Tuesday, June 30, 2015

South African Literature

I have been listening to the audio version of Deon Meyer's Devil's Peak on YouTube for the last couple of days. Meyer is a popular South African detective novel writer. Devil's Peak is definitely worth listening to. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but Meyer does a fantastic job of developing his characters. The novel revolves around three main characters and Meyer manages to balance the intertwining narratives quite skillfully which is not something that is easy to do. It also deals with the problems of crime and justice in post-apartheid South Africa in a nuanced and sophisticated manner.

Citation in an interesting publication

I came across this recent and rather interesting article on the GULag  looking for citations of my publications.  It is the introduction to a special topic issue on the GULag. This particular article cites my article "Colonialism in One Country: The Deported Peoples of the USSR as an Example of Internal Colonialism"  published in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion last year. Feel free to comment on anything linked above here.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Abstract of Paper for Association of Asian Studies in Africa Conference


Ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan 1882-1992

Asian Studies in Africa: Challenges and Prospects of a New Axis of Intellectual Interactions

Association of Asian Studies in Africa Inaugural Conference

University of Ghana, Legon 24-26 September 2015


J. Otto Pohl

History Department

University of Ghana, Legon

The first ethnic Germans to settle in Kyrgyzstan were Mennonites in 1882 from colonies further west in the Russian Empire in Tavrida along the Black Sea Coast and Samara in the Volga region. Further settlement of Mennonites in Kyrgyzstan from other areas of the Russian Empire took place in 1907-1909. By 1912 their population had increased to almost 1,600. The German speaking population of the territory became both larger and more diverse as Lutherans arrived from the Volga and Kazakhstan during the Soviet era.  The 1926 Soviet census showed 4,291 Germans in Kyrgyzstan. By 1939 the population had increased to 11,741. During the 1940s the Soviet government subjected part of this population, about 3,300 people to forced labor. After the end of the Second World War in 1945 until the end of 1955, the Soviet government imposed a special regime upon the population subjecting them to severe restrictions on their freedom of movement and placing them under police surveillance. Even after the removal of these legal restrictions in December 1955, ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan and other regions of the USSR continued to suffer from various forms of discrimination, particularly with regards to admission to institutions of higher education. During the next couple of decades migration from Kazakhstan and Siberia greatly increased the ethnic German population of Kyrgyzstan. The 1979 Soviet census counted 101,057 ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan or 2.9% of the total population up from 39,915 in 1959.  After the collapse of the USSR, the vast majority of ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan emigrated to Germany. This paper will examine the historical change in the status of the ethnic Germans in Kyrgystan under Soviet rule from one of several diaspora nationalities with guaranteed equal rights to second class citizens with restricted civil rights and finally their subsequent partial rehabilitation. It will make use of archives both from Moscow and Bishkek as well as interviews conducted with ethnic Germans and their family members in Kant and Ivanovka, Kyrgyzstan. 

Asian Studies in Africa Conference

On September 24-26 I will be attending the inaugural conference of the Association of Asian Studies in Africa which will take place at the Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy (LECIAD) on the campus of the University of Ghana. LECIAD is just a short walk from my office at the History Department. The conference has scheduled over 80 panels and round tables on various aspects of Asian and African history and their intersection. I organized a panel on Ethnic Germans in Central Asia, Kazakhstan, and Siberia. I will be giving a paper on ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan from 1882 when they first settled the region until 1992 when massive emigration started to seriously reduce their numerical presence in the wake of the break up of the USSR.  The other two presenters on the panel are Eric Schmaltz and Brent Mai from the US. Eric Schmaltz of Northwestern Oklahoma State University will be giving a paper on the aborted attempt to create a German autonomous oblast in Kazakhstan in the late 1970s. Brent Mai from Concordia University in Portland Oregon will present a paper on Volga German settlements in Siberia. The panel will be chaired by my colleague Nana Yaw B. Sapong. The study of Asia including Central Asia is a growing scholarly field in Africa and this is the first large conference in Africa to deal with the subject. I will have more to report on the conference later.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Minor Victory

At the end of last month I finally got an article accepted for publication in a very prestigious journal on the condition I make some minor revisions.  The revisions took me a lot longer than I thought they would, but I have now completed them. Among other things one of the peer reviewers said I needed to cite the previous research on the subject by Otto Pohl. This is not the only time that has happened to me. I suppose that shows that the peer review actually was blind in this case. At any rate the article should be published sometime next summer. Or about two years after I started writing it. Part of this is the usual backlog. But in this particular case the journal found it very difficult to first find any peer reviewers and then to get one of them to actually submit their report to the journal. I am not sure why that was in this particular case. I suspect it has to do with the subject matter, however, I have no way of verifying this.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bill to Outlaw Gay Propaganda Passes in Kyrgyzstan 90 to 2

