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Albert Baiburin

Feb 23, 2022

The Soviet Passport

The History, Nature and Uses of the Internal Passport in the USSR

Polity Press 2022

In The Soviet Passport: The History, Nature and Uses of the Internal Passport in the USSR (Polity Press, 2021)Albert Baiburin provides the first in-depth study of the development and uses of the passport, or state identity card, in the former Soviet Union. This richly empirical book will be of great interest not only to students and scholars of Russia and the Soviet Union, but to to anyone interested in the shaping of identity in the modern world. The Soviet Passport was first published in Russian in 2017; this is the first English-language translation of the book.

First introduced in 1932, the Soviet passport took on an exceptional range of functions, extending not just to the regulation of movement and control of migrancy but also to the constitution of subjectivity and of social hierarchies based on place of residence, family background, and ethnic origin.  While the basic role of the Soviet passport was to certify a person’s identity, it assumed a far greater significance in Soviet life, with wide-ranging social, economic and geographical consequences. Passport ownership became the signifier of an acceptable social existence, and the passport itself became part of the life experience and self-perception of those who possessed it.

In this interview, I was joined by the book's translator, Stephen Dalziel. We discussed the role of passports in Soviet and pre-Soviet society, including the revolutionary abolition of the Tsarist passport system and the subsequent introduction of the Soviet passport system. We also discussed the process of translation, both for this book and for Stephen's previous translation projects. We hope you enjoy our conversation.

Albert Baiburin (the book's author, who could not join us) is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the European University at St Petersburg.

Stephen Dalziel (my interviewee) is the book's translator. He is a Soviet expert and former BBC correspondent. He now runs DLC Training and Consulting, and is keen to take on more translation work.

Catriona Gold is a PhD candidate in Geography at University College London, researching security, subjectivity and mobility in the 20-21st century United States. Her current work concerns the US Passport Office's role in the Cold War. She can be reached by email or on Twitter.

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Catriona Gold

Catriona Gold is a PhD candidate in Geography at University College London. She is currently researching the US Passport Office's role in governing Cold War travel, and broadly interested in questions of security, surveillance and mobility.
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