Poster Plakat A Collection of Posters from the Soviet Union and its Satellite Nations

In 1990, the USSR ranked third in the world as the most populous nation with over 248 million people and yet only half of 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.

While Russian was classified as the common language of the USSR, bilingualism was a one-way street. Non-Russian speakers were obligated to learn Russian to communicate with the government and to acquire jobs. On the other hand, ethnic Russians typically did not learn a second language due to the overriding “linguistic rights” offered to them as Russians. As a result of this policy, fluency in Russian increased even though millions of USSR citizens in non-Russian republics or in the autonomous regions spoke their own languages.

In the 1920s, the USSR propagated non-Russian language instruction through literacy campaigns to speed political education after the Russian Civil War. By the mid-1930s, government emphasis downplayed individualism and with this came a campaign of Cyrillization and Russification reversing earlier linguistic efforts that 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 some descriptions and essays.

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 new Uzbek alphabet".  Only a detail of the poster is shown. The Uzbek alphabet was created in the late 1920s during the Latinization program that converted almost all Central Asian alphabets in the USSR.  Below the poster detail image are two more images showing how the Uzbek alphabet changed from Arabic to Latin script. Click on the expanded paragraph below to read an article on the linguistical significance of this poster.


The last attack on Islam the Soviet state affected was when collectivization was in full swing. In two or three steps, it deprived the Muslims of the centuries-old tradition of religious language and alphabet. In the late 1920s, the Arabic alphabet was widely banned in the USSR. For people accustomed to writing it, there was an immediate invention of a unified national alphabet based on Latin script. In the second half of the 1930s, a transition from Latin to Cyrillic occurred. The significance of this transition in anti-religious propaganda may be judged in this poster by Gerasimov, "The new Uzbek alphabet", from an aspect of the cultural revolution in the collective farms.  

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. Source:

Uzbek Language and its Orthography: A Micro History

The creation of a standardized Uzbek language is owed in great part to the Russian Revolution of 1917. When the Bolsheviks took control of Russia, Uzbek populations were living in the regions of Russian Turkestan, the Emirate of Bukhara, the Khanate of Khiva and in Afghanistan, yet they were essentially illiterate and, the language had minimal orthographic structure. Schooling was limited to religious education in the regions and instruction was in Arabic and Turkic. Higher-educated Uzbeks attended school outside the regions or attended local Russian schools developed during the Tsarist period. As a result, Russian language was placed above local dialects as all civil administration was carried out in Russian.


In 1924, the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (UzSSR) was formed uniting Uzbeks in Turkestan, the Emirate of Bukhara and the Khanate of Khiva. Although the new republic was Uzbek in name, segments of the population also spoke Tajik, further complicating the communication structure.  The lack of education among the Uzbek population created a tremendous challenge for the Soviets when it came to hiring natives to work in civil administration of the new republic. To raise the level of education, the Soviet government began a social integration policy known as korenizatsiia (nativization). It strove to increase native language status and to educate locals to become productive citizens. Even Europeans in the republic were encouraged to study native languages or face eventual job loss.  However, the Soviets underestimated the learning curve of their korenizatsiia policy as it applied to locals and so social integration and linguistic education took decades to achieve. 

Another challenge to developing a standardized Uzbek language was that the meaning of what should be considered Uzbek (in a linguistic sense) was called into question. One argument by scholars was to create a single language used by all Turkic-speakers but there would be no Uzbek written language.  Another argument called for dividing Turkic dialects into a host of written languages with no emphasis on any one language. The formation of the UzSSR settled these arguments when Turkic dialects were classified as Uzbek. Because there was no written Uzbek in the region, there was no Uzbek alphabet to build upon. Turkic populations in Russia had been using the Arabic alphabet and Arabic had been used in the region as far back as the ninth century, coinciding with the Arab conquest. Religious leaders and pro-Muslim elements within the Uzbek population were steadfastly against orthographic reform because it was seen as diminishing their social and political influence. 

In 1921, the Uzbek Language and Orthography Congress in Tashkent established four milestones to reform the local Arabic into Latin script. Subsequently in 1924, the Azerbaijan SSR became the first Soviet republic to adopt the Latin alphabet and leaders of the Turkic communities outside Azerbaijan were given instructions to analyze its implementation.  What followed was a decision from the First All-Union Turcological Congress at Baku whereby all Turkish speakers in the Soviet Union implemented Latin letters in their alphabet.  At the fourth session of the Central Executive Committee of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1926, a resolution passed ordering Latin in favor of an Arabic alphabet. 

At the time, a Latin-based alphabet was look at as a pragmatic alternative as the Arabic alphabet did not fit with Turkic language structure. In addition, the heavy use of consonants in Arabic, its diacritic marks, its intricacy of script coupled with the illegibility of its letters, all were considered great challenges from the standpoint of implementing successful language instruction. Conversely, the Arabic alphabet very well could have been adapted via adjustment although historical indications point to a great lobbying effort behind the decision to incorporate a Latin alphabet in the Central Asian republics and that decision was likely sociopolitical seeing how a Latin-based alphabet helped provide a link to the Western-based working class and the shift away from Arabic by Soviet authorities helped shield religious influence within the Central Asian population. 

