Saturday, February 27, 2021

Central Asians Moving into Cities but Not Becoming Urbanized, Mamyrayymov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 26 – Measured in terms of the share of the population living in cities, the countries of post-Soviet Central Asia are rapidly becoming urban societies, Talgat Mamyrayymov says; but they aren’t being urbanized in terms of the values. Indeed, since 1991, that process has slowed because so many national leaders have direct links with villages.

            The Kazakh political scientist says that “at the present time in Central Asia lives a primarily marginalized population; that is, it is neither urban nor rural” and do not fit easily into the traditional society of the village or into that of cities and are viewed as outsiders by both groups (

            “The internal world of the marginal population tends toward a feeling of ‘moral dichotomy, division and conflict,’ one in which old habits have been cast off but new ones have not yet been formed,” Mamyrayymov continues. Thus, the incomplete urbanized may be viewed as an outcast or dissident in the villages, something blocks modernization from spreading.

            “In Central Asia and Kazakhstan,” he argues, “modernization was not completed in Soviet times.” In general, what modernization there was occurred within the local European population most of whose members left after the disintegration of the USSR. But the local populations who moved in to replace them have not yet been transformed by that experience.

            Moreover, the analyst says, there has been “an unrestrained revival of traditional values [from the villages], especially the values of khan-like authoritarianism and the broad spread of the archaicization” of everyone in these countries including urban dwellers. As a result, urbanization has not contributed to modernization.

            These trends have been promoted by senior leaders in many places who themselves are “former peasants and therefore willingly occupy themselves with the revival of traditional values, including the promotion of strata hierarchies and above that pyramid, devotion to ‘the khan,’” or as they see it to themselves.

            This trend has gone so far, the analyst argues, that in some places, even those who live in urban areas reject the modernized forms of city life because they see these social arrangements as antithetical to their own nation’s wellbeing. Longtime urbanites “stigmatize” such incompletely urbanized residents and refer to them with various pejoratives.

            That is one of the reasons why Central Asian countries continue to have a propiska (registration) system so that the longtime urbanites can keep themselves separate from the latest arrivals, an arrangement that also means that the latter are less likely to become urbanized and modernized, Mamyrayymov says.

            That has left the cities of Central Asia to be “without an urban culture,” but a city without that culture is “a fiction incapable of performing the functions of the city regarding industrialization” or modernization more generally. Overcoming this is going to take a long time, almost certainly more than a generation.

            But if such non-urbanized city dwellers continue to dominate the scene, the countries of Central Asia will not be able to modernize no matter what else they try, the analyst concludes.


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