Shaping national identities in central asian countries: Results, problems, prospects

National identities, considered a guaran-tee of successful development, were among the priorities for the five newly independent states that emerged in the territory of what used to be the Soviet Central Asia and Kazakhstan—the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan. The process began when the Soviet Union still existed: the Soviet Central Asian republics and Kazakhstan adopted laws on language that allowed the Central Asian elites to pass decisions related to the languages used by titular nations. In the post-Soviet years the language policy moved to the fore as one of the key aspects of the gradually emerging national identities treated with special attention at the state level. No matter how similar the processes were, no matter how close the cultures and traditions, each of the Central Asian countries chose its own road, fine-tuned to the specifics of their domestic contexts and the interests of the elites in power. The processes unfolded in full compliance with social continuity, traditions, culture and national languages that survived under Soviet rule. The republics, however, had to take into account the national minorities, including the Russian-speaking populations, in all post-Soviet republics. Inherited from Soviet times, the Russian language was dominant in all of the Central Asian republics, and even preserved much of its influence in the newly independent post-Soviet Central Asian states. This means that they should have opted for a relatively balanced language policy up to and including the continual stage-by-stage contraction of the spheres in which Russian was predominantly used. For obvious reasons they could not push aside their trade and economic relations with Russia and ignore the role of the Soviet cultural and educational heritage. This cushioned the political effects of the Soviet Union’s disintegration, partially limited the role of nationalist parties in the newly independent states and helped preserve their educational potential. Shaping national identities in the post-Soviet Central Asian countries was not a smooth, let alone easy, process: societies were far from homogenous, while the regions found it hard to agree to more or less reasonable compromises. This became especially apparent in Kyrgyzstan, which was divided into the southern and northern parts; in Kazakhstan, where the local society was divided into zhuzes; in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, where clans carried a lot of political weight. Thus the elites in power in all of the Central Asian states had no choice but to take into account very different or even clashing interests of informal groups and clans, and tune their policies accordingly. This means that the road towards national identities was far from simple: it meandered between contradictory trends and interests. This also explains the centuries-old mechanism of governance, namely, regional-clan approaches to various problems, which was in place in all of the Central Asian countries, functioning outside the party and state structures. While paying lip service to Communist ideology, leaders of the Central Asian republics invariably took the clan balance of power into account. From the very first days of independence, the Central Asian leaders remained loyal to the conceptual approach to national identities: they concentrated on historical heritage, culture, traditions and national language, the key element of national identity. Despite the fairly long history of their independence, the problem of national identity remains prominent in all of the Central Asian countries. It is intertwined with the problem of the emergence of statehood and development of political systems and the radical geopolitical shifts occurring against the background of mounting economic problems. This cannot but affect the situation in the Central Asian countries in which the process of shaping national identities has not yet been completed. © 2018, CA and CC Press AB. All rights reserved.

CA and CC Press AB
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  • 1 Department of Political Science and Political Philosophy, Diplomatic Academy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Moscow, Russian Federation
  • 2 Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, Moscow, Russian Federation
  • 3 Department of Political Analysis and Management, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, Moscow, Russian Federation
  • 4 Department of Foreign Languages, Faculty of Humanitarian and Social Sciences, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, Moscow, Russian Federation
Ключевые слова
Central Asia; Identity; Kyrgyz Republic; Language policies; Political process; Republic of Kazakhstan; Republic of Tajikistan; Republic of Uzbekistan; Russia; Turkmenistan
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