It’s likely that several of you who are visiting this site received a copy of CyberChaikhana during neweurasia‘s tour of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in late April 2011. The tour aroused many reactions and important questions which we would like to take a moment to address.
Several readers have reported that the Russian edition of CyberChaikhana has several typographical errors and that the bloggers selected too often exhibit an emotionalistic style, whereas the English edition is both much cleaner and more rational. We at neweurasia have also noticed the difference in tone between the two versions. However, this hasn’t bothered us as much, since it’s our impression that many of the typos are actually slang spellings and that the writing style is colloquial. These are factors that could not be captured by the English but which we felt should be preserved in the Russian.
However, we do admit the following methodological problem: the book was first written in English by Christopher Schwartz, who used original English content and translations of Russian and Central Asian language content provided to him by volunteers and neweurasia‘s bloggers. It was then translated from English into Russian by Andrey Tolstoy, who relied upon the English version for the Central Asian languages but worked with the original versions of the Russian content. Both editions underwent a thorough proof-reading and cross-checking before publication. Nevertheless, there were some pagination issues, and more importantly, the subtleties of the Central Asian language content were often lost.
Many readers have asked how the book’s content was chosen. The editor, Christopher Schwartz, did not select the content entirely on his own, but was directly helped by neweurasia‘s readers and bloggers. When soliciting the neweurasiacommunity for help, his criterion for selection was always this: The Western media always says X about this country or that regional theme, but what do you think is the real story to tell? He also took the radical step of publishing the rough drafts of the chapters on the neweurasia site for review by our readership.
Looking back, if there is one thing we would do differently, it would have been to use more social networking tools to select content. All in all, though, we believe the creation process of CyberChaikhana was sufficient enough to make the book an accurate reflection of what the r”Stanosphere” thinks and feels about the region. So, we are pleased that many of CyberChaikhana‘s readers have been rather shocked by the critical tone of the book: have they learned something about themselves that they were not previously aware of?
We also hope that CyberChaikhana‘s readers eventually understand that criticism is not the same as negativity. In fact, often criticism can be the most positive thing citizens can do to help their societies develop and prosper.
There were many criticisms pertaining to the role of the editor, Christopher Schwartz, specifically that his editorial voice was too strong, resulting in a biased selection and arrangement of the content, particularly where Kazakhstan was concerned. This is a very important issue.
We believe that CyberChaikhana can pose a challenging book for many, both inside and outside Central Asia, due to its post-modern nature. Simply put, it is neither a mere collection of primary source materials nor is it an expert’s account of the region, but rather, something in between. We wanted to create a book like this because blogging is first and foremost about perspective, and so we felt it important that Schwartz’s perspective should be as much an element as those of the quoted bloggers.
So, what exactly was Schwartz’s perspective? On the one hand, he wanted to hold up a mirror to the region. Following the tradition of the Peredvizhniki, his hope was that Central Asians, in reading their own words, could learn something more about themselves, their societies and their region. Second, it is an all-too-common phenomenon for Westerners to visit Central Asia and subsequently pen “expert accounts” of this “exotic” and “dysfunctional” region. There is even a name for this kind of literature: the travel log. Schwartz thus hoped to create an “un-travel log” by using his voice to broadcast Central Asian voices. We can only leave it to you, CyberChaikhana‘s readers, to judge the extent to which he succeeded or failed in this endeavor.
A good case study is the Kazakhstan chapter. This chapter, which focuses on the construction of Astana as a metaphor for Kazakhstan’s emergence into sovereignty and modernity, relied heavily upon English-speaking expatriate and Russian-speaking Kazakhstani voices, but few Kazakh-speaking voices. On the one hand, this led to an oversight on Schwartz’s part, as he himself has noted in a reflection post:
“A project like Astana might symbolize two different things to two different readers, namely, the rise of a long-oppressed nation to a Kazakh speaker, and an exercise in authoritarian pseudo-capitalism to a Russian speaker.”
On the other hand, because “outsiders” like expats and Russians are in fact intimately part of the fabric of Kazakhstani life, Schwartz believed that they constitute an important part of the conversation that may not be heard in the mainstream Kazakh language press.
Many readers who attended the Barcamp in Almaty during 15-17 Apri, 2011 have asked why, if CyberChaikhana, as stated in the introduction, was to be given out for free, did they pay 200 Kazakh Tenge for a copy? This was a tactical decision to ensure that the Barcamp’s attendees, most of whom were very young university students, would actually read the book. This was our reasoning: Barcamps are frequently flooded with free reading materials that cash-strapped students take but end up never reading. By making a tiny financial investment into the book, we believed it would give the Barcampers a stronger incentive to actually read it. Judging from all the reactions we received during and after that weekend, our tactic seems to have worked.
So, what did we do with the money? As many of you no doubt know, 200 Tenge is a pittance, sufficient only for a cup of tea. We earned approximately 35,000 Tenge, which we used to help pay for miscellaneous costs during our tour.