Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. November 2003
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The Silk Road

Tschingis T. Aitmatov (Bishkek/Bruxelles)


My topic is a reflection on the modern version of the "Silk Road." It is an attempt to direct attention to the origin of this theme and to penetrate into the depths of the contemporary mass consciousness in the territory of the Central-Asiatic post-Soviet space in the period from the post-perestroika into the post-socialist period (1985-2003) as well as into the neighboring cultures of the world.

Human beings are currently experiencing an exceptionally dramatic period in their development. In my opinion, the basis for this lies in the fact that the world has been essentially and, above all, qualitatively changed. We have become entirely different people compared to the way we were twenty years ago. A new generation has been born and grown up, and for these people the world has been "shrunk" to the dimensions of a direct telephone conversation to any desired geographical point on earth and to a few hours of flight to get there. But along the way to these conversations and flights there still lie old barriers, which were erected in the period when we considered as enemies all those, whom we did not understand. And therefore one of the most pressing tasks of our day appears to be to create the conditions which can serve, if not the complete elimination, then at least the overcoming of these barriers, which still exist between the individual, large and small segments of humanity. At the same time it is very important to understand that these barriers and borders permeate our consciousness and only then make their appearance as political, economic, socio-cultural, ethno-cultural and other barriers. For this reason we should, when we speak about the policy of peaceful coexistence, talk about the creation of conditions for the transition from the position of tolerance to the position of active mutual interest by all for everyone around us, even for those who are far away from us but are representatives of the same civilization which is called humanity.

Every person needs to be brought to the understanding and awareness that humanity in itself represents a unified totality, and that the creation of this consciousness is to be supported by all, from the individual family to international organizations.

The Concept

Before 1980 the concept "Silk Road" was utilized chiefly in the academic milieu.

In the "Gorbachov" period of Glasnost (1985-1991) interest for the former USSR rose with the warmer political climate. The merit of UNESCO lay in the fact that this cultural organization could direct its interest not only to a purely Russian problematic of the USSR, but also called attention to the "colonial," that is, to the national parts of the Soviet imperium.

In 1988 the "Internal Study of the Silk Road" was begun and found an absolutely unique reflection in the mass consciousness in Soviet Central Asia.

The importance of the "Gorbachov" period for the West and for Russia will be discussed today. For the West this period signified the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany; for the USSR it meant the division without bloodshed of the Soviet imperium into independent states as well as the mass exodus without bloodshed out of the new states of the population that did not belong to the original inhabitants.

I would like to call the attention of the conference to how profoundly purely scientific and cultural measures can influence the consciousness, view and behavioral motivation of a large mass of people.

The "Gorbachov" period ran in contradictory fashion in Central Asia and in the Caucasus, respectively, because it coincided in time with the famous "Raschidow Case" or "Cotton Case." The basis for the charge was the corruption in the Central Asian Republics - the case is judged as a political or economic one. But the consequences were very traumatic, because the case caused a wave of repression, which affected more than 3000 people. It also resulted in the formulation of a cliché about Central Asians or "Uzbeks" being corruptible people.

For intellectuals, who had been raised in the spirit of internationalism and love of Russian culture, this meant a slap in the face.

For Central Asian intellectuals the turn to the pre-Soviet historical past of the great Silk Road was a form of resistance to the Soviet present.

Practically all Central Asian national ideologies were based on the idea of the "Silk Road."

Probably for this reason they look less forward into the post-socialist possibilities but rather seek the answer in the past.

In the post-socialist space these ideas mutated into state consecration of literary, historical and mythical heroes of the past (anniversaries of Manas, Tamerlan and others). On the one hand, this opened the way to self-reflection, on the other hand, the "Silk Road" became an unusually large, commercial, enticing image. It was this image with its exoticism, which the West was to receive without the Russian colonial and Soviet historical layers.

The bitter aspect exists in the fact that in a sense for the masses of people in Central Asia the Silk Road contains two possibilities: "the great past or the possible economic initiatives."

In the period of globalization the Silk Road is a flexible concept, which could still serve to reduce a possible increase of chauvinism and nationalism.

© Tschingis T. Aitmatov (Bishkek/Bruxelles): The Silk Road

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For quotation purposes:
Tschingis T. Aitmatov (Bishkek/Bruxelles): The Silk Road. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003.

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