Since their incorporation into the Russian Empire in the 19th century, Central Asia and the Caucasus have been the target of various schemes for economic and social improvement. Whether dealing with water management, transportation, education, or medicine and hygiene, the region became a frontier where Russian reformers could try out schemes they were often unable to carry out close to home. In the Soviet period, ideas of modernization became tied up with revolution, and the region gained new importance as an example Moscow could hold up to the colonial and post-colonial world. Local elites were often the driving force of various schemes and projects. The Soviet legacy is ambiguous, however. Clear gains in areas like literacy, health, and infrastructure stand in contrast to environmental pollution, new kinds of inequality, and dislocation caused in part by Soviet social policies. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, these regions have once again become a destination for development, this time from international institutions like the World Bank and various NGOs with more narrowly defined agendas. Originally welcomed by post-Soviet elites looking for help to transition to a post-socialist economy, their activities have been seriously circumscribed over the past decade, as their agendas have been found to be incompatible with the practices of ruling regimes.
Precisely because this region has been part of two very different “schemes to improve the human condition,” it serves as a particularly useful area of focus and offers opportunities to do some comparative thinking. We hope the workshop will lead to discussions that help us compare institutions, discourses, and practices of the Soviet Union, the independent post-Soviet states, and international organizations.
This workshop is being organized with the support of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), the Dutch Royal Academy of Science (KNAW), the Central Asia Program at the George Washington University, and the Central Asia program at Leiden University.
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