Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1998 18:54:03 -0500
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By John Clark, 16 March 1998
Officially, the father's nationality was supposed to be inherited by the child, and in the FSU, people often say that what is official is what happens, though often it isn't.
The tendency is for people to choose advantageous nationalities. This is either the titular nationality in the republic in question, or, particularly in the old days, Russian.
I know of one case of a full-blooded Kalmyk in Kyrgyzstan who got himself registered as a Kyrgyz. He did this, he said, because it was good for his career. He did it when the USSR still existed and he said that in those days you wanted to be either a Kyrgyz or a Russian, or promotions would not be forthcoming. He married a woman who was half Kyrgyz, half Kalmyk, so his children are 3/4 Kalmyk, but they are registered as Kyrgyz.
Another case is of a young woman whose father is 100% 'German' (though he speaks only Russian) and whose mother is 50% Russian & 50% Finn. The young woman is registered as Russian, for her parents thought it would help her along. She was born in 1977, so her registration took place in 1993, after the end of the USSR.
I know of at least one case where the 'official' rule (taking the father's nationality) was followed. Parents, both born in 1929, the father with a Kyrgyz father and a Kazak mother, registered as a Kyrgyz, and the mother with a Kazak father and a Tatar mother, registered as a Kazak, married in Moscow, but settled in Kyrgyzstan, registered their children as Kyrgyz though they were 25% Kyrgyz, 50% Kazak & 25% Tatar. This followed both rules, really. The father's nationality was Kyrgyz, so the kids were too, but it was also advantageous, because they were living in Kyrgyzstan. In fact there are very few 'Kazaks' in Kyrgyzstan and very few 'Kyrygz' in Kazakstan. I think this is because at the folk level, the languages are pretty much the same, so you are one or the other, depending on which side of the border you happen to live on. Lots of Kyrgyz I know have ancestors who came from Kazakstan. This had to do with migratory patterns, back when people were nomads & also a lot of 'Kazaks' fled to Kyrgyzstan during the famine of the early 1930's that was caused by collectivization and thus became 'Kyrgyz'.
It's a complex topic. But the main thing was that people had a lot of latitude in their choice, depending on what they thought would benefit them & inconvenient nationalities could often be corrected by a little money put in the right hands. It meant that there were more Russians and titular nationalities in the statistics than was actually true.