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“Everything is bad”: a review of CyberChaikhana
Written by , Monday, 23 May, 2011 – 1:00 | One Comment

Translator’s Note: As neweurasia’s book “CyberChaikhana: Digital Conversations Central Asia” spreads across the region, it’s received many diverse reviews in local blogs. We’ve decided to publish some of the most interesting ones, beginning with this sharply critical piece by Kazakh blogger Sadenova entitled, “Everything is bad”. “After finishing the book, I thought I would keep my opinion to myself, but I couldn’t help but speak out,” she writes. “That’s because our young Kaznet has already turned into some kind of bulk [of] daydreaming girls and humble teenage boys constantly ‘liking’ every other content online.” The original post can be read @ http://yvision.kz/yv/147165.

The book was accompanied with several presentations that first made me look forward to reading it; I even asked my favorite colleague Victoria Hafisovna to buy one copy for me and bring it to Astana. We met at the central station during 15 minutes break between our transfers; she passed through the book as something extremely valuable.

Some parts I read quite carefully, trying to get into every line, some parts were not that interesting and I just looked them through very fast. After finishing the book, I thought I would keep my opinion to myself (according to the custom, “Either say something nice or don’t say anything at at all”), but I couldn’t help but speak out. That’s because our young Kaznet has already turned into some kind of bulk space with “sacred cows grazing in the shadows of the palm-trees” [ed: a reference to the Hindu practice of revering cows, i.e., taboo topics], daydreaming girls and humble teenage boys constantly “liking” every other content online. Besides, the authors of the book seem to be quite adequate, hope they will accept critique accordingly:

Everything is bad.

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CyberChaikhana website shall be up soon
Written by , Sunday, 24 Apr, 2011 – 14:32 | 3 Comments

For CyberChaikhana readers: for the time being, if you try to go to neweurasia.net/cyberchaikhana, as per the instructions in the back of the book, you’ll end up here, at the neweurasia site’s category page. We’re working on getting the site operational as soon as possible (as the saying goes in America, we “jumped the gun” by going on a promotional tour before having a website — sorry!) If you’d like an update for when the site is ready, please leave your e-mail address in the form of a comment on this post. Thanks!

Для читателей <Киберчайханы>: на данный момент, если вы пытаетесь зайти на страницу neweurasia.net/cyberchaikhana, в соответствии с инструкциями в конце книги, ваш запрос будет автоматически перенаправлен на сайт neweurasia. Мы работаем над тем, чтобы сайт как можо быстрее стал функционировать. Как говорится, мы немного поторопились с промо-туром, не подготовив заранее электронную страницу, за что приносим свои извинения. Если вы хотите быть в курсе, когда сайт будет готов, пожалуйста, оставьте свой адрес электронной почты в виде комментария в конце данного поста. Спасибо!

On “CyberChaikhana: Digital Conversations from Central Asia”
Written by , Saturday, 23 Apr, 2011 – 21:16 | No Comment

Christopher Schwartz, neweurasia’s managing editor for the English site who also served as the editor for our network’s new book, “CyberChaikhana: Digital Conversations from Central Asia”, explains a little bit about the goal and writing process behind the project. Filmed during this year’s Central Asia BarCamp 2011 at KIMEP in Almaty.

Cyberchaikhana an “un-travel log”, says editor
Written by , Thursday, 21 Apr, 2011 – 23:15 | No Comment

Alexey Sidorenko at Global Voices Online interviewed neweurasia‘s during the BarCamp. Check it out: click here.

Sipping the tea of faith in a CyberChaikhana
Written by , Thursday, 21 Apr, 2011 – 22:13 | One Comment
Copies of CyberChaikhana in MediaNet ready for distribution throughout Kazakhstan. Photograph by neweurasia's Schwartz (CC-usage).

Copies of CyberChaikhana in MediaNet ready for distribution throughout Kazakhstan. Photograph by neweurasia

Editor’s note: neweurasia has been zooming up and down Kazakhstan all week to talk about our book, “CyberChaikhana: Digital Conversations from Central Asia”. Our managing editor for the English site, who also served as the book’s editor, Christopher Schwartz, gives his impressions of the tour. Reactions “have ranged immensely,” he explains, and adds a personal note.

I’m writing this post while in the air between Astana and Almaty. This has actually been my first time in Kazakhstan, and indeed, to the region — as many of our long-term readers will probably already know, academic commitments and financial constraints relegated me to the status of outside observer during my tenure as managing editor here at neweurasia‘s English division and during the writing process of CyberChaikhana. And quite an introduction it has been!

