Reviews

Centred on Uzbekistan, the present study is an convincing attempt at casting light on the upheavals that have been observable in the Soviet policy towards Islam, after the “great break [velikii perelom]” of 1928 (one year after the launching of Hujum, and the year of the launching of collectivisation, of the adoption of the Latin alphabet for a majority of national languages, etc.).  Built up on a solid archive work, the book, very informed by the current tendencies in the historiography of the USSR, reveals the numerous lacunae, notably logistic, of the Soviet power in Central Asia, and the impact of these lacunae in the strategic hesitations of the 1920s-30s.  The author introduces us with the inner logics of an authoritarian regime with limited means.  These means were still lessened by the rivalry between varied institutions for the control of meagre resources, or still by the taste of these institutions for delivering amphigoric and mutually contradictory instructions, handing over the functionaries of intermediate rank to their chronic aporia.  The book otherwise offers invaluable notations on the activity of “reformist” or “Jadid” groups (notably in the Fergana Valley), or on the functioning of waqfs until the late 1930s.  These facts are analysed through the representations of the Soviet power, according to which the “Jadids” were vernacular equivalents to the “bourgeois nationalists” of the Marxist vulgate—hence the sometimes exaggerated significance allowed by official sources to “reformists” of all sorts during the period taken in consideration; hence also the numerous hesitations of the essentially formal political nomenclature of the time (sufficed for a contestation trend or movement to have an underground dimension for being qualified “Jadid”, through more or less conscious analogy with the “Jadid” secret societies of the end of the Tsarist period).  The case of the waqfs allows the author to illustrate multiple discrepancies between the letter of the law and its implementation in a region where pious foundations continued to thrive until the eve of wwii, in particular in rural areas, according to a wide range of modes.  These discrepancies between, on the first hand, the representations commanding the political strategy of the Soviet power in Central Asia, on the second hand this strategy’s erratic implementation and still, on a possible third hand, the wide diversity of the reactions of the concerned autochthonous populations would perhaps have deserved more developments.  Exclusively built up on collections of official documents, the work lets uncovered numerous aspects of the complex interaction between power and society in Soviet Central Asia.  Moreover, Central Asian Islam appears there as a ghost, and its leading figures as mere spectres, for the most part through a limited number of movements of open, sometimes armed resistance—as it was already the case in the studies devoted in the West to Soviet Islam during the Cold War period.  From this point of view, the present monograph appears characteristic of a significant portion of current Central Asian studies still considered, as far as the history of the Tsarist and Soviet periods is concerned, an extension of Soviet studies.  In spite of the presence of captivating elements of periodisation on the religious policy of the Soviet power, on the sometimes rapid evolution of the representations that conditioned it, and still on the regionalised character of this strategy’s implementation, the reading of this captivating work leads us to the observation that Islam in Central Asia has not yet been fully promoted to the status of a full-right object of contemporary history.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-3.4.D-326