“Russian culture” in Central Asia as a Transethnic Phenomenon
The portrait offered above of everyday life in Almaty is only one of the many expressions of the phenomenon treated in this chapter, which we will refer to as “Russophone cultural-linguistic space,” a term we consider synonymous with the formula “Russian culture in Central Asia” offered in this chapter’s title. This linguistic and cultural space, within which specific cultural norms, knowledge, values, and behavioral modes are circulated and practiced, embraces social actors of various ethnic origins—and crucially, not only Russians proper— as well as formal and informal institutions and cultural networks primarily grounded in the Russian language. The goal of this chapter is to investigate the dynamics of Russophone cultural-linguistic space as experienced by the urban populations of the Central Asian states in the post-Soviet period, as well as to reveal factors contributing to its maintenance or erosion. Additionally, we will consider the historical context for its formation in this region and the specificity of the phenomenon within separate countries. We will also examine the extent to which “Russian culture” in this territory requires continuous external support from the Russian Federation or, alternately, persists as a result of other factors that ensure its self-reproduction on a local, autonomous basis. In distinction from other chapters of this volume, which consider global Russian cultural production by “professionals” in the form of literature, music, or film, our investigation is focused on the expression, engagement, and evaluation of this phenomenon at the level of everyday practices and consciousness. The empirical data on which this chapter is based derive from extensive fieldwork among ethnic Russians and other Russophones of Kyrgyzstan (1996– 2003) and Uzbekistan (2002, 2004); among their urban populations of various ethnic origins (based on six fieldwork trips between 2007 and 2013); and also among urban populations of Kazakhstan (based on three trips in 2016 and 2017). Qualitative sociological methods (in-depth interviews in a life-history and topic-guide format) were the main tools of data collection.