Language is the key to national self-determination

A chitgari printing block.  Image by Flickr user Anne Laure PY (CC-usage).
A chitgari printing block. Image by Flickr user Anne Laure PY (CC-usage).

Editor’s note: neweurasia’s Botur Kosimi comments on a recent bill in the Tajikistan parliament that concerns the status and role of the Tajik language in the nation.  This is a cross-post and translation from his personal blog (TAJ).

Recently a proposal of a new law to enhance the status and role of Tajik language has been submitted by the government to the Majlis which became a hot topic for discussions. Our friends Dariua Rajabian and Salimjon Ayobzod have expressed their views about this and other legal measures that have been undertaken in the past concerning the official language of our country. We were happy and thankful to read them as always.

Although, I have not had a chance to thoroughly acquaint myself with this new draft of law and in spite of many flaws and unclear aspects in the text of the draft that fortunately Darius has revealed for us, I believe it is still a step forward. If the attempt of government is sincere and patriotic it can be a useful and significant deed, but if this is another game of politics related to visit of Russian leader and somehow to negotiate a bargain, it will certainly further ruin the trust and reputation of current government.

Obviously, in the country where 80% of population speak one language there should be no need to have another language to carry out jobs, duties and official communication. For example, in US, France, Japan and majority of countries worldwide there is one language designated as official or state language which every citizen is obligated to learn and use. It is English or French that is expected to be spoken in all major events including people of various ethnicities. So, anyone who had contributed to accepting the law on Tajik language some 20 years ago, made a big mistake and showed a great disrespect to their own language and identity.

In fact, the language is a main determinant of every nation’s existence and future prospects. Also, it is a basis for national unity, because if the standard language of the state is brought closer to the language that ordinary people speak in different regions of its territory it will enhance sense of national unity among them. Therefore, I believe that teachings in all educational institutions of the state should be conducted in state/official language.

People who study and get education in other languages will have much difficulty getting absorbed and involved in their society, so they will feel isolated and unequal members of the communities they live in. All conditions should be made available so that every citizen first learns and knows the state/national language and then they are free to choose whichever language they want to pursue for their own needs and goals.

If the language of communication between people of different ethnicities in formal settings is not the official state language itself than problems will inevitably arise for the status of national/official language. For instance, Russian speaker in Tajikistan will never have incentive to learn Tajik language, because he will rather use Russian when communicating with people of different ethnicity rather than using official language. That’s the fine line contradiction, but it can play a significant role.

When the role of language as guarantor of nation’s existence is provided, we will need to try to maintain its growth so that it keeps up with pace of modern world developments. This part of problem is harder to address, but not less important. Since promoting Tajik language in separation from other major Persian dialects, Farsi in Iran and Dari in Afghanistan, will not be right or easy anyways, we should try to cooperate more with these two brotherly nations in order to keep our common language enriched, strengthened and updated. Though we have not yet decided to change back to our Persian/Farsi writing script. This will be one of the main ways to save our Tajik language from degraded and disadvantaged condition it is nowadays. Hopefully, this new law will have a section that will envision protecting the status of Tajik language in Uzbekistan and Pashtun-dominated Afghanistan.

Lastly, for anyone who thinks that the issue of language is not a priority in paving the way out from the current desperate situation the country is in right now, I can say that until we learn and master our language we will not be able ever to stand up, ask, and demand for our rights and choices in a civilized, organized, and effective manner.

18 Comments

  1. Thank you Botur. Although I think that Russian is to stay influential in Tajikistan (for ex. labour migration) and the rest of Eurasia like English does in India and Pakistan, there is definitely ground and need to strenghten Tajik-Farsi. If it is to do that, however, I think it inevitably has to revert to the Farsi-Arabic script because only as a part of a wider Farsi sphere it can gain a strong position. In its present form, ‘Tajik’ can not be called a language really, but rather a castrated, sovietized form of Farsi (just like ‘Moldovan’ used to be a sovietised form of Romanian at the time).

  2. Your argument is understandable, but the issue is whether the Tajik government is truly being sincere in its behaviour. There is every reason to believe that Rakhmon is simply acting out of spite toward Moscow.

    “In US, France, Japan and majority of countries worldwide there is one language designated as official or state language which every citizen is obligated to learn and use.”

    This argument, which copies the official line essentially verbatim, is misleading, misguided and probably wrong. In fact, many countries with some kind of colonial history tend in general to pursue a bilingual official language policy. The reasons for this are multiple and sound, while there is absolutely nothing about it that inherently undermines the native language.
    The brutal fact of the matter is that by marginalizing Russian (and this is happening, regardless of the government’s feeble protests), the country alienates itself from the wider world and shuts out a large section of the population, much of it highly skilled and well-educated, from public discourse. And that, worryingly, may be part of the aim.
    The evaluation and increased sophistication of the Tajik language is a process that can very happily develop alongside continued adherence to Russian.

  3. “This argument, which copies the official line essentially verbatim, is misleading, misguided and probably wrong. In fact, many countries with some kind of colonial history tend in general to pursue a bilingual official language policy.”

    I agree. There is no reason why there can not be bilingualism and why the former colonial language and a revamped native national langauge can not co-exist in some way, either symbiotic or in constant competition. Examples include Urdu and English in Pakistan and Bahasa and English in Malaysia. The thing is to chose a policy regarding the native national language and be consequent in it.

