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Speaking Soviet with an Accent

Speaking Soviet with an Accent: Culture and Power in Kyrgyzstan

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    Speaking Soviet with an Accent
    Book Description:

    Speaking Soviet with an Accentpresents the first English-language study of Soviet culture clubs in Kyrgyzstan. These clubs profoundly influenced the future of Kyrgyz cultural identity and fostered the work of many artists, such as famed novelist Chingiz Aitmatov.Based on extensive oral history and archival research, Ali Igmen follows the rise of culture clubs beginning in the 1920s, when they were established to inculcate Soviet ideology and create a sedentary lifestyle among the historically nomadic Kyrgyz people. These "Red clubs" are fondly remembered by locals as one of the few places where lively activities and socialization with other members of their ail (village or tribal unit) could be found.Through lectures, readings, books, plays, concerts, operas, visual arts, and cultural Olympiads, locals were exposed to Soviet notions of modernization. But these programs also encouraged the creation of a newfound "Kyrgyzness" that preserved aspects of local traditions and celebrated the achievements of Kyrgyz citizens in the building of a new state. These ideals proved appealing to many Kyrgyz, who, for centuries, had seen riches and power in the hands of a few tribal chieftains and Russian imperialists.This book offers new insights into the formation of modern cultural identity in Central Asia. Here, like their imperial predecessors, the Soviets sought to extend their physical borders and political influence. But Igmen also reveals the remarkable agency of the Kyrgyz people, who employed available resources to meld their own heritage with Soviet and Russian ideologies and form artistic expressions that continue to influence Kyrgyzstan today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7809-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. INTRODUCTION: Crafting Kyrgyzness
    (pp. 1-7)

    On the southern shores of Ysyk Köl, the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and one considered holy to Kyrgyz, is a tinyail(village) called Akterek.¹ Even in May 2002, a small white building’s signage still declared, in bold lettering, that this was the “club” of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic.² The official purpose of a club or House of Culture (or, in Kyrgyz, Madaniyat Ui) was to introduce Bolshevik ideology to indigenous populations through adult education and entertainment. The existence of a Soviet club adjacent to this religious site seemed striking; the very traditions that considered the lake holy survived...

  2. CHAPTER 1 Being ʺAsiaticʺ Subjects of the Empire
    (pp. 9-21)

    The Bolsheviks inherited the images of “Asiatic” Kyrgyz from their imperial predecessors. These predecessors who concerned themselves with Central Asia included tsarist government officials, Russian intelligentsia, writers, artists, and their Turkic counterparts. The Bolsheviks, despite their best intentions, were not able to fully rid themselves of these ingrained images of the “Asiatic” peoples, including those of the Kyrgyz. The Central Asian communists, together with other Bolshevik elites, created and also contested these images, which included ethnic and religious stereotypes. Such images were by no means constant or static. On the contrary, when the Bolsheviks replaced the imperial authorities, they realized...

  3. CHAPTER 2 The Making of Soviet Culture in Kyrgyzstan during the 1920s and 1930s
    (pp. 22-36)

    Nadezhda Krupskaia, a Bolshevik leader and the wife of Lenin, identified three essential functions of clubs: improving amateur talents, teaching Marxist ideology, and collectivizing the institution. As one of the first Bolsheviks to define the role of clubs in forging Soviet culture, Krupskaia provides important evidence for early Soviet cultural policies.¹ The Kyrgyz version of the club was an exemplary setting where new Soviets could experiment with the Bolshevik concept of “cultural transformation” as if in a laboratory. Krupskaia’s description of the three functions of clubs addresses both the cultural and the nationalities policies. “Improvement of amateur talents” refers to...

  4. CHAPTER 3 The Emergence of the Soviet Houses of Culture in Kyrgyzstan
    (pp. 37-69)

    In this excerpt, Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov’s character Tanabai Bakasov, a former Kyrgyz Komsomol leader,kolkhozworker, ardent believer in communist ideals, and war veteran, expresses his conflicting sentiments about his own heritage. Like many Kyrgyz people of his generation who matured during the Bolshevik Revolution, Tanabai believed in cultural revolution.¹ But like many of his countrymen, he was torn between the constructive and destructive effects of the revolution. In his short novelGulsarat, Aitmatov gives voice to Kyrgyz people like Tanabai who, while initially believing in the promises of the cultural revolution, eventually became ambivalent, if not conflicted, about...

  5. CHAPTER 4 Celebrations in Soviet Kyrgyzstan during the 1930s
    (pp. 83-97)

    In Kyrgyz towns andails, clubs often served as the venues for Soviet celebrations. Reports from ail administrators and news stories in regional newspapers indicate that in the smallest ails, a school could provide the necessary space for a celebration, but the existence of a club (even if it was just a room) gave the celebration an official status.¹ In a news item that reported the result of a city Olympiad, for example, the reporter, V. Tselikovskii, called for the clubs to initiate and lead discussions for the betterment of cultural celebrations.²

    These cultural events had become highly bureaucratic in...

  6. CHAPTER 5 Soviet Theater in Kyrgyzstan in the 1930s
    (pp. 98-119)

    Theater provided a powerful arena in which Kyrgyz revolutionaries of the 1930s sought to introduce Soviet ideology to wide populations. All types of Houses of Culture became the stages for the first plays in Kyrgyzstan. Regional institutions of cultural activity, including the clubs, served as convenient locations for urbanized and ail populations to appropriate state discourses in order to craft new cultural expressions. By applying the state’s requirements and guidelines to their own understanding of culture, theater amateurs and professionals fashioned a new, essentially Kyrgyz brand of theater.

    In 1919, the first Kyrgyz People’s Theater opened its doors in Karakol...

  7. CHAPTER 6 Self-Fashioning Kyrgyzness among Women
    (pp. 120-139)

    Ail authorities went to great lengths to show that women’s full participation in society accelerated the process of “cultural development” for the Kyrgyz. According to party administrators in Kyzyl Kyia, in March 1925, Uzbek and Kyrgyz women organized women’s circles. They applauded the outcome of this cooperation, suggesting that these women together facilitated mass cultural work. Women seemed likewise proactive and enthusiastic about this type of activity. In 1927, according to the newspaperSovetskaia Kirgiziia, “Uzbek and Kyrgyz women jointly sent a petition to the oblast authorities, asking for a special school for women.”¹ The article asserted that these women...

  8. CONCLUSION: Speaking Soviet the Kyrgyz Way
    (pp. 140-146)

    Club administrators, theater professionals, cultural Olympiad organizers, and other indigenous professionals and activists, such as Sabira Kumushalieva, were engaged in fashioning a new Kyrgyz community with a Soviet accent. The same activists, however, allowed their grandmothers and mothers to remain true to their nomadic roots, which suggests that Kyrgyz traditions such ashurmat(respect for the elders) were important for individual Kyrgyz families and the Kyrgyz community at large. This is just one example of how modernization efforts left room for some traditional aspects of culture. The indigenous cultural revolutionaries’ behavior illustrates that they participated in a modernizing project without...