Friday, 23 October 2009

Мен Казакпын - I am Kazakh

Yerbolat is a Kazakh hiphop/R'n'B artist whose songs have strong elements of Kazakh folk music. The lyrics of this song - Мен Казакпын - are a poem written by Dzhuban Moldagaliev in 1964.

Here is a literal translation of one of the verses (from Kazakh to Russian, then to English by me - thanks to Dzhon at for the Russian translation!):
I am Kazakh, I have died and come back to life a thousand times, in order to continue the story through my life.
If I cried, the sun darkened in the sky, and if I laughed - the darkness receded from my eyes.
I am Kazakh, in my own way I am also great.
I am like a new, seventh continent between old Europe and ancient Asia,
but I am used to being with all other peoples. I've wandered around in the night until I was exhausted.
A mighty explosion helped me find myself.
I have arisen from the dark, like an island from the bottom of the ocean,
And I walked to the threshold of the blinding sun.
This poem, and also the video, which is like a smplified crash course on Kazakh history, with some sports heroes thrown in at the end, could perhaps be seen as blatant nationalism.

But Kazakhstan is in the process of decolonization. The Kazakh Khanate was incorporated into the Russian Empire and colonized from the 18th century onward. After the Russian revolution, there was a brief period of autonomy, aligned with the White Army, until the Bolshevik authorities took control over the territory. During its time as a Soviet autonomous republic, people of many different ethnicities were deported to Kazakhstan, and many more voluntarily settled there as Kazakhstan came to be a vital part of the Soviet Union in terms of agriculture and industry. Supposedly, by the 1970's Kazakh SSR was the only Soviet republic in which the eponymous nationality was a minority in its own republic.

When Moldagaliev wrote the poem, there was, since the end of the war and especially with destalinization, a trend in Soviet culture of positive encouragement of the ethnic minorities in the USSR. Many literary magazines in minority languages were founded, and this is also when Chingiz Aitmatov wrote his popular books set in the Kirghiz SSR, drawing on local folklore.

Now Kazakhstan is an independent nation, but the Soviet period has left behind "a dominating class of Russian technocrats, who are necessary to economic progress but ethnically unassimilated" (says Wikipedia). Most people in Kazakhstan, regardless of ethnicity, speak Russian with each other.

There are efforts to build up positive "national self-esteem" among Kazakhs - teaching children the Kazakh language in school is one, and popular music fusing traditional music styles with Western styles is one - dombra, or even overtone singing ...
In the case of rap, hiphop and R'n'B, the counterculture of an oppressed group in another country (African Americans), struggling for a positive, independent self-image, is fused with local culture to form a counterculture of your own - true internationalism?

Anyway, let's see if I can name all the historical images used in this video ...
0:01 - Bronze age petroglyphs, perhaps at Tamgaly?
0:07 - Horseback warriors, symbolizing the ancient nomadic cultures on Kazakh territory.
0:40 - Mausoleum of Sufi Khoja Ahmad Yasavi, erected by Timur in the city Turkestan
0:50-0:53 - People playing the dombra?
1:04-1:08 - Some early 20th century footage
1:20 - Yuri Gagarin lifting off from Baikonur (in Kazakh SSR)
1:24 - Kazakh cosmonaut Talgat Musabayev
1:29 - WWII bombings?
1:33 - Nuclear bomb testing
1:40 - People demonstrating against nuclear weapons? (The sign the lady carries has a crossed out missile or rocket, but I can only discern the word "нет", "no".)
1:44 - This footage really puzzles me - maybe it's related to the demonstrations?
1:50 - In the late 80's, the ethnic Kazakh First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakh SSR was dismissed by Gorbachev, and an ethnic non-Kazakh with no previous experience in the Kazakh SSR was set to replace him. This sparked massive riots.
1:55 - A train - the railroads are very important pillar of Kazakhstan's infrastructure.
1:56 - Oil industry
2:05 - President Nursultan Nazarbayev flies the new Kazakh national flag shortly after independence.
2:08 - Nuri meets his people
2:16 - Wheat fields
2:18 - Oil industry again
2:20 - Views on Astana, with the Astana tower
2:24 - I actually don't know most of the sportsmen and -women here ... But I'll try. 2:46 is probably Assan Bazayev? 2:56 is judoka Askhat Zhitkeyev. 3:00 is Irina Nekrasova, and 3:07 is Ilya Ilin.
3:24 - An eagle hunter, tying the knot back to ancient and still prevailing Kazakh culture.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Making of a Rebel: Salavat-Batyr

Salavat Yulai was the name of a man who became the national hero of today's Bashkiria. He was born 16 June 1754 in Tekeevo (a now eradicated village in Bashkiria) and died 26 September 1800 in captivity in Rogervik (today Paldiski, Estonia). He participated in the rebellion of Cossack leader Yemelyan Pugachev against the rule of Catherine the Great. This ensured him a place in not only Bashkir national history and folklore, but also the official Soviet historiography. This article is illustrated with screencaps from the Soviet movie Salavat Yulayev from 1941, which reflect the fact that history is always written with the present in mind.

Already in his youth, it was told, Salavat was a very strong lad who went bear-hunting at age 14 armed only with a dagger. Another sign of early maturity was his poetry - his first writings reflect on the beauty of nature and freedom.