  4. Look, there are more than one and a half million Tajiks in Russia, but Russia does not give any status to Tajik language or any other language. Why should they claim a status for Russian in Tajikistan while only one percent of Tajikistan is Russian.

    Their position definitely shows a colonialist mindset. Such colonialist approach is not acceptable. Russian should accept that the world is no more the one of Soviet times and nationas are independent enough to decide about their language and their internal affairs.

    take care,
    Faramarz

    • Faramarz, there are about 1.8 million people of Indian and Pakistani origin in the UK where Hindi, Urdu or regional Indian languages are not official either, and only about 70.000 British in India and Pakistan where English does has official status.

      This being said, Russian does not has to be official in Tajikistan. Yet it will remain influent and should be teached is schools as well for the reasons already stated: economic geography and as a link to technical and scientific knowlegde. Let it be clear that I am personally strongly in favor of strengthening and promoting Farsi-Tajik. But then it has to get its act together, shed its sovietised version and return to the Farsi-Arabic script so that it can be part of the wider Farsi language sphere.

  5. Thank you all for comments.

    Turgai: No country needs to promote extensive unskilled labor migration such as happening in Tajikistan and Moldova. This process is more beneficial for labor receiving country, but in fact makes the sending country economically dependent, politically vulnerable, and culturally degraded. So, such labor migration should be gradually reduced as well as the role of Russian in Tajikistan and other former SU states. The point is that government has to help create jobs in the country and let population produce goods and wealth they need at home, not force them work abroad and import everything.

    Turgai: Tajikistan is not the same as India or Pakistan. We were and are part of a strong Persian-speaking language and culture that has been thriving and influencing other cultures and languages significantly for over thousand years. So, Russian is not more advanced than Persian (Tajik) as English is or was compared to scattered group of languages grouped under Hindi. So, it should be understandable why they needed to have English as another official language.

    Turgai: You’re right that present Tajik will have to be returned to its original script, so it can grow back to its Persian roots in order to prosper as a slight dialect of strong Farsi language as in times of Rudaki, Firdavsi, Sino, Farabi, Khayam, Saadi, and Saadi. Hopefully, we will make this happen in near future.

    Ekspeditsiya: The main issue here is not whether the Tajik government is truly being sincere in its behavior. It is about providing the official national language due respect and control in all state and official affairs in the country where there’s need only for one language, Tajik. Countries as current-day Afghanistan can have 2 state languages because of almost 50/50 percent Dari or Pashtun speaking population. Tajiks constitute 80% of country’s population and Russian speakers are mere 1%. That’s it.

    Eskpeditsiya: Whatever I said are my own words, not copies of any official statements. It is not misleading nor wrong, but completely fair that any sovereign and respectful nation, constituting 2/3 of country’s population, can have one language designated as official or state language which every citizen is obligated to learn and use. Not all countries which have been previously occupied by another need to follow the same example. Each is different and with its own pretext and arguments. It is clearly explained in the post how a foreign language if given power to serve as a mean of communication between different nationalities, can actually reduce sphere of influence of the official language and cause various social problems with integration and enhancing national unity in Tajikistan.

    Eskpeditsiya: We all need to master our own language first before we start learning another one. That’s the old, time-proven saying we have in Tajik. Empowering official state language with what it deserves will be useful in improving population’s knowledge of it, regardless of ethnicity. Getting rid of Russian will not negatively affect Tajikistan or alienate it as fortunately, there are strong languages out there such as our own Farsi, English, French, German, Japanese that our people can and should learn and thus, gain access to wider world science, achievements, and progress.

    Ekspedistiya: Tajik cannot maintain growth and richness with a completely different language and culture of Russian alongside, but rather as part of larger Persian-language world.

    And thank you, Faramarz for your valuable points. God bless you all.

    • Botur, just one thing. I know that Tajikistan and India/Pakistan are very different in terms of mentality and society. Yet the mechanisms that determine the influence of the former colonial culture and their present-day relationship to the former colonial centre are similar.

  6. What colonial culture, what mindset? The countries that you are refering to; Britain, France, etc… were colonial empires who came to lands not their own and established their rule through a process of favouring various minority ethnicities, aristocracies and other small groups of people; that enabled imperial rule to flourish and for the native population to be exploited.

    Tajikistan and Russia were both part of the same state, the USSR – Soviet citizens in Dushanbe or Leninabad were treated no differently to Soviet citizens in Moscow or Leningrad. Perhaps if the USSR denied Tajiks the healthcare, education, housing, security, employment, etc… that it gave to the Russians, or otherwise reserved those privelages only for a select few that it installed or supported to govern the others, than you guys might have a point.

    I am Russian, and I don’t understand why some people here are pushing crusade against the Russian language and culture. It’s one thing, to want your native language to establish itself at home and abroad. It’s quite another to want to ‘throw out’ the Russian language and everything that’s associated with it, only to ‘replace’ its role with another European language or Japanese, neither of which have any history in Tajikistan. There can be no possible motive for this, other than blind nationalism and hatred towards both modern Russia and its legacy in Tajikistan. I care little for such petty nationalists, you people ripped the USSR apart and have achieved absolutely nothing since then – only sinking your own republics deeper and deeper into poverty.

