Skip to content

Posters of Republics & Autonomous Regions

In 1990, the USSR ranked third in the world as the most populous nation with over 248 million people, and yet only half the population spoke Russian. With millions of non-Russian speakers, printed matter was issued in a myriad of languages other than Russian. Perhaps the most important period of multi-lingual printing in the USSR occurred during the 1920s to early 1930s when the Soviet government carried out linguistic augmentation in the nation's non-Russian speaking regions.

Russian was classified as the common language of the USSR. This meant that non-Russian speakers were obligated to learn Russian whereas the ethnic Russian population typically did not have to learn a second language. As a result, Russian fluency among non-Russian speakers in the republics and autonomous regions increased while continuing using their mother tongue.

In the 1920s, the USSR propagated non-Russian language instruction through literacy campaigns to speed political education. However, by the mid-1930s, government emphasis downplayed individualism and with this came a campaign of Cyrillization and Russification reversing earlier linguistic efforts that previously augmented the status of non-Russian speakers.

The Poster Plakat Collection contains dozens of non-Russian language posters and each is specific to USSR history, and to the languages used on them. Below are a few posters with descriptions and essays.

To see posters in the Collection pertaining to non-Russian speaking Soviet republics, click on the list below.

PP 625 in the Collection was published by NIANIS, the research section of the Peoples of the North Institute (A.K.A. Herzen Institute), an education organization that completed the Unified Northern Alphabet to serve as the basis for languages of other indigenous populations in the USSR.  

This image shows a poster in Nanai language.  In 1932, a Nanai alphabet was derived from the primer, Sikun pokto, (New Life) and the man on this poster holds that book in his hand. The second book in the background raised behind the man is Cuz Dif (New Word).  Cuz Dif  was a primer in Nivkh language, spoken in Outer Manchuria and on the northern half of Sakhalin Island. 

Many people of the Northern USSR and Siberia had no written language until 1932. The NIANIS institute was the only link researchers had to these indigenous populations and their staff directed the first textbooks, political literature and propaganda written in a myriad of Northern languages.  Production of the works was in partnership with the Prosveshchenie (Enlightenment) Publishing House of Leningrad.

PP 633 is a poster from the Collection in the Oriat language of the Kalmyk people. The poster was published by Tsentrizdat, the Central Publishing House of the USSR. This publishing house was developed in 1924 to promote the study of native languages and its literacy along with political education of the Soviet Union's national minorities. Tsentrizdat posters had short print runs. This poster was issued with only 1,000 copies.

Kalmyks are traditionally a Buddhist, nomadic people of Mongolia who migrated to Russia in the 1600s.  They formed a khanate that was taken over by the Russian Empire.  There are two divisions of Kalmyks, the Western Mongol or, Oryad (Oirat) division and the Eastern counterpart that settled in the Crimean region.  In 1920, the All-Russian Executive Committee (VTsIK) provided the Kalmyks with an autonomous region and in 1936 that region became the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (KASSR). During the Second World War, the Soviet Government deported the entire population of Kalmyks to Siberia under the accusation they supported Axis armies. The Soviet Union ultimately dissolved the KASSR and Kalmyks were scattered throughout the world.  In the post-Stalinist period, they were allowed to return to the Soviet Union and in 1958, the KASSR was reconstituted.

The Buddhist monk Zaya Pandita Namhaijamts developed an Oirat language in the 1600s.  He created Tod Bichig (Clear Script), an orthographic Oirat based on the foundation of Mongolian script. Written vertically, it was an improvement over traditional Mongolian because it used diacritics to prevent misreading and it also included grammatical differences specific to Oirat. In the Soviet Union Tod Bichig was used for Oirat until 1927 when it was replaced with a Latin alphabet.  The Kalmyk people shifted from the Latin to a Cyrillic alphabet in 1938 while the Western Siberian-based Altai Oirats adopted the Cyrillic alphabet in 1939.

PP 593 is an Uzbek language poster from the Collection highlighting the Jadid (new) Uzbek alphabet.  The Uzbek alphabet was created by Soviet linguists in the 1920s during a Latinization program that converted almost all Central Asian alphabets in the USSR.

