TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. April 2010

Sektion 8.12. Framed Knowledge as an obstacle for creativity and transition of societies
Sektionsleiterin | Section Chair: Farhad Atai (University of Tehran)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Re-thinking Stalinist Terror in the
Transformation of Post-Soviet Civil Society

Dina Mukhamedkhan (Almaty, Kazakhstan)



Introduction: social, political, educational context

Education is a powerful source that can either develop or hinder development of any field of life. In this respect it affects quality of our life. As a basic right of every human being, education has to be accessible to every citizen throughout his/her life. We have a strong conviction that deep roots and foundation of the quality of university education lie in developing competent, intellectual professionals with a high sense of social responsibility in front of local, regional and global community. Regretfully, these qualities are deficit in our society and it is at this point that education in our country does not fulfill its mission. Whereas we view university education as having powerful sources and opportunities for developing citizens of a democratic society where the following values and principles must be a priority in personal, professional, global relationships:

 The university itself must become a laboratory of democracy for young people. This is where they can learn how to become citizens, how to develop independent critical intelligence and stand for their own position, values and ideas, how to combat corruption that decays our society, how to conduct socially accountable business and comply with the needs of the community.

Unfortunately, the wrong perception of the market economy principles has brought a negative impact into educational field. It has become expensive in terms of tuition fees while the quality is low. The most frustrating is the fact that the value of education is lost, as well the value of authentic knowledge and intellectual search for knowledge based on critical intelligence.

Education is not a commercial product and market principles are not always applicable here. We strongly believe in this - having mastered the educational policy that makes the field. It is important to note that low quality of teaching results in superfluous attitude of students towards obtaining the knowledge. In its turn, this is seen in an irresponsible attitude of future specialists towards their work where a low ethics prevails. Hundreds of such examples from everyday life can serve as a proof. TV, radio, official and alternative mass media highlight everyday cases when pollution of the Caspian sea by oil extracting international big companies is ongoing; workers are killed on building sites due to absence of safety measures; people are killed on the roads by drunk or unprofessional drivers; people are cheated by civil service offices when calculating minimum monthly rate of living, in establishing low levels of pensions; workers are cheated by managers at their work sites; people with money use cheap labor and cheat Central Asian unemployed people, sometimes not paying a single penny for building fancy houses for rich people; social workers demonstrate rude behaviour to pensioners and other customers; service of customers in many organizations is of low quality. Morale of some modern managers is poor and very pragmatic in their "work more for less” principle. In this situation, it is hard even to talk about some entrepreneur ethics and culture.

 The differentiation between strata of the society is visible: rich and poor, municipal and rural population. A striking factor is an arrogant, snobbish attitude of low cultured rich people to poor ethnic rural population.

 The echo of totalitarian regime is still alive on the post-Soviet territory. It can be seen and heard in administrative-command tone in communication between those who have any kind of power with those who are "have-nots”. The same case is with teacher-students relations as it is with the one of manager-employee, of the police, tax inspection and customers, ministry workers and population. Incompetence, wrong use of power due to a lack of culture by many people results in an ongoing production of many regulations to demonstrate power over the range of universities, entrepreneurs, journalists. Pursuing the style of fright and punishment is a characteristic of totalitarian regimes but it is still very present and mass experienced.

 From the education policy viewpoint, this is also explained by incompetence and low morale that education organizations did not instill in students - future specialists. Therefore, discrepancies in economic and social life are also products of low quality education. High quality education, however, contributes to development of cultured, socially accountable and conscious people. We strongly believe that it is high time that universities fulfill their mission of preparing intelligent, critically thinking specialists with high sense of accountability in their work in communities (local, regional, national or international community). This is where the idea of maintaining sustainability of our society must be implemented. And this is where citizenship and patriotism of young people must be developed. Obviously, families and community organizations play their role. But young people spent much time in obtaining general, professional education. There lies the responsibility of educational institutions to adequately implement their mission.