    In my view its good that the Russian language is widespread in Tajikistan – it binds our peoples together, which I believe is important as we shared the Soviet experiance, WW2 and many other legacies. I of course fully understand, that Tajikistan is an independent country, wants to develop its own language, etc… but to be honest this issue is not so urgent, as for perhaps a country such as Kazakhstan or some internal Russian republics which are suffering from this problem. This is because Tajikistan has one of the lowest Russian language proficiency levels among its population anyway, from among the ex-USSR states. It’s a poor country and as such has a large rural population; who naturally are mostly only fluent in Tajik anyway. Russian may be evident on the streets of Dushanbe, but as much as for example in Almaty or Tashkent I’d argue. If anything, I think Russian should be promoted more than it is now – it will speed up the modernisation of the country, integrate it more tightly into the CIS social sphere and institutions, help education, and will enable more business, etc… to flourish. Such a process, if applied carefully and with due respect to the native Tajik language, will lead to as a good knowledge of both Russian and Tajik, much like Armenians are highly proficient in Russian while masters of their own, or Scandinavians speaking excellent English while hardly ‘loosing’ their own languages.

    • Max:

      I don’t know whether you aimed at me or in general, yet two things from my side…

      First, as obvious from the above I also believe that revitalised Farsi and Russian can, and will have to, coexist in Tajikistan.

      Second, the USSR, grafted as it was on imperial Russia, was indeed an unusual colonial empire as compared to that of the ‘classical’ European colonial powers: the centralised Socialist plan economy, the Communist Party, and colonies that were geographically continuous to the ‘motherland’ instead of being overseas. But it was structurally a colonial empire.

      That does not exclude that it brought progress in a number of fields indeed: literacy, infrastructure, … Other colonial empires did that as well, e.g. on the eve of independence, Belgian Congo had good road and railway infrastructure and a health care and primary education network for the native population all of which have been squandered and destroyed in the meantime.

      Yet to come back on the case of the USSR, one can not deny that it brought complete disaster in other fields: colossal environmental destruction; the elimination of native intelligenstia during the Great Terror; and especially the creation of rapacious compradore classes that did not only undermined the very USSR that created them but which still holds sway in several Southern Eurasian countries.

      • @Turgai Sangar,

        It does not matter who is aimed at or not in discussion. If you have a point, you can share and you did which I am grateful to you for. Your position is clear and I agree with most, but not all of it, obviously.

        We can argue whether it was a colony, an alliance, an invasion or something else, but the importance is not in that. It is about the fact that language is the key to national self-determination and as we say in Tajik “Zabon hastii millat ast” (Language is a proof of nation’s existance). So, supporting Tajik, protecting and strengthening it as well as integrating more with other Persian dialects, is a major issue for us in developing a strong country with prosperous people.

        Best regards.

    • @Max Kalininskij,

      The point in this discussion should be clear to anyone that Tajikistan will inevitably further minimize the influence of Russian language and Soviet heritage and cultivate more on its national values, ideas, and connections with its brotherly Persian speaking nations in its path to becoming more developed country and a stronger nation. Just want to shortly address a few issues raised here earlier.

      First, I specifically pointed out that Tajikistan with USSR can not be compared as Britain with India or Spain with its South American colonies for that matter. Tajiks are part of major cultural and linguistic world of Persian-speaking nations which had been greatly influencing and dominating other cultures such as Turks, Arabs, Hindus, Georgians, Armenians and etc. for over thousand years. Therefore, with deepening self identification as Persian-speaking nation we cannot have Russian or any other language besides our own to play a role in our governing and state building process.

      As for Russians, it is clear that they came to the region to control our country and resources, and later, spread out the faulty ideas of communism borrowed from German philosophers Marx and Engels to our minds and lives, so they will be viewed as occupiers and destroyers of national languages, ideas and heritage of different peoples that were eventually forced into USSR.

      Although, there were some technological and scientific improvements brought to present-day Tajikistan during the Soviet times, the harm that they caused to the language, traditions, culture, and self-respect of our nation cannot be weigh on the same scale and so, 70 years of communism is much greater loss than gain for us in terms of strengthening our national identity and consciousness. And there should be no illusions about being treated differently at times even during the Soviets for people who knew little Russian and were of darker skin color.

      If you’re Russian you won’t understand the point here as you have admitted correctly. You would understand it some 400 years ago if you personally wanted to get rid of Tatar-Mongol influence at that time. The talk is about revival and strengthening of national language and cultural values as a primary requirement for unity, growth, and prosperity of any nation. It is far any contemplations of replacing one foreign language influence with another. May God forbid!

      The fall of Soviets was a natural ending for such a faulty system. It is not because of nationalists, but because of contradictions with human nature and behaviors that their system collapsed and even if you’ve wished thousands times such a state would not economically and politically last for long.

      You may care about yourself and your nation, but Tajiks care about their homeland and the future of our people. There’s nothing bad about it and every nation should pursue its own national interests with humanistic approach and universally accepted means. Not by illegally intruding to territory of another small country like Georgia with unjustified reasons or threatening with cutting natural resource supplies to other neighbors like Ukraine, Belarus, and Baltic states for their desires to be more aligned with developed, democratic region and its people.

