social change

Harnessing Tajikistan’s growing diaspora

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Tajikistan stamp cat
Expat cats of Tajikistan are not writing home

Website Cabar recently published a thought provoking report by political scientist Muslimbek Buriev on the potential role of the one million+ Tajikistanis living outside the country. The report is available in Tajik, Russian and English.

A sizeable proportion of the nine million strong population of Tajikistan can be considered disaporic in the sense that they are geographically dispersed beyond the country’s borders. The estimate of one million may well be an under-statement of the true number, which could be anywhere up to two million – as much as 20% of the population.

The vast majority of Tajikistanis living abroad are based in Russia, making this group a logical focal point for Buriev’s report. Buriev discusses the activities of expat Tajikistanis in Russia and shows how the lack of proactive government policy towards citizens living abroad misses opportunities to harness their significant potential (although the remittances sent back to Tajikistan prop up the national economy – it is estimated that around 30% of GDP comes from these overseas transfers, making Tajikistan a top five global recipient of remittances).

Buriev makes an interesting comparison with Armenia, where the government has helped to formalize the relationship between the homeland and its diasporic communities, suggesting ways that this experience could be helpful in the case of Tajikistan.

An underplayed aspect of Buriev’s report is the role of the diaspora in promoting alternative visions for the future of Tajikistan. Buriev does note that Rahmon’s regime attempts to ‘reduce the risks of ideological influence’ on those living abroad who may be opposed to the current administration in Tajikistan, but it would have been really interesting to delve into this issue further.

The Tajikistan government’s ability to act extra-territorially is well-established, whether this be undeniable connections with the murder of opposition figures or pressure placed on the family members of those who have escaped the country (with very rare positive outcomes).

The (very) long arm of the law likely precludes many ‘ordinary’ diaspora Tajiks from collectively or publicly voicing their opposition to the current regime, although people are comfortable expressing their views in private and amongst friends. On the other hand, this type of action also drives people away from the country – not only those who overtly oppose the regime but those who see better prospects for themselves and their families outside the borders of an increasingly authoritarian state.

Both cases point to a future where the Tajikistani diaspora remains in much the same condition as it is now: quiet on the outside, increasing in number, social rather than political when diaspora groups do come together, and largely ignored by the government. On the whole, this is probably the best state of affairs that both sides could hope for.

Mapping change in former Soviet higher education systems

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Me in action presenting at the Comparative and International Education Society’s 2018 conference in Mexico City. My ‘presenter hands’ are marginally more controlled than usual!

I recently presented at the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Annual Conference and this blog post is about my presentation called Mapping change in former Soviet higher education systems: A view from the Russophone space.

I also presented with my colleague Hayfa Jafar on our new joint research on how faculty in post-conflict societies are experiencing internationalization in higher education – watch out for more on this to follow in the future.

As part of my PhD thesis on how higher education in the former Soviet space has responded to the fall of the Soviet Union, I want to include some analysis of how academics who have published about this regional space and time have conceptualized change.

In planning that analysis, I noticed that we know a lot about how authors writing in English conceptualize change in the former Soviet space – whether we like it or not, English is the dominant language of academic publication and there are quantitatively more articles and books available in English.

Yet my research is about a space where Russian has been the dominant language of the academic community. So this led me to wonder: do authors writing in Russian and publishing in Russian academic journals think about and write about change in similar or different ways? And how much do we know about this in the English language space?

(Spoiler alert. The brief answers are a) that there are both important similarities and marked differences, and b) not very much at all)

That explains the context to the analysis I then undertook of 23 articles written in Russian published in Russian language peer-reviewed journals published since 1991 (a list of the articles and journals can be found in my presentation). All the authors write about Russian higher education and were based at Russian institutions at the time of writing.

There are many possible ways to present what I found in this analysis (and I thank my supervisor and his research group for their feedback as I went through this process) but I decided to summarize my findings using a chronological but non-linear map. You can see it in the background of the photo above, and in full below.

The purpose of the map, which is designed like a Venn diagram, was not only to highlight some of the key themes that emerged from my analysis, but to show how these themes changed or overlapped over time.

