Secular Nationalism Is Not Enough

The Turkic peoples began as steppe nomads, then became soldiers and eventually farmers and city-dwellers.  As they made these transitions they came to dominate ancient centers along the Silk Road.  So they ended up at crossroads and thoroughfares, places where Christian, Muslim, and Jew met with those from farther afield.

Such places seem romantic, but life can be difficult there.  You’re likely to have good food, interesting sights, and a diverse population that knows how to carry on under difficult circumstances.  You’re much less likely to have good government, free public life, or strong civic loyalties.  There will be too much history involving too many peoples.

So it didn’t seem surprising, given the complicated history and demographics of Uzbekistan, that in the three weeks we recently spent there we never saw a newspaper or magazine, and only one bookstore that wasn’t religious in character.  Without common loyalties there’s very little public life, only private concerns, including religious ones.  (We did however run into an informal open-air bazaar in Tashkent selling used books in Russian on topics like cooking and the life of Marshal Georgy Zhukov.)

Independence was thrust on the area in 1991, and the government has been trying to put together a nation ever since.  To keep things running they’ve used patronage, payoffs, suppression...

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