      It’s exactly the Soviet minded and Russian oriented fools that we have in the country who are ruining it right now and because they have lost sense of self-determination, national values and pride during the Soviets that they have been incapable of understanding core values and principles of building a strong and powerful state as our ancestors have done.

      You may have your own views, but Tajik is the only language that should and will be there to bind the population in our country. For communication with other outside nations it is much effective and efficient to gradually shift into English as the rest of the world as the accepted primary lingua franca. We do not certainly need Russian to serve as intermediary from English and other major languages in gaining access to modern knowledge and achievements in business, technology, science, art, and other spheres. You should realize by now that we as Tajiks certainly know better than Russians or others what is an urgent and important issue for our nation and what is not.

      Soviet experience and integration with a bogus organization of CIS is very insignificant compared to our common roots, history, language, and culture with other Persian-speaking nations and the importance of further integration with people of Iran and Afghanistan as well as more direct and intensive partnership with the developed nations in the West and East. Only in this scenario we Tajiks will be able to create a strong, dynamic, developed and democratic country or confederation of Persian speaking countries that will enable us better represent and lead our interests in international arena as a respectable power.

      On the final note I can say that each nation has its own unique path and Tajiks will decide for themselves how to best help their language and state governing matters, despite long, fruitless discussions we may have here and which I won’t like to go on. Personally, I envision that role of Russia and its language will continue to diminish and shrink due to various factors, but most of all because of lack of long-term vision of its elite, improper handling of ethnic minorities, and some underlying cultural aspects of its people. Nothing to be worried about, it’s just how things supposed to turn out in about 50 years from now.

      My last sentence on the post tells exactly why we need emphasis on protecting and upbringing our language right now: “Lastly, for anyone who thinks that the issue of language is not a priority in paving the way out from the current desperate situation the country is in right now, I can say that until we learn and master our language we will not be able ever to stand up, ask, and demand for our rights and choices in a civilized, organized, and effective manner.”

      • @Botur Kosimi,

        Botur,

        I was anticipating a well-thought out reply from you but got only nonsense in return. Please leave your chauvinism at the door and use your common sense, instead of reverting to the same tired old drivel about Russians and our supposed ‘cultural aspects’. Not that I would expect any different from a Western-funded NGO website such as this one.

        You accuse Russians of racism towards people of ‘darker skin colour’, but have spent the whole of your post of proving that you are the true racist here. I would be surprised if you even speak Russian, or have any knowledge of my people or my country; and with such an attitude as yours it would certainly be of no suprise to me that Russians don’t like you much.

        Now to address the individual points in your post, one at a time; let’s examine how true they really are.

        I would rather define a nation/people, not so much by their language, as by how Berdyev put it:

        “Наиболее правы те, которые определяют нацию как единство исторической судбы. Сознание этого единства и есть национальное сознание”

        What this means is that actually, a people are defined by their perception of a common fate with each other. And a common fate, is created by putting people in the same situation and with the same problems. History has deemed that Tajikistan is now a seperate and independent country, with its own unique set of circumstances and challenges. This binds the people of it together. Therefore don’t worry, the Tajik people are going to be around for a while yet, as is the language, not that it was in any danger of disappearing either then or now.

        Sure Tajik deserves a central role, I’m not going to argue. But in this globalised world a secound-language can’t do any harm. That you view Russian as such a threat, which must be thrown out of the country by all means and replaced with ‘Japanese’ (contrary to your later claims that Tajik must be the exclusive language), does speak volumes to the power of the Russian-speaking world which you seek to deny has any attractivness whatsover.

        ‘Although, there were some technological and scientific improvements brought to present-day Tajikistan during the Soviet times, the harm that they caused to the language, traditions, culture, and self-respect of our nation cannot be weigh on the same scale and so, 70 years of communism is much greater loss than gain for us in terms of strengthening our national identity and consciousness.’

        Please elaborate; self-respect? Your language – what would you rather have, a Persian alphabet which 1-2% of your population can read, or a Cyrllic alphabet which 98-99% of your population can read. The former was the situation before the Bolsheviks took power, and I would argue that the Tajik culture is on a far greater level now that everyone knows the written language, than before when only a tiny cadre of people could participate in intellectual development. It’s good that you have such a love for your people and your Iranian brothers, but perhaps instead of focusing on the purely superficial and aesthetic parts of your nations development, you can listen to the concerns and needs of your people, and advocate a pragmatic course instead for your country. A romanitisist view of pan-Iraniasm may sound good to your message board buddies, but really it puts you on the same level as the pan-Turkic movement, and the pan-Slavic movement which Russia tried to promote 150 years ago and achieved very little with. Imagine a world where everyone would be divided by their ethnicity, or their religion, rather than by their beliefs. I would rather not.

        ‘If you’re Russian you won’t understand the point here as you have admitted correctly. You would understand it some 400 years ago if you personally wanted to get rid of Tatar-Mongol influence at that time. The talk is about revival and strengthening of national language and cultural values as a primary requirement for unity, growth, and prosperity of any nation. It is far any contemplations of replacing one foreign language influence with another. May God forbid!’

        We got rid of the Tatar-Mongol yoke far longer than 400 years ago. Mainly, our princes rose against it because they got tired of the tribute that was expected from them. Russia is not exacting tribute from Tajikistan, and for most of the last 80 years was subsidising its development.