The three phases shown are based on a framework adapted from Semyonov and Platonova’s work on policy change in higher education in Russia since 1991. They explain the three phases as:

  • Laissez-faire, from 1991 to around 2003. Although there were legislative changes, on the whole this period is considered to be one less government intervention in higher education, not least because of widespread economic crisis;
  • A period of major reform, from around 2004 to 2011. State investment in higher education led to the introduction of the Bologna Process and a unified higher education entrance exam, plus reforms to create merged and enlarged ‘super-institutions’ – the federal universities, plus the new designation of national research university;
  • Since 2012, a period epitomized by reforms aiming to improve the effectiveness of higher education through e.g. performance evaluations, competitive funding schemes, and more mergers/new institutional types emerging.

Sabzalieva_Mapping-change_Venn_Phases-of-change

My analysis showed broad convergence with Semyonov and Platonova’s findings with several notable differences. I discussed four of these in my presentation. Here’s a very brief summary:

  1. Whereas for the state, the first period might have been laissez-faire, for the people living in Russia and working in the higher education system, their response was more connected to a discourse of crisis and survival.
  2. A number of articles in the first two time periods talked about how change wasn’t happening, and in fact there was more continuity with the Soviet system. Higher education is shown in many articles as being on the sidelines of the social change happening around it.
  3. In the crossover between the two later periods, I noted that some of the articles observed contradictions in the reform process, particularly in relation to the introduction of the Bologna Process
  4. Across all three phases, there is a lot of discussion about faculty: what is their role, how should they and are they responding to change, and so on. It wasn’t surprising to find more coverage of faculty matters in the Russian articles as most are written by practising academics who are or have been in some way involved in what’s been happening in Russian higher education.

This analysis will eventually form part of my PhD thesis so I don’t have a standalone paper to share. However, if you’re interested in finding out more, I’ve uploaded my presentation to Research Gate – although do note that my presentations are highly visual, so there are not many words to read! The presentation also has a few bonus slides that I didn’t share during the conference. Also, please do leave comments after this post if there are things you’d like to say in response.

 

Seminar // March 2, 2018 // Toronto // Education at the roof of the world: The story of the University of Central Asia

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If you’re in Toronto on Friday March 2 between 11am-12.30pm, please consider coming to a seminar organized by my department and the Munk School of Global Affairs in which Dr Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of Central Asia, will talk about this innovative, new, multi-country university.

Details in the poster below and at https://ciheblog.wordpress.com/cihe-speaker-series/dr-shamsh-kassim-lakha-march-2-2018/.

Please note the change of venue: due to an expected high turnout, the seminar will now be held in the Library at OISE.

cihe-munk-joint-seminar1

 

The ironic fate of Soviet nostalgia

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Poster for the Soviet classic, “The irony of fate”, where the big joke is that all cities share the same street names

If you’re feeling nostalgic for the Soviet Union, for the days of free education, jobs for life, and street names that were the same in every city, then it seems you’re not alone.

Sputnik News today reports the results of a poll of over 12,000 people across 11 countries of the former Soviet Union who were asked whether life was better in the USSR than after it collapsed in 1991. On average, over 50% of those aged 35-64 agree that life was better before. This compares to an average of just under 30% of those aged 18-24 who felt the same – though how they might know this without having been born during the Soviet Union escapes me.

The breakdown of the results by country is interesting, particularly looking at unlikely outliers Uzbekistan and Moldova. In Uzbekistan, apparently almost no one misses the good old days, in stark contrast to its extremely economically successful neighbour Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan purports to have similar levels of nostalgia as Kazakhstan, despite enjoying a reputation as “Central Asia’s most stable state”. I’m not saying that political and economic success/stability as an independent country necessarily affects results, but I do feel surprised by the lukewarm response from older Tajiks based on my own extensive research and contacts in the country.