It still has to be voted on one more time. But, the Kyrgyz proposal to ban gay propaganda along the lines of the 2013 Russian law just got a step closer to passing today. The Jorgorku Kenesh passed the bill today 90 to 2 in the second reading. The first was in October when it passed 79 to 7. If passed into law the bill would ban any type of advocacy or support of homosexuality. Violators of the law could receive as much as a year in prison.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Flag Post

I am getting tired of reading about the "Confederate" (really the Army of Northern Virginia) flag and how it supposedly represents an evil far worse than anything Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot ever did. So I am posting a picture of a flag I like. The flag on the right represents the Kyrgyz Republic where I am right now visiting family and in-laws.  From a design point of view the Kyrgyz flag is very well done. At the time it was adopted the use of a red background was controversial due to its association with the Soviet past and communism. None of the other former Soviet republics went with an all red background. The closest was Belarus which just took the sickle and hammer off of the flag of the BSSR which was about two thirds red and one third green. The Kyrgyz flag adopted in 1992 in contrast looks very different from the older Soviet flags despite having the same color scheme. The central symbol of a tunduk (the top of yurt) inside a sun with forty rays hearkens back to Kyrgyzstan's pre-Soviet past. The forty rays being representative of the 40 Kyrgyz tribes that united in the national epic Manas.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A very strong Russian challenge to the orthodox US view on racism in the USSR

The orthodox academic position in the US as established and militantly defended by Francine Hirsch at the University of Wisconsin is that there was never any racial discrimination in the USSR under Stalin against such groups as Koreans, Balkars, Chechens, and Crimean Tatars. This extremist position defending the Stalinist regime from any and all charges of racial discrimination has gone almost completely unchallenged in the US. Some Russian scholars, however, have a very different view of racism in the USSR under Stalin. One of these scholars is Madina Tlostanova who pulls no punches when it comes to discussing Soviet racism and the justification of this racism by tenured US professors like Francine Hirsch.
Opposing Weitz, F. Hirsch disagrees with the analogy between the Holocaust and Soviet ethnic cleansings. The skillful Soviet rhetoric, as it turns out, is still able to enchant. However, there is possibly another factor here at work. It is an intention to see the Holocaust and Nazi racial discourses as unique and to disparage the importance of the Soviet racism by its partial justification. What is behind this move? Racism once again - a fundamental basis of modernity. It follows that the lives of Balkars and Koreans are not as important as Jewish lives. Taking Chechens or Crimean Tatars to a subhuman status even without a declared physical annihilation based on racial difference, is presented in some works as not as horrible as the highly symbolic Holocaust experience. Yet the Soviet racial othering is not unique and in various degrees and guises it is typical of Stalinism, Nazism, and colonialism alike. In all cases there is the same operation at work - divesting the enemy of his human nature. He or she is associated with disease, infection, which society needs to be cured from. Sometimes this zeal is milder, as it happened in the interpretation of Oriental women in the USSR, who were seen as subject to (re)formation. In other cases it ends with genocide of the unreformable enemy nations and with erasing of even their names from all encyclopedias and dictionaries, as if they never existed. The final biologization of nationality and its primordial interpretation took a racist form as the right to choose one's nationality even in the passport was granted to only selected citizens in the USSR and accompanied by discriminating policies.

Source: Madina Tlostanova, Gender Epitemologies and Eurasian Borderlands (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), p. 119.

I don't have much hope for US academics ever outgrowing their blindness towards Soviet racism. Hirsch's view pretty much completely dominates the US academy which refuses under any circumstances to believe that such a thing as Soviet racism could exist. But, I am very glad to see that scholars outside the US, particularly in Russia have a far more realistic and less defensive position regarding the Stalin regime.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Summer Break in Bishkek

I have been in Bishkek for the last two weeks. Unlike last year I have not felt compelled to write a lot about it. Although some day I still hope to write a short and simple history of Kyrgyzstan under Soviet rule with an emphasis on the Kyrgyz ASSR (1926-1936) and the Kyrgyz SSR. I have noticed that prices have gone up considerably here in the last year. By rough estimation it looks like food now costs twice as much here as it does in Ghana. Almost all the foreigners have also now left. The plane I arrived on only let off about a dozen of us in Bishkek and I was the only non-citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic. The rest of the passangers including a very large number of very rich looking European NGO parasites were on their way to Ulan Bator. There is no more easy money for the international leisure class to sponge off of in Kyrgyzstan. They have moved on to Outer Mongolia.