When World War 1 broke out, most of the nations in Eastern Europe identified themselves with the existing Empires. Poles were mobilized into the three Empires that divided them. They ran the risk of fighting against each other. Germans in the Russian Empire fought in the Russian army against Germany. As the war progressed, however, they became aware of their ethnic identity. They were discriminated against by the authorities or the populace of the ruling nationality. Or they were manipulated by the belligerent nations against the enemy.
A lot of new states came into being in Eastern Europe after the war in the name of national self-determination. Most of them, however, were not “ethnic states” in the proper sense of the word. They included many citizens of different ethnicity. On the other hand, as a result of the Russian Revolution a state based on the completely new principle came into being: the Soviet Union. It adopted ethnicity as the constituting principle of the state and formed a federation of ethnic republics. Ethnic republics were, however, just on paper. There were no institutional arrangements that would promote citizens’ allegiance to the given republic. The all-mighty Communist Party of the Soviet Union is the institution that should secure citizens’ allegiance to the federal center. So long as the ideological mobilization worked, they managed to succeed in resurrecting citizens’ civic loyalty to the state as a whole.
As the international tension mounted in the course of the 1930s, the Soviet leadership started to look with mistrust on national minorities on the periphery which resulted in the mass murder in Eastern Europe. The famine in 1932–33 in Ukraine was the first case. It was no natural, but man-made disaster to which 3.3 million people fell victim. It was caused by the excessive requisition of grain that the authorities forced through for the ambitious industrialization program. Ukraine had to pay a particularly heavy toll for it. Those who tried to resist were blamed for “Ukrainian nationalism” and “actions to serve the interests of the enemy”. Most of the victims of the so-called “Great Purge” in 1937–38 were citizens of national minorities in Eastern Europe. They were suspected to be spies for Japan in the case of the “Kulak operation” and for Poland in the case of the “Polish operation”. 625,000 people were incriminated and shot to death.
During World War 2 Germans and Soviets did ethnic cleansing in a huge scale in Eastern Europe. Germans considered Eastern Europe as nothing more than suppliers of raw materials, foods and labor forces, and were not interested in integrating peoples there. They starved to death about one million inhabitants of Leningrad and 3.1 million soldiers of the Red Army most of whom were conscripted from Eastern Europe. 5.4 million East European Jews fell victim to the German extermination policy after July 1941. Soviets, on the contrary, were interested in integrating peoples they captured. However, they shot to death most of the elite who cooperated with the previous regime and exiled “enemy nationalities” en masse to Central Asia or Siberia. Beneath the German-Soviet war another ethnic cleansing unfolded: Ukrainian nationalists killed about one hundred thousand Poles and Jews in Volynia.
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