The Interesting Case of Soviet Central Asia


The image above of an Uzbek town square donned with soviet flags and a Soviet speaker, visualizes the process of making these central Asian part of the Soviet Union. The way in which the Soviet Union went about this directly dealt with an intertwinement of nationality and religion. I found an interesting parallel to some U.S policies/practices in regard to their “Americanization” of minorities, and or inclusion of them in both the past and present. Some of the practices on the part of the United States seemed to be backward in the early 20th century compared to their “Evil Empire” counterpart.

The Soviet Union did a fine job of preserving national identities of Central Asian countries in the formation of their new nation/government, but it appeared to be at the ironic expense of religion. The promotion of indigenous languages over Russian, and an almost Soviet version of Affirmative Action in governmental jobs, would lead one to the conclusion that the Soviet Union was showing tolerance to ethnic minorities. And this was probably true, if only to give the illusion of tolerance to wield more political control over further away places. I said illusion of tolerance because of the way in which religion was handled. According to Siegelbaum, religion as a tenant of nationality took a backseat to gender issues, Islam being viewed (by many to this day across the world as well) as sexist to women. Failing to ignore the veil’s purpose of modesty and respect for women, led to a direct disrespect of women in the form of violence after this ban on the veil. What the Soviet Union prioritized in the process of making Central Asian countries Soviet appeared to be as deliberate as random. Their priorities beg the question, why an emphasis on using indigenous languages over Islamic, Uzbek traditions?


I drew a contradiction between Soviet and American policies during the same time period while reading Lewis Siegelbaum’s subject essay “Making Central Asia Soviet”. While the Soviets were encouraging indigenous languages, the U.S was banning them via the Dawes Act and attempting to hinder the culture of Native Americans. It would not be until much later that the U.S had a similar policy of preferential leadership roles for minorities, like the Soviets did with Uzbeks.


Works Citied:

Rozhdestvenskiy, October Celebration in Samarkand, Hoover Political Poster Database, 2007

6 thoughts on “The Interesting Case of Soviet Central Asia”

  1. Ethan, your post notes a contrast between US and Soviet foreign policy that I hadn’t previously considered! Thinking about parallels and differences like the ones you’ve pointed out is really important, as it provides depth and nuance to our understanding of history. In the future, you may want to utilize some primary sources to add further insight to your analysis, but overall, good post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What Emma said! We have some great posts on the campaign against organized religion that focus on Orthodoxy, and you are reminding us that the campaign against religion in Central Asia was also significant….as were efforts to overthrow custom and tradition in the name of female emancipation. When we talked about pastoralists last week I think it was pretty clear that fitting these kinds of societies into a typical class structure / analysis would be challenging. So in central Asia women emerge as a kind of “surrogate proletariat.” Its pretty interesting, right?
      Also, thanks for highlighting the way that early Soviet nationality policy promoted the development of “national consciousness” (not on purpose, but just as by-product) by educating people in their native tongue and staffing some of the bureaucracy with locals. Quite the contrast to what was happening to indigenous people in the US at the time!


  2. Your post reminded me a lot of Tim’s. Both of you chiefly address the role of Central Asia in how the Soviet state formed and functioned, and also grapple with the role religion played in this larger framework. I would echo Emma and Dr. Nelson’s comments: I found your post interesting and compelling, especially in that it provided perspectives on American foreign policy I hadn’t previously considered in how the US and USSR dealt with indigenous peoples very differently. I think that a source rooted in one or more of these indigenous groups would have been a great tie-in to cap off your point.


  3. Great post Ethan! I really enjoyed the way that you tied the Soviet policies at the time to the American policies at the time, it is a really interesting contrast to see and one that I don’t think I ever would have noticed or learned had you not pointed it out in this blog. I also liked the way you questioned the Soviet’s tolerance and whether or not it was simply an illusion in the name of power, that was a really interesting way in evaluating and thinking about the complexities of the situation.


  4. Hi Ethan! I really enjoyed reading your post. The parallel between the Soviets and Americans was really interesting and I am glad you talked about it. Along the lines of what some of the other comments have said, a few more primary sources would have enhanced your ideas, but overall this was a great post!


  5. Your comparison to U.S. politics brought a modern day view of a relatable topic. The point made about gender issue being more important than religious view was very true and well supported. I liked how you referenced the Soviets support for formation of Central Asian governments, but at the cost of religious views. Great perspective!


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