Today I was interviewed by a journalist from a major newspaper — my fifth official interview so far about CyberChaikhana, neweurasia, the media situations in Central Asia and the West, and yes, even WikiLeaks (!), not to mention the five group presentations and the countless impromptu discussions during BarCamp. This weekend, besides presenting at the American University of Central Asia, I may be having two group presentations elsewhere in Bishkek. All in all, Ollie, Askhat and I have been on the move for pretty much a week straight, and I’ve talked with, to various degrees of depth, somewhere in the vicinity of 700 people, if not a thousand.

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BarCamp quick review + Upcoming CyberChaikhana events
Written by , Tuesday, 19 Apr, 2011 – 1:00 | 3 Comments
Photograph by neweurasia's Tolkun

Photograph by neweurasia's Tolkun

Hi everyone, I’m writing just to give a quick review of this year’s BarCamp and to announce upcoming CyberChaikhana events. Regarding the first, it was a fantastic affair. The presentations this year were much more business-oriented than previous years, which I think was a good experience for a lot of the young students who were in attendance, as it gave them a taste of the professional world. As for the reception of neweurasia and CyberChaikhana, the response from the BarCampers was simply incredible. My hand was sore from the sheer number of autographs I was jotting down. One of the best moments came on Sunday, right after our presentation: a young girl came up to me and said that she had read the whole book in a single night! Myself and other members of the neweurasia team were interviewed by several news agencies in attendance, including Internews, Tengrinews and Global Voices Online.

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BarCamp + CyberChaikhana = good times to be had
Written by , Friday, 15 Apr, 2011 – 1:00 | No Comment
Almaty in the sunset. Photograph by Flickr user NZR (CC-usage).

Almaty in the sunset. Photograph by Flickr user NZR (CC-usage).

Well, it’s that time of year again — Central Asia BarCamp 2011! As always, neweurasia shall be well-represented, except this time we have a special treat: the presentation of our book, CyberChaikhana: Digital Conversations from Central Asia, which has been printed and the Russian edition of which, translated by our very own Andrey, we shall be passing out.

Afterward, the book production crew and I shall be touring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, giving presentations about the book. This is a big moment for neweurasia and for the Stanosphere, as it represents the culmination of two-and-some years’ work, not to mention the five+ years of the Central Asian blogging community’s gradual emergence.

Along those lines, personally-speaking, considering that this is my first book (“my” in an editorial sense), I take pride that it is not just another “expert” work, i.e., “Central Asia according to Christopher Schwartz”. Although my authorial voice is omnipresent, that voice is used to broadcast other voices, toward the goal of facilitating the further emergence of a community and its conversation. That’s good for the soul, you know?

There shall be a larger publicity drive for the book after our trip. I can’t share the details just yet. Nevertheless, stay tuned to neweurasia for updates.

Also, if you’re interested, here’s a tally of reviews about CyberChaikhana so far:

CyberChaikhana’s gender chapter: Daughters of Ambiguity
Written by , Wednesday, 27 Oct, 2010 – 18:49 | 3 Comments
Excerpt from a photograph by Flickr user jaxxon (CC-usage).

Excerpt from a photograph by Flickr user jaxxon (CC-usage).

Here it is, the long awaited final chapter of CyberChaikhana. We may yet still decide to include a “capstone” semi-chapter, but at present we’re inclined to let the existing ten chapters, plus introduction, conclusion, and a final reflection and series of acknowledgements by Ben, stand for themselves.

So, what you’re about to read is the gender chapter. This was always a difficult chapter to write, for several reasons. To begin with, very early on we realized that it would end up not really about gender per se, but about women. Gender is, of course, something far larger than the traditional dimorphism between the sexes. We initially hoped to have the chapter embrace the full range of topics, from homosexuality to transexualism. However, this proved too vast for a single chapter to tackle.

Secondly, once we focused upon women, we were faced with a new problem: what could we say that hadn’t been said before? At first glance, the available material seemed to say nothing particularly unexpected, namely, that the gains made by Communism were now receding in many quarters under the assault of poverty and traditionalism. And you’ll notice that the first half of the chapter does indeed discuss this phenomenon, precisely because it is real.

However, that story was not only unoriginal, but insufficient for a full chapter, so closer examination was needed, and what was found was indeed something more interesting: that ultimately, beyond poverty and traditionalism, is a deeper, more profound, and more complex problem of power and privilege, symbolism, and political-social systems.