Comments on the Sputnik News website express a similar range of confusion and scepticism. Indeed, Sputnik News – a Russian government spin-off – is regularly accused of spouting Russian-friendly propaganda. Certainly, the way the statement is worded is highly subjective: why not flip the question and ask whether life is better now than it was during the Soviet Union? And why are the voices of those who weren’t even born when the Soviet Union collapsed given equal weight to those who lived a good part of their life with a different passport – and where are the over 65s?

Revitalizing the idea that times were better in the old days is not new – just look at the ongoing “ostalgie” stories about East Germany. If you have the time to explore this further, I strongly recommend Alexei Yurchak’s absolutely beautifully named 2005 book, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More. It focusses on the 1960s-1980s, the many paradoxes of Soviet life and telling the story of the last Soviet generation – the very same people who now seem to be so nostalgic…

Life in USSR poll.png
(c) Sputnik News, August 17 2016

 

Kyrgyz MBA graduates aim to motivate and inspire others

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So, you’re one of the very few Kyrgyzstanis to have completed an MBA at a top American business school. What are you going to do about it?

Judging by the two graduates interviewed by Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz arm, Radio Azattyk, the answer is simple: share what you’ve learnt and try and inspire your compatriots to go and do the same themselves. That’s the story that Kumar Bekbolotov and Seyitbek Usmanov tell – the article is in Russian; my English translation Mentors from Kyrgyzstan MBA is attached.

Their group, Kyrgyzstan MBA (slogan: “We could do it, and so can you”), is a great example of a grassroots initiative supporting further professional education in Kyrgyzstan, encouraging people to set their standards high and work hard. The article that describes Bekbolotov and Usmanov’s stories is also interesting for highlighting the growing variety of permutation of MBAs. These days, an MBA doesn’t have to be just a hardcore business qualification, but can also allow you to specialise in particular areas such as corporate social responsibility, or, in my case, higher education management.

The Kyrgyzstan MBA website features some good advice for applicants, and rouses national pride with this great note added at the end:

Wait until you go to the US embassy for a visa and [see] the face of the consul who learns that you are going to one of those [top business] schools (Kyrgyz anthem in your head).

Kyrgyzstanis, go forth and conquer the world of the ‘b-school’!

Steps towards gender equality in Kyrgyzstan

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Happy new year / S novim godom / Soli nav muborak to you all!

Kickstarting this year’s set of posts is a report from Kyrgyzstan on steps being taken – primarily by the government and a small but growing number of local NGOs – to bring greater equality to the country.

The article can be found at https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/cristina-maza/challenging-patriarchy-in-kyrgyzstan.

The author points out the unusual situation of formerly Soviet-run countries where women’s roles have actually decreased in equality terms since the fall of the Soviet Union at the start of the 1990s. Soviet policies towards women were, like many aspects of its rule, largely economic-led (e.g. more women in the workforce = greater productivity), but had knock on social and cultural impacts that benefitted women’s status.

Christina Maza’s balanced and interesting article offers an insight into how gender roles are developing in independent Kyrgyzstan. What is most fascinating is the stark divide for women, where the haves (middle class, educated etc) take bold steps towards a greater role for women by, for example, holding high level government posts but the have nots (often rural and from poorer backgrounds) may marry young and not be able to access opportunities for educational and/or career development.

I have in the past read about initiativesthat are bringing concepts of gender equality and women’s rights to more rural areas, but much more needs to be done to give parity to women within Kyrgyzstan. Last summer, I met with senior female university managers, one of whom has since been appointed to a very high level government post. I was perhaps even more delighted to meet a female taxi driver in Bishkek, a profession in many countries predominantly held by men. These women are in their own right extraordinary people, and I hope that across Kyrgyzstan more women will be able to develop and employ their skills on at least a level pegging with their male counterparts.

Kazakhstan distances itself from Soviet past

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Here’s a beautiful photo reportage on the gradual disappearance of large-scale Soviet-era frescos and mosaics that used to be commonplace on the walls of buildings all over the Soviet Union. Entitled ‘The walls are crying’, the article recognises that the façades of public buildings were very consciously used in Soviet times as a way of reinforcing the desired collective understanding of what it meant to be part of the system, as well as demonstrating what that system strived towards.

