Terry Martin’s The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 has astonished me yet again. Back in 2003 I posted about Eugene Garfield’s 1975 effort to get Russians to “give up their ugly Cyrillic … for the flexible, international Roman alphabet.” Now, in Chapter 5 of Martin, I learn that there was a serious project along those lines decades earlier:
The main obstacle to NA [the new latinized alphabet]‘s world mission, within the Soviet Union at least, was the Russian alphabet. There had been some talk after the Revolution of latinizing the Russian alphabet, but nothing came of it. In 1929, with a second wave of utopian internationalism rising, the subject was again broached. Lunacharskii wrote several articles in support of latinizing Russian. Like Agamali-Ogly [an Azerbaijani revolutionary who led the campaign for latinization of the Turkic languages], he claimed he had Lenin’s endorsement. Most important, Lunacharskii helped put the educational bureaucracy behind the idea. On October 19, 1929, Uchitelskaia gazeta (Teachers’ Newspaper) published a discussion article on the latinization of the Russian alphabet. A month later, Izvestiia announced plans to reform the Russian orthography. Three committees had been formed within the Scientific Department of the Education Commissariat: on orthography, spelling, and the latinization of the Russian alphabet. At the same time, another committee was formed within the Council on Defense and Labor (STO) to deal with the publishing consequences of the proposed reforms. At least one of its members also publicly advocated latinization. The Communist Academy, an early supporter of latinization, hosted an exhibition devoted to the new alphabet, which showed how under the russificatory Tsarist regime the Russian alphabet had expanded outward, and how under the new progressive Soviet regime its domain was continually contracting. This flurry of activity suggested that the latinization of Russian was being seriously considered.
The idea was quickly quashed (in “a laconic Politburo resolution of January 25 1930″), but that it was taken seriously for even a time is amazing.
By the way, as Jongseong Park said in this thread, Korean was one of the languages for which latinization was proposed, as was Chinese:
Objections that this policy would make Soviet Chinese and Korean culture (there were several hundred thousand Koreans and Chinese in the Soviet far east) inaccessible to their compatriots abroad were brushed aside with characteristic bravado: “Not the twenty million strong population of Korea, but the 170 thousand strong Korean population of the Soviet Union should become the advance-guard of the cultural revolution of the Korean people.”
[...] It was eventually decided to form five separate Latin alphabets for five major Chinese dialects. [Footnote: The five dialects, in Russian transcription, were severnoi/shandunskii, guandunskoi, futszianskoi, tsziansu/chzhetsziana, khunaii/tsziansi.] [...] In practice, only a Latin alphabet for the northern Shandunskii dialect was approved and put into use for the Soviet Chinese. Plans for a Latin Korean alphabet were approved but apparently not actualized.