Jadid reform banned the use of ancient scripts in the USSR to bring forth a unified national alphabet based on Latin script. The change to a Latin alphabet meant literate Muslim Soviets were required to learn a new orthographic system for languages they originally wrote in Arabic or Persian scripts. By the mid-1930s, the educational gains of the Latinization reform were re-adjusted so that another orthographic transition could be made from Latin to Cyrillic script. The significance of the unified Latin-based alphabet of the 1920s is evident on this the anti-religious propaganda poster by the artist Gerasimov.

According to a 2009 online article in (specifically about this poster), the author explains the overall artistic message being conveyed:

Here in this poster we see the already familiar image entering of the tractor of progress looming over the building of new secondary schools, farms and factory pipes. Groups of stocky workers in green overalls firmly at the center of the poster display the new Uzbek Latin alphabet. One of them is holding a newspaper with the name "Lenin", already typed in Latin characters. At the bottom of the poster is a huge bucket excavator removing debris of every kind, classified as madrassas and the mosques, mullahs and Jadid teachers of the old Muslim school, and above all, Arabic letters that appear very unpleasant. They appear as some sick curves and they fall down in bunches along with the mullahs. One letter, 'ayn, is picked-up by an aspiring intellectual Jadid before being placed into the bucket's dredge and then, as painted from a scene in the life of the old schools, a teacher beats student into line.

PP 667 is a Yakut language poster from the Collection. The Yakut people speak Saha Tyla, a Turkic language. It was the principal language spoken in the Yakutia region until the mid-twentieth century. During the Russian Civil War, the Soviet government established the Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (YaASSR) and Soviet linguists were sent there to develop alphabets and grammatical descriptions of native Siberian languages. Yakut was studied in northern language departments at universities in select Siberian cities.

The following is a 2010 article by Razib Khan, "The origins of the Yakuts". Khan surmises the Yakut population is a mixed heritage based on 21st century DNA findings:

Yakutian population [was] formed before the 15th century, from a small group of settlers from the Cis-Baïkal region [Eastern Siberia] and a small number of women from different South Siberian origins. The genetic characteristics of the Yakuts were well established in the Central Yakutian population during the 15th century, even if there was a small loss in genetic variation during the last two centuries associated with stochastic processes or other phenomena. Russian influence in Yakutia extends back to the mid-1600s when Imperial Russia established a fort at the modern-day capital city of Yakutsk. Gold and fur in the region fueled Russian expansionism into the early 1900s. Due to geographic isolation, many indigenous communities in the Soviet Union (including Yakutia) had no written languages. The Soviet linguistic program was broadened after 1925 when a People's of the North Institute (NIANIS) was established. NIANIS was the Soviet educational link to indigenous populations in the USSR and its staff directed implementation of the first textbooks, political literature and propaganda in what was then classified as Northern peoples' languages.  In 1917, Yakut linguist Semyon A. Novgorodov created a Latin-based alphabet along with the first alphabetic book in Saha Tyla language. By 1922, the Soviet of People's Commissars of Yakutia (YaASSR) passed a resolution introducing Saha Tyla in the republic's schools. Soviet authorities subsequently published a magazine and the first Yakut-printed newspaper, Kyym (Spark), both in 1923.  In 1939, Saha Tyla script was changed from Latin-based to Cyrillic as part of Joseph Stalin's orthographic and educational reforms throughout the Soviet Union.  Cyrillic was used to correspond with the Russian alphabet and to also demonstrate, unity, brotherhood and Stalinist comradeship. In 1990, the YaASSR declared itself an autonomous republic, independent from the USSR.  In 2000, the Russian government created the Far East Federal District which includes Yakutia and in that same year, Yakutia's president issued a decree making English mandatory in school.

PP 604 is a Tatar language poster from the Collection. This poster utilizes the reformed Janalif alphabet brought about after the Soviet-led Latinization program (the Unified Turkic Latin Alphabet) that converted almost all USSR Central Asian alphabets. The central design element of the poster is the alphabet table (enlarged below) that carries forward the main theme. Published by the "Kazan Janalif Society", the poster was designed around 1927 by Nikolai Kronevald who based his work on a design by Faik Tagirov.  Tagirov was a book and typeface designer and a proponent of Tatar alphabet Latinization.  By 1927, Tagirov and his artistic comrade Alexandra Korobkova were designing Tatar-language literature in Moscow. Although Tagirov was a Kazan-based artist, he spent the majority of his life in Moscow owing to the fact he studied at VKhUTEIN (Higher Art and Technical Institute).  

Click Here to download a 2012 article on Tagirov from the Kazan Herald.