It seems that I was destined to be a student of Social Sciences. I like to describe myself as a person who was born in the country that does not exist anymore - the USSR - and grew up abroad, having resided long-term in five different countries: Uzbekistan, USA, Kyrgyzstan, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

 

I witnessed and vividly remember the collapse of the Soviet Union and the stagnation, poverty, uncertainly and decadence of crime that followed. I went to school in September of 1993 when all the kids were still drawing the Kremlin in their notebooks. By October of the same year, we were ripping out portraits of the father of the Bolshevik Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, from our books. Like millions of other kids, I witnessed the stress that my parents went through when they found out that their savings are not worth anything, as the Soviet ruble lost value in one instance. Like millions of others, my grandmother and I stood in lines for milk, bread, flour, and other basic products. As a ‘child of the 90s’ growing up in Central Asia’s Ferghana Valley, inter-ethnic conflicts, poverty, crime, authoritarianism, issues of reinventing state history, nation-building, belonging and identity were indeed part of my everyday reality. Majoring in Political Science at the bachelor level was a thrilling, if not inevitable, experience for me.

 

As time progressed, my academic focus has taken a direction towards security-related matters and I pursued two masters’ degrees in security studies. While working towards a master of arts in politics and security at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, I studied borders and enclaves of the Ferghana Valley and their impact on everyday lives in Central Asia’s most densely populated part. The study resulted in several policy papers, suggesting a course of action for the governments, as well as international and local actors.

During this time, the idea of ‘plovism’ was born in the Conflict Resolution and Mediation module I took. There are centuries of shared history among the people of Central Asia, yet inter-ethnic conflicts take place periodically. These conflicts are rooted in disputes over land and water, but deeply-ingrained problems in the nation-building approaches culminate in physical attacks between the neighbours. Unfortunately, this is a global trend. Plovism seeks to focus on our similarities and common human experiences while celebrating and embracing diversity. Like all the different ingredients in Central Asia's most famous dish - plov – oil, meat, onions, carrots, rice, spices, make up a beautiful dish, so can we come together and make up adequate humanity.

 

My second master’s degree was obtained in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2015-2016. This is when I first started assessing the role of media in security. As people from the MENA region sought refuge in Europe, media response was rather controversial, with prevalence of mis- and disinformation, propaganda and influence operations. For my master’s thesis, I conducted a study on the Russian and German media response to the ‘refugee crisis’, which identified the ability of Russian media to reach Russophone Germans and trigger protest moods through demonisation of Europe. Having entered the world of media, the power and significance of its digital incarnation became illuminated to me. Rapid transition of the public sphere into the digital domain requires an urgent and comprehensive assessment. I started digging further, unpacking the role of states, platforms and users in social media affordances.

 

With curiosity and passion for a better understanding of social harms and benefits of digital media, I am currently investigating the phenomenon of digital vigilantism in Russia and beyond. I am pursuing a PhD as a member of an international team of scholars funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). My area of expertise covers citizen-led justice manifested online; social media use and governance in autocratic contexts; media and security; influence operations; surveillance and privacy; post-Soviet bloc (primarily Russia and Central Asia).


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©2020 by Rashid Faridovich Gabdulhakov