        ‘The fall of Soviets was a natural ending for such a faulty system. It is not because of nationalists, but because of contradictions with human nature and behaviors that their system collapsed and even if you’ve wished thousands times such a state would not economically and politically last for long.’

        The contradiction with human nature is a myth. It doesn’t contradict with my human nature. Perhaps with those of others, I’m sure. I agree however, that it’s time had come; the nationalist uprisings were the symptom and not the cause; the USSR failed to modernise its economy sufficiently during the 70’s and when gas and oil prices fell in the 80’s the curtains started to close.

        ‘You may care about yourself and your nation, but Tajiks care about their homeland and the future of our people. There’s nothing bad about it and every nation should pursue its own national interests with humanistic approach and universally accepted means. Not by illegally intruding to territory of another small country like Georgia with unjustified reasons or threatening with cutting natural resource supplies to other neighbors like Ukraine, Belarus, and Baltic states for their desires to be more aligned with developed, democratic region and its people.’

        Why do you insist on writing this dogma and rubbish in a serious conversation? You and other ‘fighters for democracy’ are beggining to sound like the very Soviet apparatchiks that you so despise; repeating the same thing over and over again regardless of whether anyone is listening or not. You sound like an intelligent man, and I’m sure that if you take a balanced view on things, you can see that the Georgian war didn’t start and end with Russia ‘illegally intruding on its territory’ and that the trouble with national resources in Eastern Europe is more a business dispute with a political charge than the other way round. The fact that you mention this stuff does not lend to a balanced conversation; it only makes me think that you are a rabid nationalist with a bone to pick against Russia.

        ‘It’s exactly the Soviet minded and Russian oriented fools that we have in the country who are ruining it right now and because they have lost sense of self-determination, national values and pride during the Soviets that they have been incapable of understanding core values and principles of building a strong and powerful state as our ancestors have done.’

        It’s exactly the sell-outs to the Western world that would ruin and corrupt your country and its culture more than you could ever imagine.

        ‘You may have your own views, but Tajik is the only language that should and will be there to bind the population in our country. For communication with other outside nations it is much effective and efficient to gradually shift into English as the rest of the world as the accepted primary lingua franca. We do not certainly need Russian to serve as intermediary from English and other major languages in gaining access to modern knowledge and achievements in business, technology, science, art, and other spheres. You should realize by now that we as Tajiks certainly know better than Russians or others what is an urgent and important issue for our nation and what is not.’

        Of course not, but you do need Russian to get gain access to the modern knowledge and achievements in Russian-language business, technology, science, art and other spheres. Yes it’s not as big as the Western equivelent, but it’s probably 2nd place or so owing to the fact that the USSR was after all a superpower and everything. Either way, knowing Russian couldn’t hurt; I really don’t see why you think Tajiks would be better off without it. Surely, the more languages the better?

        ‘Soviet experience and integration with a bogus organization of CIS is very insignificant compared to our common roots, history, language, and culture with other Persian-speaking nations and the importance of further integration with people of Iran and Afghanistan as well as more direct and intensive partnership with the developed nations in the West and East. Only in this scenario we Tajiks will be able to create a strong, dynamic, developed and democratic country or confederation of Persian speaking countries that will enable us better represent and lead our interests in international arena as a respectable power.’

        Tajikistan needs a pragmatic policy. What you are advocating is an alliance with everyone BUT Russia, and I don’t know why. I think many Tajiks would disagree with you, especially the multitudes of them that are earning money and supporting their families, purely by working in Russia. I agree that it’s not an ideal situation, but nontheless it’s the reality, and it’s not our (Russians) fault – you have nothing to be bitter about against us. Your confederation of Persian speaking countries doesn’t exist yet. When/If it does, perhaps it will become a viable alternative for development. For now though, don’t screw over your own people with fairytales and make believe, be rational and reason about what’s best for them. If Russia is where there are perspectives for development, than be friends with Russia. With Russia, we have a lot of legacies and ties; the Slavic-speaking world, the Orthodox world and the Commie/Former Commie world. And we value our ties as much as with our comrades in Cuba and Vietnam, as with our brothers in Slovakia. We have plenty of ties with both, what we developed in the last 80 years can only aid us, it can never hurt us – we have made friends in parts of the world, that our former ethnic and religious perspectives could never have introduced us to. And guess what – we are only the stronger because of it, not weaker.

  7. Hello Turgai,

    My comment was directed principally towards Botur and Faramarz, rather than yourself. I find myself in more agreement with your posts than with those of your counterparts, but having said that, I will have to disagree with your assessment of the USSR as being a colonial empire.

    That the USSR was a centralised state encompassing many ethnically diverse territories, all answerable to their own power structures, who in turn were all ultimately controlled by a communist elite in Moscow, is not so much evidence of the USSR being colonial, as it is evidence of the USSR being an empire. Similarly, the decimation of national elites and intelligencia during Stalin’s and Lenin’s time, is also not evidence of a colonial structure, but rather evidence of an ideological dictatorship; being as it was that proportionaly just as many Russian writers, clergy, proffesors, officers, etc… were killed and imprisoned as their Uzbek, Tajik, Lithuanian, etc… counterparts.

