on the first day of Russian 101 my freshman year of college. For Americans, this concept is foreign and hard to wrap our heads around. Our history as a country is shorter than most, but still too distant, too long ago for us to remember anything other than the country we now exist within. The idea that our citizenship could just one day disappear is hard for many of us to comprehend. Yet, for millions, this is exactly what happened. On the morning of December 26, 1991, some 293 million people in Eastern Europe and Central Asia woke to having new citizenships, or for many, none at all. Overnight, the third most populous country in the world, the Soviet Union, had dissolved into 15 independent countries with vastly different, and highly politicized, plans to define who, and who were not, their citizens. For many countries, citizenship became a way to develop national identity where many struggled to find it, thus excluding the rights of thousands on account of ethnicity who had lived their entire lives in the same place. Nearly 30 years later, thousands continue to be stateless in the former Soviet Union. Stateless persons who remember being citizens of the countries they still live in, treated as foreigners in an un-foreign land. In this brief, we look at the international tenants of statelessness and citizenship generally and how they applied in the Soviet Union before and after its dissolution, using two former republics’ policies as case studies, along with how current policies are not always viable solutions.

Read the full USCRI report 8_3_20_Brief_StatelessSoviet (1)


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