Reviews

This article contains analysis of interdependencies between, on the first hand, the individual’s perception of material and symbolic reconfiguration of urban space (one of the manifestations of post-Soviet nationalising process) and, on the other hand, parameters of individual ethnic identity. The target-group is the ethnic Germans of Kazakhstan. The empirical base of research consists of in-depth interviews with 27 representatives of this country’s German minority conducted in a two-stage process in 2004 and 2005 (54 interviews in total). I fully agree with the author that article’s theme is very innovative. As he puts it, “. . . most researchers have investigated the changing historical narratives in public space as an expression of nation building or power struggle among élites . . . . Contrary to this literature, I analyse how individuals perceive historical breaks in the construction of public space that are observable in their daily routines (p. 1561) . . . .” I would also share with the author his enthusiasm regarding the importance of micro-level analysis via qualitative methodology “in the evaluation of nation-building processes” (p. 1574). Another merit of the paper is that A. M. Danzer has refrained from a pre-selection of urban artefacts supposed to be discussed with his interview partners, in favour of an open approach. My main concerns about this interesting paper are related to what I would call an artificial Germanisation of the analysis and putting too much stress on ethnicity, to the detriment of a broader socio-cultural and historical approach. In my view, the latter could be more productive. Judging from my field experience in Central Asia, I would suggest that perceptions and interpretations of urban change by Germans might be easily attributed to other Russian-speakers of Kazakhstan. For instance, German couples usually avoid making marriage shoots near the statues of the national hero Abai Kunanbaev (p. 1570), but it is highly probable that Russian or other Russophone couples would behave in the same way. In fact, the pre-eminence of socio-cultural divisions over purely ethnic ones and the heterogeneity of Germans’ identities and loyalties in the society under study persistently knock at the author’s door. Indications of this are scattered all around the paper. A couple of examples may suffice: “Besides the expected ‘Kazakh’ and ‘German’ symbols, some interviews also reveal ‘German-Russian’ or ‘Kazakhstani’ symbols (p. 1565).” “Although some interviewees accept Kazakhstan’s right to build up a new national identity, they criticize what they perceive as . . . exclusion of Russian-speaking minorities in order to achieve this goal (p. 1573).” What is more, as my own qualitative research in Kyrgyzstani cities testifies, many representatives of titular population share with Russian-speakers negative attitudes towards some “nationalising” manifestations of urban change (e.g., the renaming of streets). The author remarks that the “perceived dominance of the Kazakh language unites minority groups (p. 1568).” Not only the dominance of titular languages, but also the common Soviet past (in a broad sense), habitual urban cultures and lifestyle, nostalgic memories of Soviet city life, as well as unanimous opposition to the ruling élites ― all this “unites minority groups” with ordinary representatives of the titular group (Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, etc.) in their scepticism towards state-inspired urban transformation.

Natalya Kosmarskaya, Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow
CER: II-6.4.C-516