The author revisits two cases of low nationalist mobilisation during the late 1980s – early 1990s, in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, in order to demonstrate the weight of the movement leaders’ choices and decisions in the failure of mobilisation. He suggests that in both cases a transnational anti-imperial master frame misled separatist nationalists. In Uzbekistan, the state’s effective use of the media depicted mobilisation as a cause of interethnic conflict after 1989. L. P. Markovitz suggests that continuing to press nationalist claims, the Birlik (Unity) movement rapidly lost public support, became divided, and was quick suppressed. As to Tajikistan, the leaders of the Rastakhiz (Revival) are reproached to have failed to adapt their programme to shifting social cleavages and to the regional division of society. In short, the article illustrates all the dangers of an approach to the events of the years 1987-92 from afar, without taking into account the numerous, often rapid evolutions that could be observed during this period of time. Essentially tributary of secondary sources, the author has taken for granted categories inherited from the political science tradition that have come to light during the past two decades ― notably on the reading of the Tajikistani civil war as a mere inter-regional conflict. With time passing, and the disappearance of growing amounts of direct witnesses, only a strong effort of assessment of a multiplicity of primary sources, with more interest in the durée brève and with more attention for the specific role played by the state in Uzbekistan, by the Communist Party and the Russian Army in Tajikistan, will lead to more relevant appraisals of this exceptionally eventful period of time.