Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Finally, I Have Legalized My Marriage

Today after over  four years of struggle with Soviet era red tape I finally successfully registered my marriage with my Kyrgyz partner of nearly seven years at the ZAGS on Sovetskaya in Bishkek. The Kyrgyz authorities rejected my first four attempts at various points along the way. That is the cover of the marriage certificate to the right. According to the US Embassy website on the issue, "Marriages which are legally performed and valid in the Kyrgyz Republic are also legally valid in the United States." If there is a country where it is harder for a US citizen who is not connected to the military or powerful people like Soros to get married to one of their citizens, I don't know what it is. But, I finally did it. Unfortunately, for all the talk of marriage equality, it is not a reality. Somebody like me who manages to overcome all the hurdles to marry a Kyrgyz woman still has an even greater uphill battle to get her a visa to come to the US as can be seen by the information in the link above to the  website of the US embassy in Bishkek.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Once Again We Are On Strike Over Our Book and Research Allowance (UTAG)

On Thursday, 24 July 2014, UTAG (University Teachers Association of Ghana) called an indefinite strike over the issue of nonpayment of book and research allowances. The Ghanaian government as usual has responded with an arrogant refusal to abide by its legal contractual obligations to its employees. This blog has very few readers, but to those who do read it I have a favor to ask. Labor issues in Africa particularly those involving academic labor get very little coverage outside the continent. This is despite the fact that the largest such actions actually occur in Africa and not in the US or even Europe. So to anybody reading this that has the means and that means just about everybody with a blog, a Facebook account, or any other means of communication please spread the word. It is time that people knew.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Red Racisms

Apparently, Ian Law wrote a book specifically on racism in the socialist world called Red Racisms that came out two years ago. It is part of a larger series published on race by Palgrave MacMillan. The part on how racism developed during Tsarist Russia continued to exist in institutional form in the USSR can be read in its entirety here. It was rather disappointing to me both on a practical and theoretical level. He has almost nothing on Stalin's mass deportation of nationalities and the imposition of apartheid like restrictions upon them. Policies and institutions that effected whole groups of people based solely upon their ancestry or blood. Indeed the whole era where much of the Stalin regime's repression was based specifically upon natsional'nost, 1937-1953 is glossed over in a single paragraph with only a single sentence making reference to "ethnic and national purges." Rather it mostly refers to racial continuities in Tsarist and Soviet rule over Central Asia building upon work first pioneered by Geoffrey Wheeler. Instead following in the lines of Hirsch he focuses the section on the USSR on the work of Soviet physical anthropologists during the 1920s that studied racial differences, but had no influence on either Soviet policy or its ideological justification. Although unlike Hirsch he argues that the Soviet government created and enforced racial hierarchies. The post-Stalin period is equally glossed over and there is no mention of Yulian Bromley and ethnos theory at all despite its importance in providing an ideological justification for Soviet nationality policies along lines of racialized ethnicity. Instead there is a cursory treatment of Soviet media coverage of Africa and Africans and an equally brief synopsis of Soviet policy towards the Roma. Indeed most of the chapter does not deal with the Soviet Union at all, but rather first with Imperial Russia and then with the Russian Federation after 1991. Overall the section on the USSR is greatly marred by sins of omission. How institutional racism functioned legally in the USSR and on a day to day basis is almost completely lacking. The manner is which the life chances of ethnic Germans or Crimean Tatars were actually restricted is not discussed at all. Nor is the ethnos theory which justified the racialization of ethnicity and hence practice of racial discrimination by the regime. Instead we are left with just a few generalities about ill treatment of Muslims, Africans, and Roma as the sum of racial discrimination described during the Soviet era. Given the systematic denial of racism in the USSR both by the regime itself  in the past and Western scholars still today the topic deserves a much more thorough and detailed treatment than Law has given it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

New Publication on Blacks in the USSR Out

In addition to being one of the co-editor's of this collection I also have a chapter in it: “Is there a Black Eurasia?: Ghanaian and other African Diasporic Populations in the USSR in Comparative Perspective.” I have reproduced the abstract for the article below.

