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date: 28 March 2020

Summary and Keywords

Uzbekistan was created in 1924 as a result of the so-called national-territorial delimitation of Soviet Central Asia. Although created in the context of the implementation of the Soviet policy of granting territorial autonomy to different nationalities in the Soviet multinational state, Uzbekistan was in many ways the embodiment of a national idea of the Central Asian intelligentsia.

For the first sixty-seven years of its existence, Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union. It experienced the massive transformations unleashed by the Soviet regime in the realms of politics, society, and culture (the establishment of a command economy, collectivization, an assault on Islam, forced unveiling) that reshaped society in significant ways. Purges in the 1930s removed from the scene all actors with any experience of public life before the consolidation of Soviet power and installed new political and cultural elites in their place.

The Second World War was in many ways a watershed. Participation in the war integrated Uzbekistan and its citizens into the Soviet Union. The postwar period saw increased investment in the republic and the achievement of mass education and universal literacy. The postwar era also saw the consolidation of Uzbek political elites at the helm of the republic as well as the crystallization of an Uzbek national identity, the work of the Uzbek Soviet intelligentsia. Yet, Uzbekistan’s primary duty to the Soviet economy remained that of producing as much cotton as possible. Production quotas kept on increasing (by the early 1980s, the hope was to produce 6 million tons of raw cotton annually) and the cotton monoculture meant that the Uzbek population remained primarily rural and socially conservative. A complex gender regime emerged in which women had legal equality, access to education, and high rates of participation in the labor market, but were also the guardians of national tradition. The later Soviet period also witnessed high rates of population growth that doubled the ethnic Uzbek population between 1959 and 1979.

By the early 1980s, the high costs of the cotton monoculture were becoming obvious. An anti-corruption campaign directed from Moscow antagonized both the Uzbek party elite and the general population, just as Mikhail Gorbachev began the series of reforms that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. In this turbulent period, the Uzbek party elite refashioned itself as the champion of the Uzbek nation and emerged in control of the state as Uzbekistan became independent.

The independent Uzbek state has sought its legitimacy by its claim to serve the interests of the Uzbek nation. It works on the basis of an Uzbek national identity that had predated the Soviet Union but had crystallized during it. Now, after independence, that identity can be articulated without the constraints placed on national expression during the Soviet period. There remain significant continuities with the Soviet period in terms of basic assumptions about politics and society, and they are the most clearly visible in the state’s fraught relationship with Islam.

Keywords: Uzbekistan, Soviet Union, nationalism, Islam, cotton, social transformation, nationalities policy, national-territorial delimitation, Central Asia, hujum

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