Albert Baiburin, “The Soviet Passport: The History, Nature and Uses of the Internal Passport in the USSR”

Translated by Stephen Dalziel

In this remarkable book, 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.  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.  Without it, a person literally ‘disappeared’ from society.  It was impossible to find employment or carry out everyday activities like picking up a parcel from the post office; a person could not marry or even officially die without a passport.  It was absolutely essential on virtually every occasion when an individual had contact with officialdom because it was always necessary to prove that the individual was the person whom they claimed to be.  And since the passport included an indication of the holder’s ethnic identity, individuals found themselves accorded a certain rank in a new hierarchy of nationalities where some ethnic categories were ‘normal’ and others were stigmatized.  Passport systems were used by state officials for the deportation of entire population categories – the so-called ‘former people’, those from the pre-revolutionary elite, and the relations of ‘enemies of the people’.  But at the same time, passport ownership became the signifier of an acceptable social existence, and the passport itself – the information it contained, the photographs and signatures – became part of the life experience and self-perception of those who possessed it.

This meticulously researched and highly original book will be of great interest to students and scholars of Russia and the Soviet Union and to anyone interested in the shaping of identity in the modern world.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

List of Illustrations

Foreword by Catriona Kelly




Chapter 1: The Formation of ‘the Passport Portrait’ in Russia

Chapter 2: Fifteen Passport-less Years

Chapter 3: The Introduction of the Passport System in the USSR

General Situation

The Official Version of the Introduction of Passports

Organizational Work

Issuing Passports

‘Legal Excesses’

The Second Phase of the Introduction of Passports

The Consequences of the Introduction of Passports

Chapter 4: Passport Regimes and Passport Reforms

Passport Regimes

The Hundred-and-First Kilometre

The Propiska

Registering Natural Population Changes

Maintaining the Passport Regime

Statutes on Passports and Instructions for Passport Work in 1940 and 1953

Reform Projects of the 1960s

The 1974 Statute

From the Soviet to the Russian Passport System


Chapter 1: The Passport Template and the Individual’s Basic Information

The Passport Template

‘Surname, Name, Patronymic’

‘Place and Date of Birth’

‘Ethnic Origin’

‘The Personal Signature’

‘Social Status’

‘Liability for Military Service’

Chapter 2: The Notes and Properties of the Passport

‘Who Issued the Passport’

‘On the Basis of Which Documents is the Passport Issued’

‘People listed in the holder’s passport’

The Photograph

Special Observations

Observations about the Propiska


Chapter 1: Receiving a Passport

The Right to a Passport

Defining Ethnicity

Taking the Passport Photograph

How do I sign?

The Passport Desk and the Pasportistka

Receiving the Passport

Chapter 2: Life With – and Without – the Passport

Look After It; Should You Carry It With You?

The Document Check

Changing One’s Name

A ‘Clean’ Passport

Marriages of Convenience

Lost! What it Meant to be Without Your Passport

Refusing to Have a Passport

‘The Most Important Document’ and Why it was Needed


Appendix: Interview Details





About the Author

Albert Baiburin is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the European University at St Petersburg


‘The Soviet passport’s antiphonal role, as both technique of oppressive state control and as a positive sign of equal rights and status for citizens, gave it extraordinary importance in everyday life and made it a quasi-sacred object. Thoroughly researched, vividly written and moving, this book is essential reading for an understanding of changing citizenship regimes in Russia.’
Caroline Humphrey, University of Cambridge

‘In this meticulously researched and powerfully argued book, Albert Baiburin mines the history of the Soviet passport as both an instrument of social engineering and control and a totem of individual experience and cultural creativity. The result is an innovative and fascinating account of the Soviet experiment.’
Daniel Beer, Royal Holloway, University of London

‘For Soviet citizens, the passport was a crucial possession that both enabled and restricted them. Albert Baiburin’s exhaustive and lively account, fluently translated by Stephen Dalziel, shows why passports were so central to the maintenance of the party dictatorship.’
Robert Service, University of Oxford

November 2021

455 pages–9781509543182