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Zukhra Madamindzhanova: Features of the urban culture in Tajikistan

“There is a process of “ruralization” in the cities connected with the development of internal migration. It is an influence of rural traditional culture on the urban community. Prototypes of urban culture are broken, and the urban lifestyle is changing”, writes Zukhra Madamindzhanova, specialist in ethno-politics, PhD in history, in her article.

History of urbanization
Urban culture of the Tajiks has more than a thousand years of history. There was a period when the majority of the population in the cities of Fergana, Zeravshan, Pyanj-Amudarya valley, in Badakhshan, Khorasan and Punjab were Tajiks. “The vast majority of mudarris [teachers – translator’s note], artisans, traders, spiritual (religious) elites consisted of persons belonging to the Tajik ethnic group. The bulk of the employees of governments and bureaucracy was composed of Tajiks. The main language of business, office and trade was Tajik, and court cases were also considered in the Tajik language. Throughout the Asian part of the Silk Road, the leading language of international communication was Tajik. Spatial dominance of that language extended from Khorasan to Khotan and Bengal, from the southern extremities of the Indian peninsula to the southern borders of the Kipchak steppe. It is important to note that the Tajik ethnic group was the most urbanized among the many ethnic groups throughout all these spaces.

However, the national-state demarcation in the beginning of the existence of the Soviet Union had led to the fact that the Tajiks were given only a part of the extremities of the vast territory, which was characterized by high levels of mountainous landscapes and steep land. These areas, i.e. mountain extremities of “the Tajik world” were the most non-urbanized, isolated from the outside world by high mountain ranges. On the basis of these territories, there had been created the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic as part of Uzbekistan in 1924. All the ancient Tajik cities (except Khujand) were within other countries. [1]

During the subsequent period, Tajikistan was and remains primarily an agricultural country. But the process of building new cities and urbanization was the most extensive in the modern history of the country during the years of Soviet power. The current capital of the country – the city of Dushanbe – and a few major big cities such as Kurgan-Tube, Kulyab, Khorog and others were then built. The process of industrialization and growth in the share of the urban population as compared with the rural also happened during that period, there were all sorts of changes: political social, economic, but above all, cultural.

Industrialization in the last years of Soviet power had a positive impact on Tajikistan, when the number of small towns increased. There was a growing influx of people into the cities, urban culture in large and small cities was created and developed. Large territorial industrial complexes were built, too, including the South-Tajik territorial industrial complex. It should be noted that until 1991, the territorial distribution of the productive forces of Tajikistan had been focused on the satisfaction of demands of the agrarian economy in the interests of the entire Soviet Union. The republic exported hydrocarbon and mineral resources, cotton and other raw materials. However, in general, the majority of the population continues to live in the countryside.

The permanent population of the Republic of Tajikistan, as estimated by the State Statistics Committee of Tajikistan, amounted to 8 million 161 thousand people, as of January 1, 2014, including 2 million 170.9 thousand of urban population and 5 million 990.2 thousand of rural population.
In recent years, the proportion of the rural population remains stable at the level of 73.6%, and of urban – 26.4%. [2]

The village retains the traditional system of survival through its commitment to an economic-cultural type of sedentary farmers, through the ritual tradition, through the maintenance of family-related structure. These relationships continue to dominate in Tajik society today.

The process of “ruralization” in the modern history of Tajikistan
The collapse of the Soviet Union was followed by the civil war in Tajikistan (1992-1997), which led to a mass exodus of city dwellers, most of whom were Russian-speaking population. In 1989, there were 388,500 Russians in the total population of the republic. The census in 2010 showed that there remained 34.8 thousand Russian people in the country. However, the rural population from among the titular nation replaced their places.

The migration of rural population to urban areas has increased dramatically in the post-war years, due to poverty, unemployment, low level of education in rural schools. The settling of the rural population took place in the major cities, particularly in Dushanbe, Khujand, Kurgan-Tube and Kulyab.

However, the system of urbanization common to other cities in the world, when the rural way of life is changing under the influence of urban culture, did not work in Tajikistan. There is a process of “ruralization” in the cities connected with the development of internal migration. It is an influence of rural traditional culture on the urban community. This trend is observed in almost all major cities of Tajikistan. Prototypes of urban culture are broken, and the urban lifestyle is changing.

“Ruralization” or the “attack” of the village, with all its negative effects lead to the decrease in the proportion of the rural population in its total percentage. It finds expression in the spread of rural life, agriculture and rural thinking and behavior, and the gradual decline of urban values.

 Compared with the processes of urbanization, processes of “ruralization” and its influence on the dynamics, structure and way of life of the urban population in different stages attracted minor attention of researchers and, in fact, this phenomenon has never been discussed in domestic science, although these are very important issues for the development of society. For example, the attempts to revive the national consciousness often lead to a focus on the traditional cultural model of a villager, i.e. to relapse of “ruralization” of modern society, which is clearly contrary to the basic moments of the country’s modernization.

