I am sure my grandfather, well both of them, would be spitting mad if they read this entry. And even though I loved and still respect both of them, I feel it’s worth writing. See in the US we have all been raised to view only the terrors and horrors of the Soviet Union. These really are not at all hard to see or even find today in the Post-Soviet world. Yet we fail to see and learn that the Soviet Union has brought some good things to the world.
This idea has been brought to my attention by many different people within Tajikistan speaking about different topics.
One of the people in my first Kiva Fellows blog post asked me to look into education of women in Tajikistan. So when I got here I asked some different people about it. What I have found so far is kind of interesting actually, especially in regards to regular education. While talking with one woman recently about it she stated that currently only 25% of Universities are women down from around 50% in the late 1980’s (under the soviet union). She was quick to add this though, “Before the soviet union though, the percentage of women in the area was 0.”
She isn’t wrong either. An interesting fact not brought up often: during the Bolshevik revolution in Central Asia the Bolsheviks were not fighting against the rich for the poor, since there was very few rich, and almost everyone was poor. Instead they were fighting for “modernization” and one of the biggest aspects and hardest fought for of that was education for women.
Then I was talking to someone else about Tajikistan as a whole. The idea that there are Tajiks and Uzbeks. According to most history books through out the world (including some older Russian ones) there really isn’t a big difference. Its an idea that was created by the Soviets. And it wasn’t until the late 1920’s that Tajik’s learned that all along they had been Tajiks.
“That is a lie.” I was angrily told by a driver. “Tajiks had been suppressed by Uzbeks, and it wasn’t until the creation of the Autonomous Tajik Oblast that Tajiks could begin to take pride in being who they were.” The main difference between the two is based on language, Tajik is a Persian based language, while Uzbek is a Turkish based language causing most to assume that Tajiks were the original administrators of the Arab conquests and the Uzbeks were part of the Mongol hordes that attacked the area with Chingiz Khan, driving the then “Tajiks” into the mountains. So some Tajiks thank the Soviet Union for recognizing them as separate and allowing them to become their own people and power.
The last reason though is one I had not even thought about really. Walking through the streets of Khujand and Dushanbe you see newish buildings, and some that seem at least 50 or 60 years old, and looking older than that. The roads have pot holes or are scary to drive on (read earlier blog). Railroads go through Uzbekistan and not through Tajikistan, and they have electricity rationing in the winters. Yet when I was talking to a young Tajik man last night he said this, “Russia built our country up. The building we are sitting in, the roads that we drive on, the hydroelectric plants. If it wasn’t for Russia and the Soviet Union, we would be worse off, like Afghanistan.”
Its true. Dushanbe was just a small dirt road and mud made building village in 1920. By the end of the 1950’s the town was growing every year by the thousands, Tajikistans population is still growing despite most of the former non-Tajik population having moved out of the country, and apartment buildings were rising just as fast. A railroad was built that connected it to the markets of Russia, allowing it to sell its fruit in areas that could not grow them. It created some of the basics modern states expect.
Now its also true that within the Soviet Union Tajikistan was used for its natural resources, and most of the infrastructure was for shipping things out, not in. That when the Bolsheviks began to “modernize” they carried out devastating reprisals against the anti-Bolshevik Muslim fighters “basmachi”. And that with the collapse of the Soviet union, here refered to as the disintegration of the Soviet Union led to a 7 year long civil war, where everyone knows someone who was killed. And helped create an economy that has been hard to jump start since the disappearance of state subsidies for farmers, but still…
As my new Tajik friend pointed out, “We have much to hate that came from Russia, but I think it needs to be remembered everyday, that we have so much to be thankful which they did as well.”
It’s a good lesson, one that I expect would make for interesting classes in the United States as well.