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