Referendums in Russia, the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

  • Ronald J. Hill
  • Stephen White


The first time the people of the Soviet Union participated in a referendum also proved to be the last. On 17 March 1991, they were invited to decide on the very future of their country, in the form of a ‘renewed’ union. Some Soviet republics declined to participate, and others added further questions. On 1 December the people of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic precipitated the dismantling of the Soviet Union by using a republican referendum to confirm their wish for independence. Within days, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus had signed an agreement to establish the Commonwealth of Independent States, rendering the future of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics void. Referendums in other parts of the Soviet ‘empire’ — the Baltic republics and Moldova — and in some of what had been Moscow’s satellites — Poland, for example — had already had significant historical impact. Such a development was scarcely considered a possibility in the centralized, Communist Party-dominated political system. It was certainly not politically relevant. Until the era of perestroika, glasnost’ and democratization in the late 1980s, the Soviet leaders never seemed to sense any need for such a device. However, in the post-Stalin era of ‘the rapid building of communism’ under Khrushchev, and later the period of ‘developed socialism’ under Brezhnev, there developed a substantial scholarly literature about the possibility of making use of this quintessentially democratic mechanism, and the constitutions of a number of Communist-ruled countries, including the Soviet Union itself, made provision for its use in certain circumstances.


Daily Report Constitutional Amendment Soviet Republic Popular Vote Soviet Leader 
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© Ronald J. Hill and Stephen White 2014

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  • Ronald J. Hill
  • Stephen White

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