Soviet Koreans: Redemption through labour and sport

Jon CHANG, Jae Hyung PARK

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Koreans in the Russian Far East were deported to Central Asia in 1937-38 as ‘potential fifth columnists’, ‘suspicious’ or as an ‘unreliable’ people. This article chronicles their struggles to resettle and establish new lives through labour and sport as a Soviet nationality. The article also covers the period of 1940-1979 and the role of football in Soviet life, as part of the ‘defence’ of the Soviet Union (oborona) and its role in Soviet Korean life. Life in the post Second World War era was clearly one where Russians were ‘primus inter pares’ among all Soviet nationalities. This article establishes that the rise of Soviet sport was financed by the productivity of the working peoples of Central Asia in particular the Korean kolkhozes of Uzbekistan. However, even Soviet sport had its biases or preferences. The field of ‘sport’ is influenced by each society’s views, hierarchies and socio-politics and yet, each society can be changed and influenced by ‘new agents’ wielding their particular habitus. After the Second World War, Koreans in Soviet sports were regarded as an ‘unknown quantity’ but typically being of a smaller and a shorter stature, they were not viewed as having as much ‘potential’ in competitive sports as that of Russians, Tatars, Ukrainians and others. Interviews and oral history with the first Korean pioneers in football such as Dmitrii An, Il He and Anton Yoon presented the challenges, setbacks and successes that they faced and overcame. In the end, the Koreans of Central Asia and Politotdel deconstructed the official confines and meaning(s) of sport and labour and infused this ‘cultural field’ with their individual and collective habitus and Korean ‘agency’ which displayed a truer, more inclusive sense of the USSR as a polity of many equal nations (nationalities) and Soviet ‘internationalism.’ Copyright © 2013 The Eurasia Studies Society. All Rights Reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
JournalThe Eurasia Studies Society Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


Chang, J. & Park, J. (2013). Soviet Koreans: Redemption through labour and sport. The Eurasia Studies Society Journal, 2(3), 1-19.


  • Koreans
  • Soviet sport
  • Football
  • Nationalities deportations


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