National Identity vs. the New Soviet Person in Soviet Central Asia
During the establishment of the Soviet Union, the government set up large scale reforms, one of which was the national-territorial delimitation. At the same time the Soviet government strove to create a standard “Soviet person” or New Soviet Person – essentially conglomerating all people in the Soviet Union in to one. The idea of forging people in to one proletariat working class is a philosophically idealist concept – however, the nation-building policy contradicted this at the same time. On the one hand, the Bolsheviks wished non-Russian nations to develop their own cultures and languages. On the other, Stalin expressed ‘Soviet intentions to overcome national differences’. Stalin’s policy about the Soviet national culture was ‘as national in form and socialist in content’. In this article we will briefly examine the consequences of this ideological clash, specifically in Central Asia.
The party leaders promoted the New Soviet Person concept in order to make people forget their old conventions and replace them with communist standards. The Bolsheviks used mass mobilisation tools, such as education, mass media and art forms, to instil heavy propaganda of their new ideology. Another way to induce people from the republics to become a part of the ideology was through a membership in the Komsomol, which fully embraced the Soviet values. The majority of young working class strived to enter this elite organisation, which gave them the New Soviet Person’s status. The Soviet ideology was also instilled via industrial reforms. Factories, plants and kolkhozes were beautified in literature and arts, and people who worked in such places were presented as a perfect example of the Proletariat Superman. The role of the economic sector of society was to influence people using the superiority of the New Soviet Person and to infuse ‘disorganized human individuals into a gigantic collective machine’.
As for nation-building, one of the reasons the Soviets promoted nationhood in Central Asia (apart from suppression of Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism) was to lead them to the ‘imagined road to socialism’, where a nation being only at a ‘transitional stage’ would melt into ‘a socialist union of denationalized people’ . These groups had to become conscious of themselves, as nations under the Soviet system, but also prevent any thought of independence. Instead nations were to dissolve into the New Soviet Person. The same methods as for the New Soviet Person were used; national histories rewritten, national literature created, national languages reformed, national news media developed. All of this was carried out with communist ideology ingrained. However, the nation-building worked more effectively in this region than the New Soviet Person ideology. People who never identified themselves as a nation before developed strong connections with each other through autonomous nationalism-threaded education and mass media. Thus nationalism was the main reason for obstructing the embedding of the New Soviet Person’s concept.
Specifically, in the case of the Tajiks, one of the reasons for not becoming the New Soviet Person was their immobile lifestyle. Russian people willingly moved from their country to other Soviet Republics and easily intermarried with the local population. Central Asian people, especially Tajik people, were quite satisfied with their situation in kolkhozes and were not willing to move into the environment where they could suffer physical difficulties, such as the Far East, or to any other unfamiliar places where they would not have any kinship ties. Family connections and taking care of elderly people is a prominent feature of Tajik culture. The reluctance to leave their region during the Soviet Union was one of the factors bolstering the development of stronger national identity vs Soviet identity.
Religion indeed could be another reason for the New Soviet Person concept not being fully embedded in Central Asian people. The New Soviet Person was supposed to be ‘a-religious’ in a traditional religious sense, but ‘to believe wholeheartedly in and be devoted to the ideology, the Party’. Yet religion was embedded into Central Asian culture, it was in their everyday rituals, secretly kept up by people at home. For example, Tajik people seemed to be devoted members of the Communist party, but at home, they still practiced religious customs. Since the 1970s Islam experienced a revival and further proliferated in Tajikistan. There were several religious schools, although unofficial, but not banned. This impeded the New Soviet Person’s concepts, which were difficult to be fully permeated through this double life.
Geiss declares that the national identity linked to Soviet identity was not important, because the Soviets avoided its politicisation and restricted the scope of this identity’s conceivable illustrations. Yet although the foundation of territorial and bureaucratic systems of Central Asian states gave rise to a loyalty of the Soviet regime, the national-territorial component outlived the Union itself. The influence of the Soviet Union on Central Asia earlier in the century seemed to be rapid and successful. However, as soon as the Soviet Union was abolished, it was apparent that the concept of a New Soviet Person was not instilled in populations of these countries. Central Asian countries returned to the principles of regionalism, protectionism, and a kinship-based system of promotion in all spheres of society. Even though the relative rapidity in the rise and fall of the Soviet regime did not allow the New Soviet Person concept to become firmly rooted in these cultures, the ideas of national identity became engraved in the self-identification of people in this region.
Text by Mumtoz Kamolzoda