The changeover to a Latin-based alphabet in the UzSSR began in 1926 while Latin script in publications followed in 1928 and 1929. These developments also coincided with a New Turkic Alphabet created for use in other parts of the Soviet Union. For example, a Latin Letter Association for Turks was created in Moscow in 1924. Scholarly linguistic debate on the Arabic question gave way to government edicts culminating in Arabic books being censored or destroyed. Even though a resolution passed at the Uzbek Language and Orthography Conference of 1929 permitting certain Arabic and Persian terms to remain in the Uzbek language, by the end of the 1920s, the Arabic alphabet vanished from the UzSSR. 

The policy of korenizatsiia decreased during the 1930s primarily due to Joseph Stalin clamping-down on nationalism in 1934 and the initiation of compulsory Russian study for non-Russian students in the USSR in 1938. The mechanics of the Uzbek language also changed during this period when the "vowel harmony principle" was dropped rectifying certain linguistic problems as Uzbek used many borrowed Russian words.  The 1930s saw a drive in all Soviet republics to push Russian vocabulary use as well.  This Russian-centric promotion culminated in 1940 when the Latin alphabet in the UzSSR (and in other Soviet republics) was replaced with the Cyrillic alphabet. The Second World War factored into increased Russification as a population shift in the UzSSR occurred both during and after the war owing to the fact that Europeans re-settled there from other parts of the Soviet Union. 

By the 1970s, Russian language schooling for native Uzbek children began to increase. In higher educational institutions using Uzbek for their instruction, "Russian days" were held and instruction changed over to Russian. Scientific and technical studies were in Russian (due to a lack of Uzbek vocabulary for technical terms) and so for a student to advance, they had to learn Russian to obtain employment after graduation. Contrary to the importance placed on Russian language after the war, the early 1980s happened to show an increase in Uzbek periodicals in the UzSSR as more native Uzbeks moved to the republic from other parts of the Soviet Union.  

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the newly formed Republic of Afghanistan abandoned the Cyrillic alphabet in favor of the Latin-based alphabet even though its enforcement was not standardized. During the 1990s and early 2000s, there existed unrestricted use of several alphabet systems and as of today, no standard has been set for the use of a Latin-based alphabet system in the Republic of Uzbekistan. 


Fierman, W. (2011). Language Planning and National Development: The Uzbek Experience.

Grenoble, L. A. (2011). Language policy in the Soviet Union. Dordrecht: Springer.

Sharifov, O. (2007). The Uzbek language exists in two graphic forms simultaneously and neither seems capable of ousting the other. Retrieved from

Yilmaz, H. (2016). Becoming turkish: Nationalist reforms and cultural negotiations in early republican turkey 1923-1945. Place of publication not identified: Syracuse University Press.

PP 667 is a Yakut language poster from the Collection. The Yakut people speak Saha Tyla, a Turkic language distinguished by considerable loanwords due to contact with speakers of Mongolic, Russian and Tungus languages. Saha Tyla 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). Soviet linguists developed 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". He surmises the Yakut population is a mixed heritage as based on 21st century DNA findings: 

"[The] Yakutian population 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. 


Abramova, M. A., & Krasheninnikov, V.V. (November 2016).  Transformation

of the Model of Science and Higher Education Interaction in Yakutia. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, Volume 7. Retrieved from

Fierman, W. (1992). Language planning and national development: The Uzbek experience. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Grenoble, L. A. (2003). Language Policy in the Soviet Union. Dordrecht Netherlands: Springer

Minahan, J. (2002). Encyclopedia of the stateless nations: Ethnic and national groups around the world. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Nuttall, M. (2005). Encyclopedia of the Arctic. New York: Routledge.

PP 604 is a Tatar language poster from the Collection. The poster utilizes an alphabet in reformed Janalif as part of the Latinization program during the 1920s to the 1930s that converted almost all USSR Central Asian alphabets. The image seen here is not the complete poster but an illustration from a part of its overall design. The poster was published by the "Kazan Janalif Society" and it was designed around 1927 by Nikolai Kroneval'd. He 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 published in Moscow. Although Tagirov was a Kazan-based artist, he spent the majority of his life in Moscow owing to the fact that he studied at VKhUTEIN (Higher Art and Technical Institute).  Click Here to download a 2012 article on Tagirov from the Kazan Herald. To read a micro history on the Tatar language in the USSR, click on the expanded paragraph below.


The Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (TASSR) was created by the Soviet Union in 1920 and its creation gave Tatars a national identity. The capital city of the TASSR was Kazan in southwest Russia where the origins of an ancient khanate of Kazan was once located. Ethnically, Tatars are a Turkic-speaking Muslim population.

