social change

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…

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(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.

A growing protest culture in Kyrgyzstan?

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Linking closely to my most recent post about an article on growing social gaps in Kazakhstan, I read an article today about protest culture in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. As with the Kazakh story, whilst this BBC article does not directly link to higher education, there are definitely possibilities for interaction.

This gives rise to some questions. How politicized are young people in Kyrgyzstan, particularly in comparison to the elders featured in the article? If young people aren’t participating in protests, why not? Are they busy doing other things, do they not care or are they afraid? Or is there something else going on?

Whilst there is a common perception in the UK that university students don’t care about politics, actually it has been shown that they really do care, but their attentions are now more commonly drawn to interest groups (e.g. relating to the environment, or to human rights) than political associations. I don’t know if the same is true of students in Kyrgyzstan so I would welcome readers sharing their experiences or observations.

The original article is (c) BBC News and can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22852857

12 June 2013 Last updated at 03:08

What is driving Kyrgyzstan’s protest culture?

By Abdujalil Abdurasulov BBC News, Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan

Elderly Kyrgyz women sitting near a traditional yurt in Jalalabad, KyrgyzstanThe mother-heroines are demanding the release of opposition MPs
Near a traditional yurt, several elderly Kyrgyz women are sitting and sorting through children’s clothing for sale. They are not traders. They call themselves mother-heroines and they are one of the driving forces of protest in the southern city of Jalalabad.

These mother-heroines have occupied the square in front of the office of the regional governor on and off since last October. They are demanding the release of three opposition MPs arrested over an alleged attempt to topple the government during a mass rally.

Just a few days ago their supporters stormed a Jalalabad local government building, forcing the regional governor to flee. They also blocked the only highway that links northern Kyrgyzstan with the south.

Such protests have become a daily routine in Kyrgyzstan. According to Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev, there were 1,286 protests across Kyrgyzstan in 2012. That means on average ,there were more than three protests a day.

A man addresses protesters in the village of Tamga in Dzhety Oguz district 31 May 2013 Even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent in Kyrgyzstan

Farmers, truck drivers, casino owners, land grabbers, traders, policemen – people from all walks of society are increasingly trying to solve their problems by taking to the streets. Tired of protests, several hundred people held a demonstration against demonstrations in Bishkek earlier this year.

Medet Tiulegenov, a political analyst from the American University in Central Asia, said a lack of trust in the government meant people readily took to the streets.

“Formal mechanisms to communicate with the authorities are weak or completely absent,” he said. “So street protests are often the only option.”

‘The people’

This protest culture has been shaped by two mass uprisings in Kyrgyzstan in recent years. In 2005 and again in 2010, mobs captured the White House, where the government sits, and ousted the ruling president.

This has led to a situation today in which a mob of a few hundred people, some perhaps paid to participate by interested parties, can “appoint” their governors, directors and other state officials. The government normally does not recognise the “people’s” appointee, but they cannot ignore the mood on the ground either.

Earlier this year, for example, a new police chief in the mountainous Naryn region had to flee his office after local residents and police officers unhappy with his appointment stormed the police department building. Although the government insists the chief remains its preferred candidate, he has not returned to his office yet.

And each mass rally becomes an example for others to follow.

“President [Almazbek] Atambayev came to power through mass protests. He also seized the White House. So why can’t we protest as well?” said Anarkhan Dehkanova, one of the mother-heroines, referring to the 2010 uprising and in response to the suggestion that the law was broken when the Jalalabad governor was ousted.

Amid this growing protest culture, the new government frequently uses the word el – “the people” – in its slogans to emphasis its claim to public legitimacy. One of the slogans on the website of the Interior Ministry reads: “Together with the people and for the prosperity of our Fatherland.”

Police are also finding it hard to disperse demonstrators even if they are breaking the law. In Jalalabad, police watched the protesters as they blocked the highway – causing a massive traffic jam and serious economic losses for local businesses.

“There were not just young men there,” said Almazbek Malabekov, police chief of the district where the road was blocked. “There were elderly men and women too. If we used force to disperse them, the situation would only have got worse.”

‘Soft approach’

Almazbek Malabekov, police chief of Suzak district, JalalabadMr Malabekov said elderly men and women were taking part in some protests

Peaceful demonstrations can, however, turn violent. Last month protesters in the Issik Kul region denouncing a gold mining deal clashed with police. The government was forced to announce a state of emergency in the area to end the mass disturbances.

To end the cycle of street protests and boost the rule of law, the government needs to punish those who break the laws, Mr Tiulegenov said.

“It’s important not to create the feeling of impunity that encourages protesters to be more radical. But it’s also important to combine negotiations and a soft approach,” he said.

Dr Erica Marat, a Central Asia expert, says that the government should also try to include opposition leaders in a political process and strengthen local government.

“Improving capacity and professionalism of the local government would enable them to respond to the very local issues people [protest about] and prevent mobilization of aggressive mobs,” she said.

Back in Jalalabad, several protesters remain on the square. Empty yurts are meant to indicate that a crowd could be gathered at any moment.

They are threatening to block the highway again if their demands are not met. As the Central Asian summer gets hotter, the protesters may take a break. But they will be back in the autumn.

University of Central Asia public lecture on education and identity among Pamiri youth – 22 August, Bishkek

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This lecture looks really interesting. I can’t attend (being in Oxford, not Bishkek at the moment!) but if any readers go, I’d love to hear your comments.

