Forging Soviet Identity in Central Asia
Farhad Atai (University of Tehran)
For centuries, Central Asia was one of the major centers of human civilization and a nexus for international trade. It boasts a fascinating civilization and a rich cultural heritage. Art and culture flourished in Central Asia in a process characterized by close interaction with the art and culture of the neighboring peoples. Central Asia has been unique in its history of extensive intermingling and productive interaction among its cultures. This marvelous coexistence of various cultures has been the hallmark of the region since ancient tines. It has been in this region that both sedentary and nomadic lifestyles, various religions and ideologies, (from Islam to Shamanism) and numerous ethnicities (Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tajik, Kazakh,…) and major civilizations and languages (Turkic, Persian, …) have lived together benefiting from each other, enriching the culture of the region as a whole. The Russian presence—both Tsarist and communist—brought elements of Western culture to the region, further influencing its multicultural character.
The political consequences of the seventy-year Soviet rule have been subject of scrutiny by the outside world. The Soviet’s policies on art and culture, however, have generally been neglected. A unique outlook provided the basis for the development of a comprehensive system of artistic and cultural activities throughout the Soviet Union. An important feature of the system was its uniformity, with similar institutions in each republic and central control from Moscow. This was because of the importance placed on art and culture in Marxist-Leninist doctrine, which sought to discard the “undesirable” elements conducive to bourgeois proclivities and behavior. The doctrine called for an overwhelming role by the state in guiding cultural activities. During seventy years of communist rule, an elaborate system was created with its own institutions to centrally manage, support, and direct art and culture in the Soviet Empire. As such, this had a profound effect on forging a sense of common identity among the citizens of the Empire.
This paper examines this unprecedented project in history, where art and culture were used to frame one’s sense of identity within a grand political unit, called the Soviet Union. It takes an in-depth look at the institutions that, in this concern for totalisation, were created to manage artistic and cultural activities, budgeting, training, and promotion under the Soviets. It examines how art and culture related to religion and to non-Soviet identity were suppressed, while other genres were promoted with an emphasis on ideology. The paper examines the implications of the project for Central Asia in the post-Soviet era.
The paper is the result of a comprehensive study of art and culture in Central Asia in which over one hundred interviews were conducted with officials, musicians, dancers, writers, and singers, as well as visits to centers of art and culture in those republics in the critical transition years.
Patron: President of Austria, Dr. Heinz Fischer
KCTOS: Knowledge, Creativity and