It is not enough to repeat nice words: "democracy, open society, integration into world community”, etc. It is necessary to start demonstrating the commitment to these ideas in practice, to profess these values in life, in every action, to make it a working democracy.

Leaders who really care for and serve to people, who delegate power to introduce participatory management and not hold it in personal hands, leaders with trust and intelligent thinking need to be brought when they are still students. Democratic consciousness in this case serves as the foundation for political, social, economic, entrepreneurial ethics in the society. This approach facilitates the development of respect for a nation, for national history and culture and the understanding of the global picture of life and the respect for world cultures.

We are in a dangerous situation, where no knowledge, no respect for roots, history and culture exists. What kind of values dominate over the people in this case? This is a question for universities to consider.

Universities need to rethink their mission in terms of serving as an example of democracy to the community in large. This can be achieved through establishing a new leadership with new ways in administering of the universities, through building some new forms of relations with society in large; those new ways and forms serve as intellectual centers for community dialogue. Much depends on professional factors such as the content of teaching materials, the quality level of teaching the required and the elective courses in any field of knowledge, and integrating the citizenship values in teaching any field. We think that credit framework gives big opportunities for university faculty. We have identified the following principles in credit framework that can really contribute to building democracy at the university level. The principles are: academic freedom, academic integrity, choice, transparency and trust. These principles need to be elaborated for teaching, for administration and for the social partnership of universities with community.


Re-thinking Stalinist Terror in the Transformation of Post-Soviet Civil Society

In Kazakhstan, 1997 is declared as the Year of Remembrance of the Victims of Repression. May 31 is marked officially in the calendar as the Remembrance Day of victims of political repressions. People bring flowers to monuments; governors give speeches on this day. It seems that one day per year can not contribute to understanding this time-period in our history. Who comes to the monuments? Mostly relatives of those repressed, imprisoned, killed, perished, and the officials, usually senior ones.

The analysis of some history textbooks as well as the curricula of humanities education in both secondary and university education showed the following. Little or nothing at all is written there on this topic. But information is available. It exists as the history exists. For instance, there are Books of Memory with the lists of the killed, perished, repressed people during the Stalin regime in 30-s and in 50-s of the 20-th century in our country. And this is the work for policy makers, educators, students. It is necessary to polish curricula, to find more original historical materials on the repression times in archives, in KGB archives in particular, to find more first hand information from those few who are still alive or from their families, from the witnesses of those terrible events. We have to do this having in our mind our full civic social responsibility for the past, present and future times. This is our history. This is our memory. This is our ethic sustainability. We need to analyse these materials in order to effectively integrate them in teaching of different disciplines. This is our moral duty in face of the history, in the memory of our grandparents, parents who suffered from totalitarian regime. If we do not do this, the revival of those who suppressed, repressed innocent intelligentsia will go on and it will kill the bits and pieces of historical memory of the nation. There are instances in Kazakhstan when monuments, memorial plaques are being set up for those who worked as ideological leaders of the repression times, who were administrators of various bodies during the Stalin regime. Is this not an absurd, to put it mildly? Their followers, their relatives could persuade current officials to do so. Is this not a moral lesson for our society who looses historical memory? How come that tragedy of the repression times when millions of ordinary innocent people suffered and perished is forgotten now?

Education can really change our situation to the better. I believe that we have to develop new courses, new topics, we have to update current topics and talk on the Stalinist repression. This contributes to deepening and expanding our horizons of our thinking.

Can you imagine that a person can be imprisoned just because s/he did literary research? My father Kayum Mukhamedkhanov was a young researcher who defended the dissertation on the Literary School of Abay, where he proved that the great Kazakh poet and the founder of the literary Kazakhs language - Abai had the school of his followers. Many unknown names were revealed and survived in his research; many literary works of the poets belonging to the literary surrounding of Abai were found, proved to belong to the pens of those people and were kept for our nation. This work took decades of work in hard conditions. Finally, it was written as a monograph and defended as a dissertation in 1951.