Here is the info from University of Central Asia’s website:

http://www.ucentralasia.org/news.asp?Nid=384

Education, Identity and Resilience among Gorno-Badakhshan Pamiri Youth by Carole Faucher

Speaker:  Carole Faucher

Date: 22 August 2012, 4 pm

Venue: University of Central Asia, 138 Toktogul Street, Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, Conference Room.

Abstract
This lecture examines the interplay of religious, secular and home education in the self-identification process of Pamiris originating from Tajikistan’s Autonomous Province of Gorno-Badadkhshan (GBAO), living in Central Asia with access to Ismaili religious education. The continuous pursuit of knowledge is an intrinsic component of the Ismaili faith, a Shia branch of Islam to which the majority of Tajik Pamiris of GBAO belong. Ismaili religious education includes topics that are also part of secular teaching such as literature, history and geography, and emphasizes development, the use of critical thinking and group interaction. At home, youth master their mother tongue and other aspects of Pamiri culture(s), while the national curriculum aims to socialize them as active citizens of the country where they live. These three sources of education provide structured ways of constructing a sense of belonging. How youth identify themselves in specific contexts nevertheless depends on a multitude of factors, including their own personal historical trajectory. Findings from field research conducted in Khorog, Murghab, Dushanbe, Khujand, and Osh over the past two years indicate that religious education provides Pamiri youth with a strong base for integrating and unifying different categories of knowledge and identity frameworks provided by the other means of education. Good academic performance is a highly valued cultural trait which has more to do with community resilience then with individual competitiveness, and it contributes to the preservation and accumulation of cultural capital associated with the Pamiri regional identity framework.

Registration
Please RSVP to vladilena.vladimirova@ucentralasia.org with your name and affiliation. Please indicate if you require Russian translation.

Biography
Carole Faucher is an Associate Professor at the University of Tsukuba, Japan. She obtained her PhD in Sociology from the National University of Singapore and her Master’s in Anthropology from the Université de Montréal. She has written extensively on identity politics, education, and regionalism in South-East Asia. Her latest publications include the co-edition (with J. Gomez) of a special issue of the Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies entitled “Politics and Identity: Negotiating Power and Space in Asia” (2010). She is currently working on publication projects focusing on Central Asia, including the co-edition (with B. Pasilov) of Education, Identity and Social Transformation in Central Asian Societies, a journal special issue collection which will introduce a number of young scholars from the region. She has been conducting research in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan since 2009.

Language
The presentation will be conducted in English. Russian translation provided upon prior request.

Modern day Kazakhs: young, uncertain and ‘lazy’?

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Tengri News today reports on a study in which a group of experts have tried to come up with an illustration of the modern day Kazakh.

The group make some interesting assertions, focussing on young people in their depictions. Here’s the article reposted in full:

A ‘modern day Kazakh’? Photo (c) Tengri News

Psychologists, economists and financial experts have attempted to create a collective image of a modern Kazakhstan citizen, Tengrinews.kz reports.
According to Director of the Association of Practicing Psychologists Aleksey Kulikov, contemporary Kazakhstan citizen is able to set goals and achieve them consistently. His/her goals are not global, like saving the world or attaining the global peace; they are very local and concrete.

However, according to Kulikov, an average Kazakhstan citizen is rather lazy. This is especially true for young people. “Parents give them a lot and this kills a person’s motivation to do everything himself. This causes laziness and some kind of passivity. When such person grows up and the time comes to work, it is very difficult for him. We hold trainings in major company and see a lot of people with good positions and wages, but without any drive. They are not the leaders they should be.”

According to the psychologist, the fact that Kazakhstan is a big country and its population is small compared to its territory makes modern Kazakhstan citizens are more sensitive about competition than the citizens of other countries. “Yes, there are forty candidates for one position in Europe, their population is much larger. But we have less people and, thus, fewer companies and fewer positions. One has to fight for his job, prove himself and be a careerist,” he said suggesting that modern Kazakhstan citizen would have been more successful if he was not lazy.

Making the image of modern Kazakhstan citizen, the experts focused on young people stressing that a modern Kazakhstan citizen is young. Director of the Center for Analysis of Public Issues Meruert Makhmutova said: “Who is the modern Kazakhstan citizen? It is difficult to characterize categorically, as there are two poles. Speaking about youth, those who pull the carts at the markets and have no clear plans for the future are on one pole. Those getting good education in the best Western universities are on the other pole. But I can confidently say that a modern Kazakhstan citizen does not know what will happen to him in five years. Before (during soviet time) it was all predictable: school, university, work. There is no predictability these days,” the speaker said.

“A modern Kazakhstan citizen has a low level of economic literacy,” Serik Akhanov, Doctor of Economics said. According to him, this is confirmed by how Kazakhstan citizen is not rational is spending his salary, is not practical in household use. He does not save money for education of his children. “The most terrible is that he does not save money for a “rainy” day either. Modern Kazakhstan citizen is a Homo Faber, Man the Creator. But I dream that he becomes a Homo Sapiens, a Thinking Man,” the expert said.

According to him, Kazakhstan citizens are quite talented people who live in the nomad culture. “We are still wandering, but in a metaphorical sense: we are in a constant change of impressions, constant change of lifestyle. We, Kazakhstan citizens, are able to build the “people’s” capitalism. The most important thing is that everyone should work,” he said.

For more information see:http://en.tengrinews.kz/people/Modern-Kazakhstan-citizen-is-a-careerist-and-lazybones-11608/

Article (c) Arman Baimukhanov, Tengri News