Friday, March 17, 2023

De-Colonizing Central Asia Cities Requires Much More than Changing Street Names, Rada Valentina Kyzy Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 15 – Many assume that the de-colonization of the cities of Central Asia will be completed once Soviet and Russian names of streets and squares are replaced with those drawn from the indigenous nations, but that is a mistake because colonialism had a much greater impact on these places than just these names, Rada Valentina Kyzy says.

            While no one will ever know for certain what the cities of Central Asia would have been like had there not been Soviet power, the founder of the urbanist Peshcom initiative in Bishkek says, it is likely that these places would be more varied and possibly more inclusive as well (

            Discussions of the need to de-colonize life in Central Asia began “about 15 years ago,” Valentina Kyzy says, but the process has been slow not only because of the continuing ties between the countries of the region and Russia which doesn’t want to hear such talk but also because the governments have not set up institutional frameworks for its discussion.

            Changing names is only a small part of the task, she continues. “The architectural face of Bishkek and other cities of Kyrgyzstan was laid down in Soviet times. Frunze” as Bishkek was then known “developed along directions common for all capitals of union republics,” although Soviet planners did take some but far from all local conditions into account.

            Far more needs to be done because it is important that “a city reflect the identity of the people who live in it, Valentina Kyzy says. They must now only feel comfortable but also have a sense that they can make their own decisions about it. They were deprived of that possibility in Soviet times, and it must be restored.

            “In Soviet times, an ideology was imposed and all decisions were taken from above, a pattern that made people feel that they could not do things for themselves.” Unfortunately, that hasn’t been entirely overcome. And when people see that their environment hasn’t changed, they somehow expect that someone else will make the decisions that need to be taken.

            Changing street signs will help but it won’t be enough: changing the visage of the city will contribute to such a positive development in major ways.

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