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Will Jack-O’-Lanterns symbolize cultural resistance in Tashkent?

Participants of a Halloween masquerade in Tashkent, 2010, with their 'pumpkin' ('тыква'), i.e., Jack-O'-Lantern (photograph from Pr.uz).

Editor’s Note: Счастливого Хэллоуина! Well, maybe not if you’re in Tashkent. Ever since last year, the authorities have banned the holiday. But that hasn’t stopped the party, reports NewEurasia’s Eisenstein. In fact, it seems like some downright cultural resistance is going on as schools and night clubs prepare to persist with Halloween festivities in secret.

This is now the second year in which Uzbekistan’s authorities have unofficially banned Halloween. There are no more witches, pumpkins, candles and the like. Why? Because they will all go to Hell for not being relevant to and conforming with Uzbek culture.

Aren’t Uzbekistan’s pumpkins the most delicious?

Ever since independence, Uzbekistan’s people have adopted a number of popular Western holidays. A big one has been Valentine’s Day [Ed.: which has been banned officially since 2008 and effectively since 2006]; another is Halloween. In fact, there’s something really fitting and comfortable about Halloween in Uzbekistan: after all, our country claims the world’s juiciest and largest pumpkins (take for example, this random tourist’s review).

And who doesn’t love to party? Halloween offered a great reason for people to have masquerade parades in Tashkent’s streets, and nightclubs everywhere became gathering points for “evil spirits”. For children, it’s a time to dress up, explore their neighborhoods (under the watchful eye of their parents, of course), and get treats. It’s funny how becoming “evil” for one night seems to bring out the good in everyone.

A devilish decision

But all this fun was brought to an end in 2011. Last year, some ghoul at the top apparently decided that all this revelry poses a threat to society’s cultural (and political?) stability.

This devilish decision came against the backdrop of a general campaign to eradicate the influence of Western culture. We’ve been subjected to a television programs dedicated to alleging the “satanic” origins of Rock, and that Hip Hop is the anthem of criminals. The irony of Halloween’s cancellation, I think, speaks for itself.

So, last year, the celebration of Halloween was strictly forbidden in all educational institutions. Unofficial representatives of the police were ordered to crash costume parties and night clubs were shut down. And anyone who attempted to partake in a masquerade parade was unceremoniously taken to a police station for questioning.

Partiers in the Tashkent night club 'Barkhan' in 2010 (photograph from Clublife.uz).

The party-goers fight back

However, Tashkent’s party-goers haven’t given up the fight. For example, a primary school told me, on condition of anonymity, that despite threats made toward his/her school’s administration, the children shall still be allowed to secretly celebrate Halloween:

“The school principal told us this year that Halloween is not common and not a national holiday, [but that it is actually] a trend of Western culture, and also that it carries negative emotions. Children are afraid of each other and make noise.

“Nevertheless, we shall be secretly celebrating it with the children, and the initiative [to do this] comes from the children. They made ​​costumes. We will close the class and will scare each other. If anyone finds out about it, it will be a very big scandal. But I cannot explain to children why they should give up this holiday.”

Meanwhile, many night clubs are planning this year to have Halloween parties by masquerading the events under different names. For example, some rock musicians were planning a concert for 31 October. They called it the “November Carnival”:

Unfortunately, their real intentions were discovered and they were compelled to re-schedule the concert to another week, thereby destroying its relevance.

Still, many schools and night clubs are acceding to the authorities’ demands. For example, the club “Granat” has forbidden people to come in costume today (although a party’s still being held).

It’s really like some kind of, well, Halloween fairy tell, in which some demon is trying to steal the holiday because she envies the other spirits’ fun! But, in Uzbekistan, that demon can try as much as she wants — we’re still gonna party!

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4 Comments »

  • Bruno De Cordier says:

    Hm, ‘celebrating’ Halloween in the context outlined in this article is switching one form of conformity (to Karimovism) to another (to neoliberal totalitarianism and the cultural americanisation that is inherent to it). Hence I really don’t see the ‘dissidence’ or ‘resistance’ aspect here.

    Besides, this is just not relevant to over 95% of Uzbekistan’s population.

    ‘And who doesn’t love to party?’

    I.:)

    Reply

    Schwartz Reply:

    @Bruno De Cordier, Well, I think it’s more grey than that, although I grok where you’re coming from.

    - Cultures are not hermetically sealed from each other. Take Id al-Adha for example: should this be rejected in Uzbekistan (and a whole host of other societies) as “conformity” to imported “Arabianism” or “Islamicization”? If not, does it receive some special dispensation merely because it’s been in practice much longer than Halloween?

    And keep in mind that there are many in Europe who would like to ban Id al-Adha precisely on these grounds: it’s imported “totalitarianism”, and its lack of “historical basis”.

    - Additionally, imported Western holidays are not just the purview of Tashkent. Take Valentine’s Day for example, which has been spreading quite rapidly throughout Uzbekistan (and the world in general): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16921101

    Again, I’m not a fan of the commercialism implicit in Valentine’s Day, but that’s a commercialism intrinsic to its practice in the West, not necessarily elsewhere. It’s comparable to what happened to Saint Nicholas: in some cultures, he became an excuse for commercialism (the United States); in others, he’s a reason for family excursions (the Benelux, Southern Europe, etc.).

    Reply

  • [...] the gift. Citizens of Tashkent are happy! I wonder just why our government keeps silence? They are actively fighting with Western cultural influence. In my opinion, “Coca-Cola” – is one of the basic stereotypes of the Western way [...]

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