There are three key metaphorical figures in this chapter: Roza Otunbayeva and the Daughters Karimov. These women, in my opinion, manifest the contradictions, possibilities, and limits of women in contemporary Central Asia. Indeed, it is after Lola and Gulnara that the chapter is titled, “Daughters of Ambiguity” (also intended to capture the general sense of women everywhere as daughters). I wanted to show that a simple feministic criticism of the region will not work, and as you’ll see, the chapter quite purposefully ends on an absurdist note in the attempt to prove this point.

A final note before proceeding: along the way, I was able to at least find posts with allusions to the broader gender issues, including male identity, as well as other matrices with which gender issues overlap, for example, HIV/AIDS. Hence, although I consider this chapter to be flawed in several respects, I nevertheless consider it an important one, because it succeeds in highlighting a central theme that runs through the entire book: if you truly want to understand Central Asia today, you need to look beyond euphemisms like “post-Soviet” and the established narratives, and look at the way in which systems, history, and life interact. You need a microscope and a macroscope, and most of all, an open mind.

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CyberChaikhana’s education chapter: “Got Spellcheck, Will Work for Food”
Written by , Friday, 24 Sep, 2010 – 5:00 | 3 Comments

As with three other previous rough drafts, what you’re about to read is an edited re-release, this time of the education chapter. Incidentally, this was the very first chapter rough draft ever released, way back in mid-2008, when the project began. From this point forward, there is only one chapter remaining to be written and released, the one regarding gender, which hopefully I’ll complete this weekend with Ben up in the Hague. That means CyberChaikhana will, as promised from the beginning, have ten chapters.

Ben and I explored many ideas for potential cross-regional/thematic chapters, from the environment to sports. If sales of the first edition go well, we may consider expanding future editions (“CyberChaikhana v. 2.0“) to include more of these thematic chapters — but no promises! As those closest to the project can attest, putting together chapters for this book was always a fun but very arduous process, often entailing months of archival research, many read-overs, and lots of debate. Of course, it didn’t help that I was bouncing between so many countries, either… ;-)

Anyway, in our estimation, the education chapter has always been nearly pitch-perfect in terms of narrative and content, covering quite an expansive topic in almost its totality. That means you won’t find a whole lot different herein from its previous iteration; primarily, the new edition includes more material from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The ending remains a tad bit anti-climatic, but I think we’ll stick with it, because the example it provides is still a good way to cap the chapter.

By the way, we owe the chapter’s title and iconic image to KZblog (see: his post below and the link to the original version). Cheers, mate! :-D

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CyberChaikhana’s media chapter: “When the pen runs dry”
Written by , Wednesday, 22 Sep, 2010 – 5:00 | No Comment
Photograph by Flickr user Swiv (CC-usage).

Photograph by Flickr user Swiv (CC-usage).

The remaining two rough drafts to be released this week are, like the Turkmenistan and Tajikistan chapters of last week, re-releases. In other words, you’ve seen these rough drafts before, but in a far less developed state than now.  Today we’re running the media chapter, previously revealed under the same title in October 2009. The big difference in this re-release is the depth to which it explores its theme, namely, the problems facing independent media in the region. Among other things, the updated draft incorporates much of Alpharabius’ remarkable coverage of the lawsuit crisis in Tajikistan, the news of which broke in the first half of this year.

From an editorial perspective, this chapter was a controversial one. For one, there was a debate between Ben and I as to whether a chapter with this topic should even be included in CyberChaikhana. Ben was concerned that it would be too introspective and unoriginal — what could we possible say about the crummy media situation in Central Asia that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? I felt that it was too necessary to omit — the longevity of some of the region’s regimes is unintelligible without explaining how the media works, or for that matter, doesn’t work. In the end we compromised, agreeing to leaven some of the inevitable problems of this chapter with content as dynamic and multifaceted as possible.

For another, this chapter contains both a post explicitly written by me and a post-series which was commissioned by the project. The post by me, “The Stars Our Destination?”, was part of Annasoltan’s initial series about the Turkmenet, and it’s a bit hyperbolic, as I’m wont to do in my own writing. Since I’m already writing the book, it risks seeming self-indulgent to include one of my own posts. Yet, I ultimately decided that it was the only post best fitted for the development of the chapter. I’d like to hear everyone else’s thoughts, though.

As to the the post-series, “The Unreality of Journalism”, this was written by Musafirbek Ozod, was commissioned by me in order to plug a gap in coverage about media in Uzbekistan, one which Musafirbek and I knew existed but which we hadn’t yet seen explicitly blogged about. His own experience as a journalism student and cub reporter in the country was key to making the series the success that it became. Unlike my post — the inclusion of which is, perhaps, still debatable — these posts are absolutely essential to the chapter, as well as to the Uzbekistan chapter.

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