Sunday, February 4, 2024

Central Asia’s Demographic and Environmental Problems Began with Khrushchev’s Belief He Needed Cotton for Rocket Fuel, Suleymenov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 31 – The environmental and even demographic problems facing Central Asia today have their roots in Nikita Khrushchev’s indefensible pursuit of nuclear superiority over the west and the inability of those around him to influence him to change course, Olzhas Suleymenov says.

            Suleymenov,  Kazakhstan’s great poet and anti-nuclear activist, known around the world for his book Az i Ya, says that Khrushchev in 1962 expanded cotton production in Central Asia because he believed he needed cotton for rocket fuel («жертвовали-морями-и-сокращали-народы»).

            To grow more cotton, he says, Khrushchev had to take more water out of the feeder rivers that kept the Aral Sea alive. To do that, he had to ignore objections from the party leadership of Kazakhstan and hand over portions of the south of that republic to Uzbekistan. The result was disaster: the death of the Aral Sea and today’s environmental and demographic problems.

            When Khrushchev was overthrown in 1964, it turned out that there were alternatives to the use of cotton for rocket fuel; and Moscow moved in that direction. Brezhnev who had served in Kazakhstan returned the lands transferred to Uzbekistan; but the damage of Khrushchev’s misguided pursuit of cotton growth had been done and hasn’t been reversed, Suleymenov says.

            Suleymenov was one of the founders of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear movement 35 years ago, but his comments on this point seem less about nuclear weapons than about the dangers any society faces when one leader can make unchallenged decisions and impose them on the population.

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