The population of African ancestry in the USSR exhibited certain diasporic characteristics despite its small population, fragmented settlement, and high levels of acculturation. It also differed considerably both in its legal status and cultural cohesion from other larger European and East Asian diasporas in the USSR such as the Germans, Jews, Poles, Finns, Greeks, and Koreans. Nonetheless it shared with these better researched diasporas the experience of being viewed by most of Soviet society as being alien to the territory of the Russian Empire and USSR. This chapter seeks to place the history of Soviet citizens of African descent into the larger history of how the Soviet government and society at large treated diasporic populations. In particular it compares people of African origins with Germans, Jews, Poles, Greeks, and Koreans. It is hoped that such a comparison can shed greater historical light upon the questions of diaspora and race in the USSR.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Labor Unrest in Ghana and UTAG

Labor unrest in Ghana and strikes by UTAG (University Teachers Association of Ghana) are not new. UTAG was one of many Ghanaian unions that went on strike in 2013. While they have not yet gone on strike in 2014 as have other unions there have been statements that if the book and research allowance is not paid for both 2103/2014 and 2014/2015 in September that UTAG will again strike.  Last year as a result of the strike the 2012/2013 allowance was paid in September. But, in 2012 the 2011/2012 allowance was not paid until December. The government response so far is that it does not owe university lecturers any allowances. UTAG, however, has stated that they will not concede on this issue.  Two years of research and book allowance for lecturers of my rank currently comes to $3000.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Kyrgyz Foods

It appears that my most popular post recently is the one dealing with Ghanaian food. I couldn't find any great links to videos on Kyrgyz food. But, since I have been here I have had the following dishes. I am sure I am missing some, but this is what I can remember off the top of my head.



Fried fish and potatoes









Uzgen Plov

Tony raves about Ghanaian food : Video : Travel Channel

Tony raves about Ghanaian food : Video : Travel Channel

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Ghanaian "Asylum" Seekers in Brazil

The recent claims for political asylum by 200 Ghanaians that went to Brazil to watch the World Cup has come as a shock to me. By all accounts Ghana is politically a freer country than Brazil and has a much better human rights record in recent years. The news stories say the Ghanaians requesting asylum are Muslims fleeing conflict in the north. But, when I left Ghana on 14 June 2014 to come to Kyrgyzstan for the summer I had not heard of any such conflicts during the more than three years I have lived there. What is true is that on a per person basis Brazil is about four times richer than Ghana. This rather than any political or religious reasons would appear to be the real reason that 200 Ghanaian tourists in Brazil so far have applied for "asylum" and many news sources speculate the number could grow to be as high as 1000. While there are some very wealthy people in Brazil, there is also a lot of extreme poverty. It is not necessarily guaranteed that a Ghanaian immigrant in Brazil will have a higher standard of living in Sao Paulo than he would in Accra. There are also reports that a number of these "asylum" seekers want to use Brazil as a way station to the US, believing that it will be easier for them to obtain a visa to the US there than in Ghana. As a US citizen working in Ghana I can assure the Ghanaians in Brazil that there are no jobs in the US even for US citizens and that they are much better off going back to Ghana than being unemployed in the US.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Stalinist Terror in Kyrgyzstan

