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Soviet Federalism at Work: Lessons from the History of the Transcaucasian Federation, 1922–1936

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This paper starts from a discussion of a forgotten page of South-Caucasian history, the existence from 1920 to 1936 of a Transcaucasian Federation (ZSFSR) uniting Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, in order to reconsider two claims generally made about the Soviet regime. First, that the building blocs of the Soviet state were national republics, a fact that only consolidated after the Second World War. Second, that Soviet federalism was a mere Potemkin village camouflaging an exceedingly centralized state. The author argues that federalism was taken seriously because it provided Soviet leaders, notably in the initial period of the USSR, with original political and administrative tools, that allowed for a management of multinational societies and multilevel conflicts, and created structures of mutual control between Transcaucasian actors. This argument is made on the basis of numerous published and archival sources coming from the three Transcaucasian republics and Russia, as well as Euro pean and Turkish diplomatic sources. Far from being a footnote in the history of the Soviet Union, the ZSFSR can indicate new paths for a wider reconsideration of the political uses of federalism in authoritarian regimes.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2018

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  • The Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas ("East European History") present the discipline in its entire breadth; for thematically focused articles the emphasis lies on the territory of the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union. A double-blind review process with international experts ensures adherence to the annals' recognized high quality standards. An extensive section devoted to reviews informs the reader about current trends in German and international research. In addition, the editorial board publishes an electronic review supplement under the title jgo.e-reviews at
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