 But ideology of that time could not afford even to hear the word "school”. How come? There was only one school, that of Marxism-Leninism, no other schools were allowed, even in literature. Ideological workers under the banner of Stalinist regime repressed my father. He was tortured for 9 months in the prison and then sent to Karlag (subdivision of Russian GULAG but on Kazakhstan territory). He survived tortures and inhumane conditions of imprisonment that lasted four years. However, Ideology - Stalinist regime could not make my father to sign any document and retract his research ideas. He kept his respect for research values and for his principles at the cost of suffering, even when pushed to the edge between life and death, which happened often. The family suffered severely... Even in that terrible situation Kayum survived, continuing his literary work, translating, writing letters to his children and wife. These letters are the lessons to remind human beings that in any circumstances they should be modest and try to make human nature better. These old pieces of paper are indeed historical documents that young people must read to feel the atmosphere of that terrible time and the power of spirit that is above everything...

 ...Now the nation is proud of these ideas that my father revealed in the hard times of our history. We are proud of the Literary School of Abai, of every person who belongs to that school. But what were the costs to save these values at the beginning of 50-s? Why so many people betray others, why they find easy ways of living, think only about their physical existence, compromise values and principles for personal benefits? Such questions would continue to be posed, endlessly. Is it not the point where irresponsibility is developed, ignoring the idea of citizenship? Is it not the point where the roots of compromise and corruption begin?

Many people were forced by the regime to sign false documents, to betray their colleagues in 50-s. Does not same things happen today?

I have developed the integrative course that I called 'Culture and Social Responsibility”. In the course, I have embraced many issues of ethics, responsibility, patriotism, human being. We have to remember the cases I discussed here and talk about them with students. We need to teach this in order not to let the history go in a reverse direction, to sink in the repression of the regime times.

The experience of teaching the course aroused great interest in students: they learned more about our history. They also learned to analyse current unethical situations. Students' essays and the quality level of discussions show that students are maturing as professionals and citizens.

  1. There is an English version from the Book devoted to Kayum Mukhamedkhanov available on Internet. Detailed information on Repression is vividly described there by a literary critic and a journalist Alla Belyakina:

Alla Belyakina. "The Human Being as a Legend”

  1. There is Internet site in Russian language which briefly highlights some facts of his life and creativity:

Culture and Social Responsibility: challenges for Kazakhstan

(course outline)

The course is taught by Dr. Dina Mukhamedkhan

Contact information:

Office hours by appointment

Academic honesty: Plagiarism and other ways of unfair work are not acceptable. Plagiarism includes the lack of reference in use of the works/projects of scholars both printed and electronic ones, lack of references in citations, thoughts and unsolicited copying of materials.

Policy of assessment: A student receives a final grade at the end of the course which is an accumulative indicator of the work during the semester. The following work is considered:

Grading: letter grading

A 4.0 excellent
A- 3.7  
B+ 3.3  
B 3.0 very good
B - 2.7  
C+ 2.3  
C 2.0 satisfactory
C- 1.7  
D 1.0 low
F 0.0 failure/no credit

Description of the course and its goal: This is an integrative course for upper undergraduate/graduate students of any field. The course contributes to the mission of preparation of professionals and responsible citizens in a globalize world.

It is time for students to see the correlation between the issues of development and sustainability of our society, between understanding the issues of citizenship, high morale and patriotism through real cases from the history of Kazakhstan. The course opens up new horizons for students in understanding how our country develops in a new global picture of life. In this regard, students are presented with the state of the arts of knowledge in understanding the issues of culture, gender, corruption, conflicts and critical intelligence. Such abstract notions as "organizations”, "projects” and "societies” have very clear definition of any person's contribution to society development. The notion of an individual and organizational responsibility is important to realize when talking on "joining the rest of the world”.