Salavat's father, Yulai Aznalin, had participated in the peasant rebellion of 1735–1740. Salavat was conscripted by the Imperial army to fight the rebellious Cossacks of Emelian Ivanovich Pugachev, but he joined Pugachev instead.

A beaming young leader (played by Arslan Mubaryakov) - but treachery looms behind the imperial eagle.

Pugachev appointed him a colonel (polkovnik), and Salavat recruited a Bashkir troop of 10.000 and fought bravely until the downfall and capture of Pugachev by the Imperial army.

Salavat captured and whipped. In the film, this is one of the turning points in his youth.

In 1774, Salavat was also captured in the village of Medyash and sent to Moscow. In September 1775 he was sentenced to hard labour for life, together with his father. They were sent to the fortress of Rogervik at the Baltic Sea, where all peasant rebels were incarcerated. Father and son spent their last years there.

In the film, Salavat breaks his chains and avenges himself on his tormentor - tragically, a fellow Bashkir.

In the 1940 film, his poetry is relegated to a supporting role. He displays his oratory skills only a few times, to excite his followers and charm his supporters, but true to Soviet realist principles he is more a man of action - even a "noble savage" at times, thumping his chest enthusiastically after defeating an evildoer, exclaiming: "Salavat batyr!"

Salavat and his Russian friend have beaten the feudal exploiters of the labourers.

Very little of his poetry has been preserved in the Bashkir language. One of his final lines of poetry was said to be: "No, Bashkirs, I am not dead!" And the film ends on this triumphant note, leaving out the long years in prison.

The depiction of Russo-Bashkir cooperation is particularly interesting in the film. In the beginning, Salavat is indiscriminately anti-Russian. This is made understandable in a very simple way - he has only met drunk Imperial officials who abuse the peasants and disrespect the elderly.

After being injured by soldiers, Salavat is rescued by an escaped Russian convict, who eventually makes him realize that not all Russians are evil.

Especially not Tanka.

She pushes him in the snow, throws snowballs at him and calls him a bear. Love at first sight!

Tanka, the daughter of a Cossack, bears Salavat a son - but the war cuts short their happiness.

Further adventures at the hands of treacherous Bashkirs opens his eyes to the flaws within his own nation. This obvious moral lesson is maintained throughout the film - in the end, Salavat's sister Amina learns to love her nephew, although he is half-Russian.

Amina and little Salavat - "my Salavat!"

The heavy-handed approach was necessary to make the story of a minority national hero suit Soviet politics. the official historiography stressed Salavat Yulayev's wish for freedom through friendship and mutual aid between all nations. In reality, the cooperation plan between Pugachev and his supporters of various creeds and ethnicites was more complicated. The desertions and deceptions that plague the rebels throughout the film reflect the reality - not everyone believed that Pugachev fought for free-for-all "freedom", probably not even Pugachev himself.

Salavat and Yemelyan share a bear hug.

There certainly was a place in Soviet historiography for the development of national consciousness among the minority peoples - it was seen as a necessary requirement before they could reach the next stage in history, socialism, and finally communism. But national independence was not an issue. History had a pre-determined path to follow, and nationalism was only a phase, according to this way of thinking.

An intertitle listing all the nationalities that joined the rebellion: Cossacks, Russian peasants, Tatars, Chuvash, Mordvins, Mari, Bashkirs...

Today, the flaws of Soviet historiography and its political uses are obvious. But can we deal with our own interpretations of history with an open mind? Doubtlessly rebels like Salavat Yulai still have a meaning and a purpose, even as names of cities, hockey teams and public parks. Catherine the Great, who wanted to eradicate his memory by publicly shaming him and later prohibiting the use of his name among Bashkirs, has failed. What will the Salavat-batyr of the future look like?


The movie Salavat Yulayev can be watched in its entirety on YouTube. It was directed by Yakov Protazanov, also famous for his 1924 version of the Soviet sci-fi novel Aelita filled with constructivist design.

P.S. For those of you who have a thing for evil Imperial officers with pointy noses and periwigs... come on, know I can't be the only one...

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Horseback Wrestling!

Part of the traditional Vernal Equinox (Nauryz) celebrations in Kazakhstan. Comment from a random YouTube user: "these are the REAL Turks!!!!!!!!"

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Rest in Peace, Marek Edelman

Marek Edelman, hero of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, passed away on October 2, 2009. He continued to resist the Nazis in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and stayed in Poland after the war. He continued to fight for freedom in the Solidarność movement into old age.

More handsome ghetto fighters here - bright-eyed, some serious, some smiling, so young and so brave. Most of them did not survive the war. They deserve to be remembered also here on Chirayliq, as an integral part of the history of Europe and Eurasia.

(Via: The Passing of a Noble Man)

Friday, 2 October 2009

Lumberjacks and Sailors

Some essential icons of masculinity in Soviet propaganda, subjects of many a film, novel and play, but also real people who worked hard and sacrificed a lot for themselves and the nation. Enjoy some "music videos" from the Soviet Union, courtesy of YouTube user Pustinnik25, who has a wonderful collection of nostalgic video clips.

Legendary Soviet troubadour and dissident Vladimir Vysotsky sings a hymn to the sea and the mountains, while we are treated to closeups of handsome sailors. From the movie "Ветер надежды" (Wind of Hope, 1977). Film info in Russian.

And here we have Eduard Hil serenading the endless taiga in the movie "Таёжный десант" (Taiga Landing Force, 1965). Film info in Russian and English.