Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia

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The Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia (Russian: Деклара́ция прав наро́дов Росси́и) was a document promulgated by the Bolshevik government of Russia on November 15 (November 2 by Old Style), 1917 (signed by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin).

The document proclaimed:

  1. Equality and sovereignty of peoples of Russia
  2. Right of peoples of Russia  of a free self-determination, including secession and formation of a separate state
  3. Abolition of all national and religious privileges and restrictions
  4. Free development of national minorities and ethnographical groups populating the territory of Russia.

The meaning of the Declaration is still disputed in Russian historiography. In 1917 the Bolshevist thinking was still largely idealistic, dominated by vague ideas of "universal happiness". Also, at that moment Bolsheviks believed that the World revolution was imminent, so they did not care much about loss of territories. 

However, it is often argued that in fact Lenin and Stalin agreed to liberate mostly the territories they had no sovereignty upon since Russia had lost them to Central Powers in 1915 and 1916. Many historians suggest that the purpose of the document was to limit the public dissent after Russia lost most of its western areas and try to complicate the matters behind the front lines.

The declaration had the effect of rallying some of ethnic non-Russians behind Bolsheviks. Latvian riflemen were important supporters of Bolsheviks in the early days of Russian Civil War and Latvian historians recognize the promise of sovereignty as an important reason for that. White Russians did not support self-determination and, as a result, few Latvians fought on the White side.

The right of secession was soon exercised by many nations that earlier had been incorporated into Imperial Russia. Many areas in Russia itself were also declared independent republics. Bolshevist Russia would, however, attempt to establish Soviet power in as many of those as possible. All three Baltic states experienced wars between Soviet governments aiming to establish a Communist state allied with Bolshevist Russia and non-Communist governments aiming for an independent state. The Soviet governments would receive a direct military support from Russia. After the non-Communist side winning, Russia recognized them as the legitimate governments of Baltic states in 1920.

Russian historiography often cited the document as one of the main bases for the liberation of Central European states. However, it is to be noted that Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and Estonia were either created as puppet states by the Central Powers or liberated by the nations of the abovementioned countries themselves after the collapse of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

List of seceded lands

The following countries declared their independence soon after the Bolsheviks' declaration, establishing themselves as non-Communist states. Although the role this declaration played for their declared independence is doubtful, it eased Bolshevist Russia's recognition of their independence. Note that except for Finland, all of these areas were outside of Russian sovereignty following the Austro-German successes in the Great War and were officially ceded in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

(exact dates need correction)

These countries declared their independence, as Communist states, soon after the declaration:

Several other independent republics have been proclaimed but happened to be short-lived:

Later developments

Bolsheviks have never rejected the idea of self-determination, still the Soviet Constitutions (of 1924, 1936 and 1977) limited the right of secession to the constituent republics only. In 1990 Lithuania declared its independence again, citing their right to secession as written down in Soviet Constitution.

See also