Kuressaare, November 21 – A history textbook prepared for tenth graders in Uzbekistan on the Soviet period denounces communist totalitarianism in sweeping terms, but it downplays popular movements that have struggled for democracy in that Central Asian country in recent years and ignores many events that the current Tashkent regime finds inconvenient.
Because most people “conceive the history of their country as [they] are told about it in school,” Mariya Yanovskaya says in an article posted on the Ferghana.ru portal, history as presented in school texts is one of the most sensitive political issues in many countries, including all the post-Soviet states (www.ferghana.ru/article.php?id=5959).
Recently, there have been intense discussions over new texts in the Russian Federation which portray Stalin’s terror as an appropriate modernization technique and school books in Ukraine that argue the 1932-33 famine was a genocide that Moscow launched against the Ukrainian people.
Because the media inside Uzbekistan is more tightly controlled than in either of those countries, this history textbook is unlikely to provoke similar debates. But that makes Yanovskaya’s review especially important because it provides important insights into what the next generation of Uzbeks is likely to think about their past and hence their future.
The book opens with the following declaration: “Dear Students! The textbook which you are holding in your hands covers the most complex and contradictory period of the history of the Fatherland, a period of heavy losses, tragic events and also of heroic struggle for freedom and independence, a period of victories and defeats and of self-sacrificing labor of our people.”
Then, Yanovskaya says, the book stresses that the Uzbeks not only resisted but hated Soviet power from the beginning. It denounces the Bolshevik destruction of the Kokand autonomy, pointing out that the Bolsheviks and their Red Army allies killed more than 100,000 people in that city alone.
“The basic part of the indigenous population did not recognize the Bolsheviks or the Soviet system,” the text says, in large measure because that system pursued “a colonialist policy,” sought to destroy religion, and acted in other ways to denigrate the dignity of the people of Uzbekistan.
The Uzbeks and the other peoples of Central Asia struggled for many years in a movement that the Soviets dismissively call “the basmachi movement” but which the people there referred as “the freeman’s movement,” the textbook continues in increasingly emotional terms.
And the book points out that “the totalitarian regime destroyed not only thousands of fighters who sacrificed themselves for the interests of the people but also tens of thousands of innocent victims. Soviet power throughout the ensuing years continued to conduct a repressive policy which brought the population much grief and suffering.”
In other passages, the new textbook talked about Stalinist crimes “against whole peoples” during and after World War II, a reference to the deportation of nationalities which it calls “unforgivable criminal acts.” The book talks about the brutal transformation of Uzbek society and the Uzbek economy by Moscow and its agents.
Yanovskaya says that she “would like to read such lines” in a textbook prepared by Moscow historians for schools in the Russian Federation, but her comments throughout the review make it clear that she doesn’t have that chance now and does not expect to have it anytime soon.
But as the Uzbek textbook deals with more recent events, she says, it falls far short of what she would like to see in three respects. First, it utterly fails to explain how the Soviet Union in fact brought some real benefits to the people there, benefits that led them to vote overwhelmingly for the preservation of the USSR.
“About that referendum,” she writes, “there is not a word in the textbook,” although “like a red thread” throughout this period it specifies that “the dream of independence never left the minds and hearts of advanced people. … In the heart of the people never were extinguished a striving for independence and dreams about the freedom of the Fatherland.”
And it suggests in her words “that when Islam Abduganiyevich Karimov came to power, the dreams were realized. The country is now happy, independent and proceeding in giant steps toward a bright future, which is being build under the leadership … [and Yanovskaya says she almost wrote “ ‘the communist party.’”
Second, the textbook specifically criticizes those national movements which sought democracy rather than the solidification of the Karimov regime. “One of the main errors of the ‘Birlik’ movement,” the textbook insists, “consisted in its lack of understanding of the true interests of our people.”
Its activists “involved themselves with the organization of meetings and demonstrations thus putting psychological pressure on local leaders and searching for errors and shortcomings in the activity of the government and local organs of power. Therefore, the movement could not capture the support of the broad strata of the population.”
And as for the Erk Party, the textbook simply says that it “did not have a precise program for the construction of a new society,” the kind of language and attitude about opponents that was such a prominent feature of Soviet textbooks and that continues to inform, albeit with new targets, the textbooks of Uzbekistan and other post-Soviet states.
And third, and again like Soviet textbooks, the Uzbek history text simply ignores many inconvenient events or describes them in such generalized terms that only those who already know something about the history of the republic could possibly understand as references to these events.
Thus, there is not a single word about the destructive earthquake in Tashkent in April 1966, nor is there any real information about the conflicts with the Meskhetian Turks or with the Kyrgyz in the late 1980s or about “the modernizing, developing and innovative role” of Moscow and the Soviet system in the development of Uzbekistan.
In short, she suggests, the children of Uzbekistan are getting a Soviet-style version of reality, albeit one in which the things Moscow took pride in are denounced and the things Moscow denounced are praised, a pattern that does no more to promote independent thought than did the one in the Soviet textbooks. But that of course is almost certainly the point.