Tashkent has long worked hard to erase Uzbekistan’s Soviet legacy. But the process, it seems, is far from complete. Authorities have ordered another 240 street and place names in the Uzbek capital renamed, the olam.uz website reports.
Having run out of Bolshevik leaders to purge, municipal authorities have turned to the artists and international heroes that once made Tashkent’s cosmopolitan residents proud. For example, a street named after Soviet Uzbek theater director Mannon Uygur became Gulobod (Flower Garden), while Anna Akhmatova Street, named after the Russian poetess, became Nemat (Blessing) Street, according to the recent order.
For some, the campaign to rename squares, streets, parks and subway stations looks like a politically motivated effort to erect a new political culture. That was understandable when the process started, soon after Uzbekistan obtained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. But many now wonder when it will end.
Among the first victims of the campaign 20 years ago were the capital's landmark Lenin Square (now Independence Square), which was home to a giant Lenin statue, and Revolution Square (now Amir Temur Square), a leafy park that marked the geographical center of the city with a bust of communist demigod Karl Marx. Lenin was replaced with a globe showing Uzbekistan at the center of the world, and Marx relinquished his seat to a monument of Amir Temur, better known in the West as tyrant conqueror Tamerlane whom President Islam Karimov has reinvented as an Uzbek hero.
While the initial de-Sovietization campaign found widespread support, many Tashkent residents were indignant later when authorities began renaming streets and facilities that had nothing to do with the Communist Party. Some central streets were meant to symbolize Uzbek friendship with other countries in the region: Pushkin Street, a symbol of friendship with Russia, became Independence, while the street named after the 17th-century Ukrainian statesman Bogdan Khmelnitsky became Babur (after the founder of the Mughal empire, another re-imagined hero born in what is now Uzbekistan).
Perhaps it is not surprising that in a country as eager to isolate itself as Uzbekistan, the very concept of Peoples’ Friendship has also fallen foul of officialdom: In 2008, there were sites all over the city named Peoples’ Friendship (Xalqlar Dustligi): a concert hall, a square, an avenue and a subway station. The first two are now called Independence and the latter two Bunyodkor (Creator). Bunyodkor happens to be the name of one of Uzbekistan’s most successful soccer clubs, which has given rise to speculation that the name change was done to please the president’s eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, who is widely said to be connected to the club.
Some of the efforts appear to snub Moscow directly (something of a past-time for Karimov).
Victory Day (celebrating the end of the Second World War in Europe, marked on May 9) got a new moniker in 1999: The Day of Remembrance and Honor. In Uzbekistan, the war it marks, commonly known as the Great Patriotic War in former Soviet countries, is now called The War of 1941-1945.
All this renaming sometimes offers opportunity for mockery: During the recent holiday season, culture ministry officials reportedly recommended theater directors start calling Santa Claus (who is known locally as Father Frost or Qor Bobo) the Star Magician in their holiday performances.