According to the official history text book used here in Kyrgyzstan, Stalinist repression during the 1930s was quite severe. The most readily available and easily accessible version of this text goes by the title of Istoriia Kyrgyzstana (s drevneishikh vremen do nashikh dnei) 100 ekzamenatsionnykh otvetov: Ekspress-spravochik (Bishkek: Mezgil, 2014). But, the author, O. Dzh. Osmonov has produced a number of different versions of the text. This particular version of the text has four pages (205-209) devoted to massive repression in the 1930s including dekulakization in 1931-1933 and the Great Terror of 1937-1938. This particular version of the text has absolutely nothing on the mass deportation of Karachais, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, and Meskhetian Turks to Kyrgyzstan in 1943-1944. But, I have seen another version of this textbook that does have a small section on the special settlers deported to the republic during the war. Osmonov puts the number of people forcibly deported from Kyrgyzstan to Ukraine and the North Caucasus as kulaks and bais during August to September 1931 at 6,000 families. He notes that a further 2,113 households were repressed within Kyrgyzstan in 1933. Finally, he states "A significant part of the innocent rural population suffered from mass repression." (p. 207). During 1937-1938 he notes that 40,000 people were repressed including 13,000 executions in the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic out of a total population of 1.4 million people. (p. 209). This means that including those deported and otherwise dispossessed during dekulakization that nearly 6% of the population of republic suffered from some form of state repression at the hands of the OGPU and NKVD during the 1930s. In proportional terms this would be the equivalent of 18 million people in the US today. The 13,000 people executed which included such important Kyrgyz leaders as Yusup Abdrakhmanov and notables such as the father of Chingiz Aitmatov who was buried at Chon Tash would proportionally be the equivalent of over 2.75 million people in the US today. Yet none of this is part of the popular collective memory of the Soviet era here in Kyrgyzstan, in Russia which is the legal successor state to the USSR, or among the vast majority of western scholars studying the region today. For most of these people David Satter's description "It was a long time ago, and it never happened anyways" seems to sum up the prevailing attitude.

Los Destellos - Elsa

Rich at Day After the Sabbath turned me on to this and a bunch of other great Peruvian music.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Collective Memory in the former USSR

The crimes of the Stalin regime have been almost completely forgotten in the former USSR. The surviving victims were told to be grateful that the Soviet government in some cases either pardoned or forgave them in the 1950s and 1960s. There was a brief recognition of the worst of the crimes in the early 1990s, but then the coming to terms with the past ended for most of post-Soviet society. There is a strong nostalgic longing for the Soviet past here and this reconstruction of the USSR as a golden era does not distinguish between the brutal dictatorship of Stalin and the comparatively mild Brezhnev era. The entirety of Soviet history is compressed into "Soviet times" when food according to an advertisement at a popular cafe here was always cheap, quick, and tasty. Of course in much of the Soviet Union in the early 1930s including neighboring Kazakhstan millions of people starved to death because there was no food what so ever tasty, cheap, or otherwise. Nor did such hardships end in the 1930s. The USSR suffered another famine in 1946. But, these two famines along with the one in the early 1920s, the GULag, the mass deportation of whole nationalities, and the mass executions of 1937-1938 have all been purged from popular memory. Instead everything from the USSR is glorified in a bizarre capitalist marketing campaign of a very selective and revisionist memory of Soviet state socialism.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Another Post on Soviet Racism

The number of US scholars who believe that there was ever any institutionalized racial discrimination in the USSR against anybody except Jews is extremely small. The official orthodox position is that because natsional'nost is a different word than race that there was never any racial components what so ever to Soviet treatment of people like the Russian-Germans, Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, or Russian-Koreans. However, I recently found one of the very few admissions of the existence of  racism against people other than Jews in the USSR by a US scholar in the last quarter century.

But, the practices of old Russia obviously did not disappear overnight. The Russian-Ukrainian national experiences did not embrace racism and genocide on the British, Spanish, or American model, but discrimination directed against minority peoples - Tatars and other orientals, Turkic peoples, Jews - stained the record of the East Slavs, and black visitors inevitably felt its blows. Because the communists usually suppressed news of racial incidents, however, we have little information on the subject.
Obviously the racism of Tsarist Russia continued in the USSR and became institutionalized in the form of the internal passport and definition of natsional'nost solely along lines of biological descent. This point about the racialization of Soviet categories has been noted by Russian anthropologist Marina Mogil'ner and vehemently denied by US scholars seeking to defend the Soviet dictatorship under Stalin from the charge of racial discrimination.