    I also cannot agree with the logic that the USSR was a colonial empire because it was in any way ‘grafted onto’ the old Tsarist empire. The USSR was based on the territory of the former Russian empire; but that, along with the Russian language, was about all that it had in common with it. The Bolsheviks spared no effort to dissasociate and seperate the new regime from the old one in every way possible. That included binning all former treaties, obligations, policies, loans, documents relating to the Tsarist regime. All the state structures, organs, etc… were demolished and rebuilt from scratch with completely new people in charge. The ethnic component of the ruling elite changed – what had been before a wide array of Russian, Baltic German, French, Muslim, etc… aristocrats and nobles in charge of governing the Russian imperial territories, were replaced with zealous Russian, Ukrainian, Jewish, Latvian, Polish, Georgian, etc… communists. At the start of Bolshevik rule, there was a huge percentage of ‘repressed minorities’ present among the people who seized power; hardly the hallmark of a colonial state.

    If you are to describe the USSR as a colonial empire, than it has to be asked – who did it colonise, and who did it colonise with? In both cases the answer is not clear cut – although process that can be compared to colonisation and favourment of certain ethnic groups did take place in the USSR – the trouble is that in different territories it took place with different peoples; sometimes even the same ethnic group was favoured as being more loyal to socialism in one area, and was less trusted in another region. A good example would be ethnic Russians, who were encouraged to move to the Baltic states in order to work on the increasing industrial development there. They weren’t favoured as such, but outside of the large cities, they lived in largely seperate settlements, villages, etc… a source of a great many problems today in the Baltic states, whose native populations regard the ethnic Russians as colonisers. In comparison, in the Checheno-Ingush ASSR, the ethnic Russian population which until the 60’s made up the large majority of the population of Grozny and Northern Chechnya, was largely descended from the Terek Cossacks, and was always suspected of harbouring anti-communist sympathies. In this republic, it was the Chechens which began to be favoured after Krushchev allowed them to return to their native lands following their exile by Stalin, and gradually after a series of ethnic Russian riots and uprisings in the 50’s, the Russian population began to leave Chechnya and steadily drop in proportion to the Chechens, who by the 80’s had the majority of political power in the republic. Abkhazia, origionally a seperate republic of the USSR all of its own, was attached to the Georgian SSR, and there it was the Georgians, who in the eyes of the native population were colonising them. Georgians made up a plurality of the population of Abkhazia, yet not a majority, and there were a number of disturbances caused by the political status of this territory, culminating in the war of the 90’s.

    Contrast this to the policies of the European colonial powers, who despite favouring different minority ethnicities and groups in the regions they colonised, were consistent in the policies, benefits and colonisation oppurtunities they gave to their own European constituent populations. In the USSR, which people, etc… were trusted in which region was largely decided on the basis of how loyal they were perceived as being towards Socialism and the Soviet state, and little else – i.e. again evidence of an ideological rather than colonial structure. There were no policies favouring Slavic, or another other colonialism or settlement as such.

    In fact, the former Russian Imperial territories, were divided into 15 republics as I’m sure everyone well knows, which represented the 15 main ethnicities/national groups of the USSR. There national groups in turn, had under their wing numerous smaller peoples, who were represented by autonomous regions, and sometimes by nothing at all. Often in order to appease one group – another felt discrimination. Pridnestroive, long settled by ethnic Slavs, became part of Moldova. The Crimea, with an ethnic Russian majority, became part of the Ukraine. Many North Caucasian republics, were combined by Stalin, and made part of Russia. It was a whole mixed pot of different policies and structures – designed not to colonise regions, but rather to accomplish one goal – keep the USSR together, and further the aims of its ruling communist elite – build socialism.

  8. Thanks Max! Yes, like I said, the USSR was a peculiar colonial empire with definitely unique characteristics but I think one can not deny a number of fundamental factors made it one anyway. Not that it was all bad. No. It’s a mixed bag.

    One characteristic of a colonial empire that was certainly there, I think, were the sheer centre-periphery relations: the economies of the southern peripheral republics (with the exception of Georgia wit its diverse agriculture and high living standard and North Kazkahstan with its defense and machine industry) were focused on the production of one or two raw materials (e.g. cotton in Turkestan and later the Uzbek, Tajik and Turkmen SSR) which were treated in the industrial centres in the USSR’s core (Western Russia, Belarus and the Ukrainian industrial basins that is) while most finished goods and indeed most economic and political cadres (at least in key positions) went from the centre to the periphery.

    Another factor is that of the creation of native compradore elites during the korenizatsiya process in the 60s and 70s (also earlier but the process gained impetus during that time). To various extents, this happened also in the various European colonies.

    “in the Checheno-Ingush ASSR, the ethnic Russian population which until the 60’s made up the large majority of the population of Grozny and Northern Chechnya, was largely descended from the Terek Cossacks”

    Wasn’t there a later wave of non-Cossack Russian settlement during the deportation years (1944-53)?

    Anyway, regarding the Russian population settlement (already ongoing in imperial Russia e.g. to the Terek basin, North Kazakhstan, Semirechie… ), here the European colonizers had different policies. For example, there were never more than 80,000 Belgians in the Belgian colonies on a total population of 13 million (0.6%). It was only for selected cadres, for an elite group. In contrast, there was a large French population settlement in Algeria: 800,000 on a pop. of a bit more than 10 million (ca. 8%).