We consider it of utmost importance that culture and moral qualities of students are reinforced with real cases of Repression times.

The idea of the course is also backed up with the analysis of particular cases and situations from many projects where the professor worked. This approach helps in bringing up ethical professionals and thoughtful citizens of Kazakhstan.

Session 1 Policy of the course. The notion of culture in the context of a Personality and organizational setting. UNESCO requirements to modern specialists.
Session 2 Personal, national, organizational, global culture.
Session 3 National identity and culture. Kazakh intelligentsia of "Alash” as a model of national idea.
Session 4 National idea and Abai. Can people be repressed for research ideas? Case of Kayum Mukhamedkhanov
Session 5 The Law of correlation between mentality and management. How do we start getting rid of totalitarian regime echoes?
Session 6 Citizen participation. Where are we? Analysis of life cases.
Session 7 Ladder of citizen participation. Students' presentation based on the article.
Session 8 Conflicts in a globalized world. Personality and organizational development through conflicts. Democratic culture as the way of building a better world.
Session 9 Corruption: integrative studies in economics, business and humanities.
Session 10 Strategies of lessening corruption: case from education field.  Students' presentations.
Session 11 Strategies for critical thinking and citizen participation. Students' presentation of the cases on Repression times.
Session 12 Gender Issues. Gender, poverty, trafficking. Empowerment.
Session 13 Globalization. Do "world standards” exist? Do they work? Students' presentation on cases in economics, business, humanities.
Session 14 New forms of building partnerships between organizations in a society at large. Implications for Kazakshtan. Students' cases
Session 15 Education for Development. Cases from projects.
Session 16 Students' presentations on projects/finals.

Articles for group discussions will be brought by the professor.

The Students are free to use additional printed, Internet and organizational materials in their preparation for sesssions, in writing cases and the project work.

At the end of the course, students present individually written projects based on the topics of the course. The The work on a project has to be connected to the problems of the society. Therefore, students need to devote some time to visit various organizations to observe the cases. Preparation of students' projects requires individual consultations with the professor during office hours

Recommendations on preparation of cases and projects' will be explained during the first class.

Literature used by the professor:

  1. Aleinikoff, Alexander and Klusmeyer, Douglas. Citizenship today. Global perspectives and practices. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 2001.
  2. Arnstein. The ladder of citizen participation.
  3. Clifford Geetz. The interpretation of cultures. NY, 1973.
  4. Culture matters. How values shape human progress. Basic Books, NY, 2000.
  5. Ethics in economics and business: challenges for Central Asia, EdNet, 2001.
  6. The state of gender research and teaching in Central Asia. EdNet, 2002.
  7. Politics, education and citizenship. Falmer Press. London and NY, 2000
  8. Senge, Peter. The fifth discipline. NY, 1990
  9. Transparency International. "TI Press Release: corruption perception index”. Berlin 1998. .
  10. Clarke-Hill, Colin & Glaister Keith. "Cases in Strategic Management”. Pitman
  11. Collins, David. "Org Sanders, Irene. "Strategic Thinking and the New Science”. Planning in the Midst of Chaos, Complexity and Change'. The Free Press.
  12. Sanders, T. Irene. Strategic thinking and the new science. The Free Press, 1998
  13. Storey, John; Mabey, Christopher; Salaman, Graime. "Strategic Human Resource Management”. Sage publications.
  14. Schein, Edgar. "Organizational Culture and Leadership”. Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  15. Yukl, Gary. "Leadership in Organizations”. Prentice Hall.
  16. Organizational Change”. Sociological perspective. Routeledge.

A number of articles on values, citizenship, national identity, etc. will be brought to class by the professor.

PS: the course was taught in Kazakhstan and partially in USA.

8.12. Framed Knowledge as an obstacle for creativity and transition of the societies

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For quotation purposes:
Dina Mukhamedkhan: Re-thinking Stalinist Terror in the Transformation of Post-Soviet Civil Society - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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