Upon coming to power in 1917, the Bolsheviks used the Tatar press to increase and influence public sentiment in the region. In 1918 for example, they published 50,000 Tatar-language copies of the Communist Manifesto. Kazan publishers issued over two million books in Tatar with one million distributed to other districts outside the TASSR.  Study of Tatar culture strengthened in the 1920s and the People's Commissariat of Education in Kazan established a Department for Research of Tatar history, culture and literature. The department also handled the reforming of Tatar script. Furthermore, an attempt was made to adapt Tatar (over Russian) in the republic's administration, science and technology sectors. Through the Commissariat for Education, studies were carried out using Tatar terminology and orthography. Schools and court proceeding were conducted in the native language and plans were made to ultimately replace Russian with Tatar in the halls of higher education as Tatar was slated to become the language of the new republic. 

Historically, Tatar's literary language is close to its spoken language and it is based on a dialect from the Kazan khanate. The vocabulary contains influences of Bulgarian with loan words from Arabic, Persian and Russian seeing how their collective influence is due to ancient trade relations between the cultures.  Historically, Tatars had an ancient literary tradition and a higher degree of literacy than other Central Asian Republics in contrast to the Uzbek SSR, Azerbaijan SSR and Tajik SSR.  Education was important to Tatar social structure and Tatars had a formal religious education system prior to Soviet administration. 

Tatar was traditionally written in Arabic but in the early 1920s, its orthography switched to an Arabic variant called Yaña imlâ (new orthography). In 1926, at the First Turkology Congress in Baku, Azerbaijan, representatives from Turkey and the Turkic-speaking Soviet republics debated the creation of a unified Latin script for nearly all Turkic speakers in the world. One exception was with the Chuvash language that was written in Cyrillic and Karaim, a language spoken by Jewish Turks who wrote in Hebrew until the 1930s.  By late 1926, the Yaña imlâ was abandoned. It was replaced with the Zamanälif, an all Latin-based alphabet with thirty-five letters. In 1927-28, it was reformed to thirty-three letters and was called the Janalif  (Unified Turkic Alphabet). 

By the end of the 1920s, the Communist Party rejected the Tatar linguistic advancements in the region. Tatar's shift from Arabic to Latin and then to Cyrillic is also attributed to Soviet control of reading materials. Historical and religious books in Arabic-based Tatar (as well as in other native languages of the Soviet republics) remained off limits to the public for most of the Soviet-era as a Russification campaign was implemented. By the mid-1930s, the Soviet Union expunged Latin-based alphabets in the republics in favor of the Cyrillic alphabet. For a period, an attempt was made in the TASSR to circumvent Russification but this failed as opposition to Latinization was reproached.  Non-adaptation of Russian language and culture was sharply criticized by party officials who ordered that Tatar "must be freed" from Arabic, Persian and Turkic words as they were said to have been introduced by Tatar nationalists.  

In 1936-37, the Great Purge under Joseph Stalin deeply affected Tatars who had propagated Arabic script in the republic. Not only did Arabic works disappear from libraries, the purge physically removed its proponents from positions of authority, leaving no opposition to the Soviet plan to introduce Russian script. Furthermore, authors and educators who had propagated pan-Turkic sentiment were forced to recant their views with public confessions. Russian use demonstrated an alliance to the Soviet Union and to the Communist Party and as a result, scientific, political and social terminology was written in Russian.  Said one historical source on the subject; Stalin's suppression of nationalism was felt across all Soviet republics and the 1938 edict making Russian compulsory for all students in the USSR had an additional impact. In the TASSR, the Cyrillic alphabet was incorporated by 1939. 

After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan and the Crimean Tatar population switched back to the Latin-based Common Turkic Alphabet.  In 1993, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan each followed suit as did similar linguistic groups in the region. By 1999, the Tatarstan government re-incorporated a Latin-based alphabet for Tatar but in 2002, Moscow issued a decree that only Cyrillic could be used throughout Russia. In 2009, a Russian court decreed that official documentation in Tatarstan's state bodies including public declarations, advertisements and ballots, all must be printed in both Tatar and Russian.   


Ammon, U. (2006). Sociolinguistics: An international handbook of the science of language and society = Soziolinguistik : ein internationales Handbuch zur Wissenschaft von Sprache und Gesellschaft. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Davletshin, T.(1960). The Development of Tatar Culture and Language under the Soviets.The East Turkic Review, 4, 24-42.

Faller, H. M. (2011). Nation, language, Islam: Tatarstan's sovereignty movement. Budapest: Central European University Press.

Grenoble, L. A. (2011). Language policy in the Soviet Union. Dordrecht: Springer.

International Conference on Turkish Linguistics, & Johanson, L. (1998). The Mainz meeting: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Turkish Linguistics, August 3-6, 1994. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. 

OLPC "Yañalif" (n.d.) . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from the OLPC Wiki:ñlif

Rosenberg S. (2004). Russia reconsiders Cyrillic law. BBC News. Retrieved from