More than one hundred operations of deportation were undertaken during the Stalin period, but the largest by far was the first mass deportation of Soviet peasants. In 1930 and 1931, more than 1,800,000 kulaks allegedly hostile to collectivisation were “exported” from grain-rich regions to the inhospitable lands of the Russian Great North, Urals, Siberia and Kazakhstan. This special colonisation, as the police called it, was nothing other than a punitive colonisation intended to exert control over the enemy and the territory. The aim was to re-educate the former by exploiting the latter.
“Dekulakisation” led to the setting up of the system of special settlements that from late 1931 to the end of the 1950s was to become a huge administrative machine designed to manage the special resettlers, the typical products of Stalin’s Great Turning.
Dispossessed of all their property, uprooted with their families, placed under house arrest in villages supervised by an NKVD commandant, subjected to forced labour, such was the fate of these new excluded victims whose sentences were of indefinite length.
This first mass deportation was an experiment that set the pattern for the history of Soviet purges and foreshadowed the routine forced displacements of population within Stalin’s USSR.
On Stalin’s death, there were in the Soviet Union more than 2,800,000 special settlers. They each belonged to one of the thirty categories the authorities had over the years defined by social, ethnic, religious, political or purely geographical criteria.