Written with three hands, this very political, even polemical work endeavours to show, through a confrontation of the authors’ respective fieldworks, the hold that has been established by Uzbekistani government, in order to appropriate national patrimony, over three distinct social spheres: the inner migrant workers; state-sponsored research; and NGOs.
The first part, “Peasant Workers,” has been written by L. Bazin after a three-year ethnological inquiry among male and female workers of a big cotton mill near Tashkent, among the day labourers of the capital’s central market, and among the jobbers from rural areas working on the numerous building sites of the city’s mushrooming villas. The author first underlines the fear of the state that is commonly felt by all the Uzbekistani citizens met by him in the framework in his fieldwork. Moreover, his examination of the career paths, either individual or collective, of the executives and technicians of the textile plant brings him to notice the oblivion of the technical skills of the Soviet period and the disorganisation of the plant’s production units. According to the author, holding companies are now trying to attract the factory’s qualified manpower in order to dismantle it in aid of new firms. The latter are reproached to be financed by Uzbekistani capitals masked by opaque funding, and to appropriate for very little the country’s manpower and natural resources. Last, L. Bazin notes that beyond folklorised Uzbek traditions glorified by the power in order to back up its new brand ideology of national identity, young women continue to be the victims of arranged marriages which confine them in a traditional role of step-daughters enslaved by their in-laws.
In the second part, “Scholars in Escheat,” M. Selim shows the sorry state of research in Uzbekistan since the country’s independence in 1991. The author recounts the career paths of distraught researchers confronted with the state’s incoherent though imperative requests. She observes that, like their fellow countrymen of the industrial world depicted by L. Bazin, many scholars are caught between their fear of state power and nostalgia of the Soviet period. Whence research has been deprived of any international dimension, a leading role has been assigned to social sciences ― notably to psychologists, sharply criticised here for their contribution, volens nolens, towards the elaboration of a doctrine of “Uzbekness”. A new ethno-psychology makes a clean sweep of homo sovieticus for developing a psychology based on a global Uzbek ethnic affiliation which ignores local and regional (to say nothing of . . . ethnic) differences. M. Selim also evokes those researchers in exact sciences who, despite extremely poor conditions and the exodus of many of them in the course of the past two decades, try hard to recreate small-size research teams. One can regret, as to these considerations, that the precautions taken by the author for changing her interlocutors’ names do not show sufficient for avoiding their recognition, with all the consequences that one can easily imagine for their personal destinies.
In the third part of the book, “Immobilised NGOs,” B. Hours makes a severe depiction of Western humanitarian action between 1995 and 2006 ― the date of the closure of all foreign ngos’ representations by Uzbekistani authorities. In parallel, Uzbekistan was creating state-sponsored NGOs intended for the solidification of Uzbek national identity. Through testimonies collected from the protagonists of these new institutions, the author shows how till 2006 the Western NGOs’ democratic rhetoric and the moral pretentions have been poorly understood. The obvious failure of this pedagogy drives B. Hours and M. Selim to assert that since Uzbekistanis have stopped to play democracy in 2006, the country’s authorities make a bigger use of the notion of ‘civil society’ for muzzling the population and for strengthening the fiction of a national identity, instead of improving the health system, social assistance, and the country’s development.