    I agree that officially all peoples were equal in the USSR. Many European colonizers didn’t even bothered to pretend this and in some cases even enshrined discrimination in the law. But wasn’t it de facto a such, that ideologically, Sovietism had an element of Great Russian chauvinism that put Russia in the role of a big brother and assumed that most ‘Oriental’ subject peoples (in particular native Siberian peoples, Mongols and Muslims) were too backward to civilise themselves (cf. Belgian paternalism, French export of the Ideals of the Revolution, … )?

    “the trouble is that in different territories it took place with different peoples; sometimes even the same ethnic group was favored as being more loyal to socialism in one area, and was less trusted in another region. (…) In the USSR, which people, etc… were trusted in which region was largely decided on the basis of how loyal they were perceived as being towards Socialism and the Soviet state, and little else – i.e. again evidence of an ideological rather than colonial structure.”

    Hm, but you see, Max, you had a pretty similar mechanism or diversity in approaches in the European colonies too. With only one difference, that the desired or expected loyalty was for the British or Belgian crown, to the French republic or considered ‘receptive to European civilization’-not Socialism. A regular pattern in European colonies was to favor ‘more reliable’ local Christian communities (e.g. in the French Sahel colonies) or certain local ethnic-racial groups that were considered superior to others (e.g. Hamito-Semitic peoples in Rwanda which the Belgians considered superior to the Bantu populations). In British India, they had parts that were left as internally autonomous princely states or tribal frontier provinces (about 40% of the colony), while other parts (about 60%) were annexed and put under the colonial administration in Delhi.

    • @Turgai Sangar,

      Turgai,

      My concept of a ‘colonial empire’, aside from that of colonisers and the colonised, is also that of the ‘core territory’ so to speak, and the exploited territories. The exploited territories are relatively self-explanatory; foreign lands which have been brought under the rule of the empire, and from which more is taken and less is given back. That’s not to say that the colonised terrirories don’t benefit neccesserily; in India railroads and other infastructure were developed, that probably wouldn’t have been in that time period were it not for the British. However the pure fact of the matter is that the colonies are exploited and that their own resources ultimately end up benefiting the home territories more than them. Of course in real life, the people of the core territories were exploited as well; Britain managed the achievement of ruling a 1/3rd of the world while oppressing its own English working class population as well. That’s capitalism for you.

      By the end of the USSR, the republics with the highest standards of living (albeit not neccesserily the most developed ones) were the Baltic States and the Southern Caucasian republics (Georgia and Armenia principally). Should we therefore take that to mean, that the Baltics and Caucausus were colonising the rest of the USSR? No, that would be ridiculous. Keep in mind that it was also in the Baltic States and Georgia where the anti-Soviet and seperatist movements were among the strongest. In contrast, the republics with the lowest levels of development in Central Asia, had among the highest public approval of the USSR and its continued existence. According to the classic model of a colonial empire; the Central Asian republics were the poorest and least developed, therefore they were the ones that were being exploited the most – yet I have never heard of an exploited colony that actually wanted to remain part of the empire which was oppressing it. The answer to that riddle, is that people were and still are largely pragmatic – the Central Asian republics benefited from the USSR and were subsidised by it, and there were few other alternatives to development and their people realised this.

      The poorest republic both then and now, is Moldova. It was the only republic to only be associated with one industry – wine. Yet nationalism was much higher there than in Central Asia. In this case it was because there was a different avenueof development – being as it is that Moldova is located in Europe, plus there are the historical controversies as well. Now about the centre-periphery relations – actually you can add another republic to your list of exceptions – Armenia had a diverse processing industry, including high-tech products I believe. I propose to you that the reason why the southern republics were not developed was not out of any motives of colonism or as a consenquence of Russian chauvinism. The USSR had a planned economy, and it was assumed that it would always stay together as one big country. Therefore it didn’t really matter – what industry was where, as long as all of its citizens could achieve the same sort of standard of living and oppurtunities; something that the USSR managed quite well. What republics focussed on what was decided based I believe on various factors, for example Azerbaijan had plenty of oil reserves which was needed to fuel the rest of the USSR, so that’s exactly the industry that was developed there, rather than trying to develop a diversified industrial production base that could be set up in a part of the USSR more appropriate. Such as for example the Ukraine, which not only had the most fertile land in the USSR and was therefore tasked with feeding the entire country, but also already had plenty of development, urban centres, educated people, etc… from Tsarist days, and also had plenty of coal reserves which were neccessery for heavy industry; and it made sense to develop heavy industry next to where the fuel source for it would be. Belarus, a fellow Slavic republic, didn’t actually have much of anything but swamps, and consenquently didn’t have that much industry developed in proportion to Russia and the Ukraine; it’s biggest claim to fame was the Minsk Tractor Factory. Compare that to Tajikistan and its Aluminium plant; not much difference.

      About the role of Russia as a big brother – understand that Russia was by the far the largest republic, of course due to its size and sheer diversity, it was bound to end up with the most diversified economy out of all the USSR countries. I have heard before, of the so called ‘fraternal’ relations between Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Together these 3 republics formed the vast majority of the USSR and its population. But really, what did they do together, besides jointly sign on the dotted line to end the USSR?