Capital loses the urban culture
Modern urban culture, such as the capital city of Dushanbe, had evolved over many decades. The main trend of development of Dushanbe recently has been the increase in the proportion of the urban population due to internal migrant villagers. Dushanbe is a specific formation not only in the settlement system, but also in a system of social relations. The outflow of a large number of urban residents (mostly Russian-speaking) in the 1990s led to their replacement by the rural population, not ready to accept urban culture which is alien to them, and they brought to the city their own behavioral patterns.

There developed an urban culture, which is undergoing special difficulties in its perception by migrant villagers. They do not understand the rules of living in large densely populated neighborhoods, homes, sanitation rules, they cannot talk quietly, they do not know how to properly cross highways and use public transport.

In their behavior they exhibit collective thinking. The villagers-townspeople adjust the city to their living conditions. They “update” their life in the city, wash carpets and rugs in the yard or near open bodies of water, build “degdon” and “Tandoori” – ovens for baking bread – and they cut down trees for these purposes. Previously green and blooming front gardens in the courtyards of apartment buildings have now become void.

The villagers are not accustomed to bear responsibility for cleanliness of their entrances, areas near them, not seeing the need to maintain order in the common areas, or, on the contrary, appropriate these lands, enclosing them. Whether we like it or not, this process is completely objective, but this process needs to be managed.

In recent years, in cities and districts, there is extensive construction and renovation of urban infrastructure, which came into disrepair over the years of independence. Apartment houses with parking and modern communications are being built. Grandiose cultural objects are being erected. However, the invasion of rural culture in the urban culture is manifested by the devaluation of the latter. And the city authorities’ attempts to change the behavioral patterns of the villagers do not bring much success. More efforts are required for this to happen.

The traditional rural society in Tajikistan keeps its own positions, despite the processes of modernization and urbanization, which are not unique to the distant and recent past, but also to modern conditions.

 General problems and their solutions
1. In Tajikistan, which takes the path of democratization of the political system (centralized state, the president, parliament, multiparty system, universal elections), there is a very weak political culture of the society, which generally delays the promotion of urbanization of the population of Tajikistan. Its creation is not promoted either by the level of education and training in secondary schools and kindergartens, or by the general policy of state media, television and radio.

2. The weak labor and services market in the villages and districts, permanent economic crises, infrastructure and other urban facilities, the potential for employment in urban areas do not correspond to high rates of urbanization. However, the standard of living in cities continues to be higher than in rural areas, and this fact attracts rural residents to cities. The lack of housing and high wages does not stop them. The main places of earnings for them are urban markets, cafeterias, cafés, restaurants, car washes and other service industries in large cities. Often the jobs are distributed on the parochial principle. Having a job and position, villagers and relatives pull “their” relatives into the city.

Professor Hodzhimahamd Umarov in his article “Once again about the national idea”, writes the following: “The most sad manifestations of ruralization is the seizure of high government positions by the poorly educated villagers who by vocation should have been breeding cows, birds, sheep, engaging in waste collection, purification of the field ditches, etc. This layer of people, in quantitative terms, constitutes a significant part of the staff of public administration, both at the center and at the local level. This staff is very far from the modern perception of intellectual values”. [3]

3. The gap in the level and quality of life of rural and urban populations increased.
Meanwhile, we should note the impact of labor migration on the structure of urban residents. Most migrant workers come from rural areas, coming to Russia from Tajik villages. They quickly become accustomed to the good life conditions, which are not available in villages in Tajikistan, for example, central heating, gas, hot water, sewage, etc. Earning for housing, migrant workers buy houses in their city at home and bring their families there. And if they themselves get assimilated in urban environments, their wives and children face more difficulties here.
If labor market, communication systems, etc. developed in rural areas, the villagers would not have to look for earnings in the cities.

4. The grandiose construction and increase in the number of new buildings are often conducted without regard to the load on the existing urban infrastructure. Housing, infrastructure and other facilities, the potential for employment in urban areas do not correspond to high rates of urbanization. Cities are designed for a certain number of the population, in particular, the city of Dushanbe can take just 650-800 thousand people, but now it is home to about 1.500000 people. Water and sewage pipes, electrical networks and other urban communication systems have not been updated for many years, and those communications that exist today simply cannot withstand such loads as a result of wear out. It is necessary to develop the infrastructure of cities and increase their capacity to accept new residents (housing, social infrastructure, employment, etc.).

5. There are problems in the system of urban management (staff turnover and the low wages paid) and municipal budgets. There is no coherent policy of urbanization. Urban development is partly covered by various government /regional /sectoral programs, but we have not heard of a unified program.

6. Currently, there are no comprehensive studies that would consider the models and policies of urbanization in Tajikistan, with an emphasis on analysis of the challenges and opportunities of the effective urban development.

7. It is necessary to develop a program to work with the city’s population through the institutions of civil society, strengthen local authorities “Makhalya councils” for the development of urban culture and create an image of “a resident of the city or the capital”. The work on citizen education should start from the earliest stages, from kindergartens and schools. The mainstream media, primarily television and radio, should be involved in this work, too.

Zukhra Madamindzhanova, specialist in ethno-politics, PhD in history.

The views of the author may not necessarily represent those of CABAR