I’m including the article on this blog not just because I’m a big fan of socialist realist agitprop (which I am!) – both the images themselves and what they represent – but also because, to me, this disappearance is a symbol of the deliberate shift in Central Asian countries away from their Soviet heritage. I would like to do some more research into this and the impact it has on contemporary society – what does it mean for young people who have been born since 1991 or lived most of their life in an independent country?, for example.

In the meantime, enjoy the images but also reflect on what this gradual disappearance means for social construction and identity in post-Soviet Central Asia as well as the last sentence of the main text, ‘Они, как призраки ушедшей эпохи, напоминают о несуществующей стране, частью которой когда-то являлись’ which translates as ‘These images, as ghosts of a bygone era, remind us about a country that no longer exists but which we were once part of’…

Article (c) Esquire Kazakhstan; available at http://esquire_kazakhstan.yvision.kz/post/380573 [ru]

Стены плачут

Фрески, барельефы и мозаики, выполненные в стиле соцреализма, не относятся к охраняемым объектам культурного наследия. И они медленно умирают.

Стена – это поверхность, которая всегда на виду. Человек использует ее с пещерных времен – для передачи информации и самовыражения: признания в любви, ненависти. Во времена Хрущева и проводимой им массовой застройки, стены жилых домов стали одним из инструментов агитпропа. Изображения на советских зданиях были выполнены в разных техниках: от двухцветных грубых мозаик до сложных многоцветных полотен и объемных барельефов. Картины славили трудовые свершения, науку, образование и мир во всем мире. К созданию масштабных произведений привлекались профессиональные художники, а сами фасады были выполнены из разноцветной штукатурки, мозаики – из кусочков смальты, стекла, керамики. Многие из этих полотен погибли вместе со зданиями, на которых они находились. Некоторые продолжают разрушаться. Но большое количество фресок и по сей день можно увидеть в отличном состоянии. Они, как призраки ушедшей эпохи, напоминают о несуществующей стране, частью которой когда-то являлись.

Мозаика, служащая указателем на въезде перед шахтой “Долинская”, Карагандинская область. Выполнена из цветного стекла и кафеля. На каске шахтера когда-то располагался настоящий фонарь и светился.

Мозаика, иллюстрирующая труд, дружбу народов и науку. Дом Культуры, г. Каркаралинск, Карагандинская область. Даже в поселках и небольших городах декоративная отделка фасадов была обязательным элементом дизайна общественных зданий, построенных в 1960-70-х годах.

Масштабная мозаика на стене Дома Союзов в центре Караганды иллюстрирует единство рабочего класса.

Часть комплекса сложнейших барельефов в административном центре Караганды. Барельефы выполнены с портретной точностью и сохранились в хорошем состоянии.

Барельеф на здании бывшего управления Водоканала, г. Караганда. Скульптор: Юрий Гуммель, автор самого масштабного памятника Ленину в Караганде. Ныне проживает в Германии, куда уехал с семьей в 90-х годах.

Фрагмент комплекса мозаик на Доме Союзов и здания ЦентрКазНедра – самого масштабного полотна в Караганде. Сохранились в отличном состоянии.

Мозаика на здании административно-бытового комплекса шахты “Долинская”. Шахта подготовлена к ликвидации.

Фреска из разноцветной штукатурки на стене заводского здания в Караганде. Обращает на себя внимание сложностью композиции и точностью подбора цветов.

Фреска на фасаде одного из цехов завода НКМЗ, г. Караганда. Огромная территория завода, расположенного в самом центре города, уже много лет заброшена.

Редкое сочетание мозаики и барельефа, г. Караганда.

В мозаике с шахтером использовано стекло, отчего изображение блестит на солнце, п. Актас, Карагандинская область.

Жилой дом в Караганде. Мозаика выполнена из большого количества элементов.

Фрагмент мозаики с абстрактной композицией, г. Караганда.

Несколько лет назад при ремонте здания мозаику с изображением Гагарина полностью закрасили, но вовремя спасли, г. Караганда.