      If you compare the starting points of Russia/Ukraine/Belarus to lets say the Muslim republics from 1917 to 1991; you can see that the Slavs had a huge head start in the form of Tsarist development. It was of course true that 90% of the Russian population were illiterate peasents, but there were still huge metropolises such as St.Petersburg, Moscow, Vladivostok, Ekaterinburg, etc… together with intelligencia, education establishments, etc… Before 1917 the only Central Asian cities with such structures were in what became Uzbekistan. By 1991 these republics, while still behind, had caught up in these measures and had their own multi-ethnic cities with diverse economies, and were nearly equal in terms of things like literacy levels. Going back to Chechnya (can’t say how much immigration there was during those years), Grozny before it became the ‘bright star in the sky’ of international terrorism and banditry, was one of the most developed and beutiful cities in the North Caucasus. All people as individuals were more or less equal in the USSR; in that they were all citizens. As groups, some had it better than others, more education in their languages, etc… unfortunetly, such equality wasn’t perfected, but show me a country of 300+ different native ethnic groups that did and did it better than the USSR.

      About the creation of the ‘elites’. Well I don’t know the meaning of the word ‘compradore’ so I will have to give you a miss there. What I can tell you, is that the elites of all the ex-Soviet countries, were created in pretty much the same place, have the same background, etc… their political views are pretty similar too, if not neccesserily in terms of foreign policy, than definetly when it comes to how to run a country and its people. The people that have by now become the modern oligarchs, boyars, khans and sultans of the ex-USSR, are far from ideal, yet far better than nothing at all, and certainly preferable to the sort of Tribal or Religion-orientated elite present in places like Afghanistan and Iran respectively.

  9. Max says:
    “In my view its good that the Russian language is widespread in Tajikistan – it binds our peoples together, which I believe is important as we shared the Soviet experiance, WW2 and many other legacies.”

    The shared legacy you mentioned as a whole could not stand a simple comparison with Tajiks’ Persian legacy. No matter what your concerns are about, but unfortunately to Russians, their cultural influence in the region is waning away. And Tajiks will get back to the Perso-Arabic script and re-join their native Persian sphere.

    Botur, thanks for bringing up such an interesting topic.

    • @Daler,

      Well I think you should ask the Tajiks themselves; and by Tajiks I don’t mean the perfect-english speaking elite here but rather the common people. Unless I’m sorely mistaken Central Asians tend to be quite proud of their contribution to Soviet victory in WW2, and many view the ex-Soviet states as more or less different parts of the same society. I think that this recent history, however brief, does in fact compare quite favourably to the ancient persian links.

      I think that pro-Russian and pro-Iranian political views, are on about an equal footing in Tajikistan.

  10. Returning back to arabic script will leave generations of Tajik people illiterate! Believe it or not BUT there are STILL illiterate people in the capital Dushanbe; not mentioning regions. Why not establish Tajik language as national pride, No NEED to force people to respect Tojiki, but motivate people to learn it.
    Why doesn’t our youth distinguish between Rudaki and Nasafi? Why do we only have “some” knowledge about great poets and writers not knowing all the richness and deep thoughts of our great minds, of our polymaths? Do any of you know Khoji Yusuf Khujandi? I bet, very few do. The reason is we are so into our routine and pedestrian life, so into finding a way to survive our daily life, we forgot the spiritual development, substituting it by physical needs. I have no rights to blame anyone in it, but us ourselves.Tajik people are lazy. I love Tajikistan, love people, ME myself PROUD of being TAJIK. YES, we are selfless, very hospitable but we would rather sell our last shirt and give out our last penny rather to someone in need, than try to make a revolution in our minds, in our mentality, than rethink our lives and try to work hard on our education, on better life. I have been writing my research paper about English language in Tajikistan, and found almost no reliable data. No statistics or surveys. No internet resources, tell me I searched inefficiently tell me anything, I didnt find enough of data.
    We are developing, we try to make a improvements in language, why not start from basics? Why do people tend to learn Russian? Simple, knowing Russian you are exposed to the world of CIS, of scientific innovations, you are able to obtain more information. Why DOES everyone here use English to communicate? Because ENGLISH is a global language. Why English? Because from the very beginning, english have been working hard on establishing their territories, because they won the authority. Is Firdausi worse than Shakespeare? Did Abu ali ibni Sino contribute less than any other scholar? No, with all respect to all those guys, I believe Tajiks are not worse then why there is no one from Tajikistan in Ivy league Universities, neither in Stanford or lets say Oxford, Cambridge, Yale? Or may be no one I know. By all the means, prior to discussing whether we shall change scripts, ban languages we should learn them well, at least one. Native language is not the one that is reinforced, it is the one you are proud of knowing. I would never know tajik very well, if not my teacher, whom I adore and who made me love literature and investigate it.
    I never let myself be disrespectful towards russian language as I believe, it is the language I know the best. But, I do not belong to Russian community, neither I fully do to tajik one. Therefore, I believe, we shall use the opportunity and learn all the languages as well as we know our own. Quoting: Whoever learnt his/ her own language well, May him/her learn a hundred more languages easy. So lets make our lives easier, and change things step by step. However, prior to the great change, there shall be a great plan and a great learning outcome out of it. Having no idea, what will happen is totally pointless thing to do…

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