Future construction (not prediction) is not taking place in Central Asia. As a result, we are afraid of the future, disappointed with the present and fixated on the past. The past is by all means important. It gives us a sense of belonging. Yet history is once again being re-narrated by Russia. According to Moscow, there were no cities, no states, and no science or culture in Central Asia before Russia colonised the region. An incredible ability to disregard thousands of years of history seems to be the country's forte.
While Russia entertains itself with the lost paradise myth, let's take control of our future.
In its propaganda narrative, Russia is stressing the glory of the past. This is a common “lost paradise” strategy. The concept is a myth of a golden age of a particular state or folk and the idea that this paradise-like state of being was lost due to sin and seduction – yes, very biblical. In the case of Russia, the lost paradise is the USSR. The sinners are those who allowed its dissolution and the serpent is the collective “evil West” headed by the USA.
Now, in order to return to paradise (Make America great again?), Putin proclaimed himself as a re-gatherer of Russian lands.
The encoded message is that once the late USSR borders are restored, paradise will reign.
No hope for the present
The idea is landing well with those nostalgic for the USSR – the elder generation who did not find stability in new realities. Moreover, many of them lost their previous socioeconomic status (and, naturally their youth that they long for), thus they are active agents in seeking the restoration of “the paradise” where shoes were very durable but all one size, one style and not available for sale.
Of course, even the new generation who never lived in the USSR is subjected to this inheritance of memory. Our curricula, monuments, cartoons, fairy tales, movies, and jokes are highly influenced by Russia. Russia is opening schools and university branches in Central Asia, delivering books and teachers and these “gifts” are embraced, although they are anchors of influence. This is soft power that achieves the following, among other things:
- Teaches history from Russia’s perspective
- Makes people believe that Russian culture is correct and superior
- Instils insecurities of feeling small and in need of Russia’s protection
- Demonizes the West
- Makes people nostalgic for the past
- Deprives of the ability to imagine the future in general and the future without Russia in particular
The future is absent in Russia’s narrative. This void must be filled to counter its past-oriented vision. Where are we headed in Central Asia? How do we see our region in the nearest future? What are we doing now to benefit tomorrow?
What can be done?
In my days as a PhD candidate at Erasmus University, I worked with Dr Etienne Augé who specializes in future studies. In his course, Dr Augé invited the students to make creative projects portraying the future they WANT to live in 10 years ahead. Fascinating results each time!
We need to massively engage in future construction exercises across different sectors in Central Asia. Without a vision for the future, we will be fixated on the (often made-up) past.
At a local library in Rotterdam, I stumbled upon a book that in a fairy tale-like form taught kids how to avoid online scams and predatory communication. Brilliant! We need kids’ content of this nature in the local languages and in Russian.
We need to teach kids media literacy and adults will learn along the way.
They say that without knowing your past you don’t know yourself. Yes. But without a vision for the future you know only a limited version of yourself, cemented to your past. Let’s start thinking about the future. All scenarios are welcome.