Source: Woodford McClellen, "Africans and Black American in the Comintern Schools, 1925-1934," The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2 (1993), p. 376.

"Auxiliaries" and the 1947-1948 Rail Strike in French West Africa

I am currently reading Frederick Cooper's Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005). In it there is an analysis of the 1947-1948 rail workers strike in French West Africa. He notes that:

As of 1946, the railway employed 478 Europeans, 1,729 Africans in the various cadres, and 15,726 auxiliaries. Many auxiliaries - treated as temporary workers even after years of service - did the same work as members of the cadres, but they lacked job security, paid housing, and other indemnities. (p. 220). 

To me the auxiliaries sound a lot like various forms of contingent labor still used today including adjuncts at US universities. The primary demand of the strike was for the implementation of "a single, nonracial job hierarchy, with the same benefits package for all members, including the complicated supplements for local cost of living and family obligations." (p. 218). That is that all rail workers including the African auxiliaries as well as the African cadres be given the same pay and benefits as European workers. The incorporation of African auxiliary workers into the single cadre with European levels of compensation did not take place overnight after resolving the strike. But, by 1950 a full 30% of rail workers had been incorporated versus only 12% in 1947. (p. 225). The differential treatment of cadres and auxiliaries had been a key policy of colonial economic policy. The strike had been about forcing the French to institute in practice its officially proclaimed commitment to racial equality in the empire by transforming the colonial rail employment structure to the type that existed in metropolitan France (p. 225). The idea of permanent workers in the US, the cadres, striking to incorporate auxiliaries into their own level of compensation and benefits today seems far fetched. The idea of tenured "progressive" faculty at US universities striking like the African cadre did to incorporate adjuncts into their ranks is unimaginable.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Bishkek News Tonight

Tonight on the local Bishkek news the top three stories were the following.

1. A young man murdered and dismembered his mother in the city.

2. There has been an increase in cases of food poisoning due to eating bad watermelon.

3. The president met with a delegation from Switzerland.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Kyrgyzstan Unveils Statue of Former Communist Leader

They just unveiled a statue in Osh to Absamat Masaliyev the head of the Communist Party in Kyrgyzstan from 1985 until his death in 2004 except for a brief period from April to August 1991. He was the second to last First Secretary of the Communist Party in the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic before the break up of the USSR. This has been the big news story on television tonight. For some reason it made me think of this.

Kanykei - Город

A song about Bishkek.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy Independence Day to the US

To anybody in the US happening to read this have a very happy Independence Day. The last July Fourth I spent in my home country of the US was in 2007. Since then I have spent most of them in Kyrgyzstan. Although I did spend 4 July 2011 in Ghana.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Gaza bombed again and again and again

The recent Israeli collective punishment of the population of Gaza through mass bombings is not surprising. The indiscriminate use of violence against the whole population of Gaza has become a rather regular occurrence and an important part of Israeli strategy for preventing the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. In a very real sense Palestine including the Gaza Strip which lacks control over its own borders, air space, and coastal waters remains one of the world's last actual colonies. What is surprising is how little concern this latest attack has generated despite the fact that 2014 is International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Perhaps people have just grown tired of the never ending Israeli repression of the Palestinians and the resulting Palestinian resistance, a dynamic that is usually termed conflict in US sources to obscure the extreme power differential between the two sides. On the other hand the continued use of Gaza as a bombing range populated with a large number of civilians by the Israeli military every couple of years is not morally sustainable in much of the world outside the US. Eventually there will be serious economic consequences to the Israelis for their actions and they are in a much worse position than South Africa or even Rhodesia to withstand such isolation from important world markets.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

No gas for a month

Evidently most of Bishkek including my flat will have no gas for a month. Since our stove is gas that is a major inconvenience.