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The Crisis of Soviet Power in Central Asia: The 'Uzbek cotton affair' (1975-1991)

Cucciolla, Mario Riccardo (2017) The Crisis of Soviet Power in Central Asia: The 'Uzbek cotton affair' (1975-1991). Advisor: Orsina, Prof. Giovanni. Coadvisor: Barabashev, Prof. Alexey G. . pp. 750. [IMT PhD Thesis]

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The crisis of Soviet power in Central Asia: The 'Uzbek cotton affair', 1975-1991 aims at reconstructing and interpreting the final phases of Soviet political history and its effects in Uzbekistan. To this end, the reconstruction of the ‘Uzbek cotton affair’ – a judicial and political case linking the falsification of cotton production data and corruption that involved thousands of party and state officials in the republic – is something of a case study in evaluating Moscow’s grip on the ‘periphery’ of its empire. This case tracks the life story of Uzbekistan from its consolidation as a Soviet republic, through crisis and ultimately its transition into an independent state. Thus, we can identify ‘the Uzbek cotton affair’ as a critical reason for the transformations within republican political society. At the same time, it can be read as a symptom of a greater incurable disease within the whole Soviet Union itself, a system that collapsed when this kind of top-down hierarchical order – led by ideology, elite politics, social forces and interest groups and even administrators and bureaucrats – cracked down. This dissertation is divided in three parts with a total of seven chapters. The first part is introductory and aims to contextualize the Uzbek ‘periphery’ within the Soviet state, at both the political and at socio-economic level. In the first chapter, I introduce the political features that determined the consolidation of Soviet power in the UzSSR. After the formation of Uzbekistan, the Stalinist terror and the destalinization transition, the Soviet leadership transitioned to a peaceful, decentralized and tolerant pattern of control over the farthest regions of the USSR. During the 70s, the Moscow leadership and the republican party cadres built a patrimonial system that relied on local figures who could ensure loyalty to the central state. This led to the creation of autonomous client networks inside the republic and the mediation of the FS CPUz between Moscow and the national elites. This approach was particularly evident during the long ‘reign’ of the FS CPUz Sharaf Rashidov (1959-1983), a controversial figure at the center of the Cold War who – as we will see in the second chapter – turned Uzbekistan into a ‘cotton republic.’ In fact, the UzSSR became the main supplier of ‘white gold’ and from the ‘60s it essentially doubled down on cotton monoculture as a strategic task for ‘building communism’: for the tenth FYP (1976-1981), Soviet planners demanded an annual production of six million tons of raw cotton from Tashkent and reaching this target at any cost became a matter of political stability and legitimacy for the Uzbek ruling elite. The second part is argumentative and focuses on the three phases of the ‘Uzbek cotton affair.’ Hence, the third chapter analyzes the context of the second economy in the USSR and the features related to corruption and falsification of cotton production data in Uzbekistan. The rise of Andropov and his ‘moralization campaign’ would see an attempt to legalize, cleanse and – ultimately – revitalize a system in which stagnation and fraud had reached unprecedented levels. In 1983, the so called ‘Bukhara affair’ exposed the level of ‘official corruption’ and overwhelmed the higher echelons of the party and state of the UzSSR. Nevertheless, this ‘silent phase’ – characterized by preliminary inquiries, the preservation of power structures in Uzbekistan and general institutional silence – culminated in the death of Rashidov, the subsequent struggle among local elites and a nominal transformation of the patrimonial system. Thus, in the fourth chapter we analyze the ‘systemic phase’ of the Uzbek affair (1984-1985), when Moscow’s moralizing campaign was extended during the XVI plenum CPUz (1984) to map on to discord within the national party elites, the donos (complaints) wars and the internal struggles within the bureaucracy in post-Rashidovian Uzbekistan. The fifth chapter analyzes Moscow’s subsequent ‘trusteeship’ over the republic, reflected in the ‘krasnyi desant’ campaign endorsed by the CC CPSU, the derashidovization crusade, and the zenith of internal struggles in the wake of the ouster of the FS CPUz Usmankhodzhaev and his replacement with the Moscow loyalist Nishanov who attempted and failed to destroy local patrimonial networks. Third and final part is aimed at evaluating the results of the Uzbek cotton affair in the center and in the periphery, and see if this story became a factor determining the collapse of the Soviet system as in Moscow as in Tashkent. The sixth chapter focuses on the investigators Gdlyan and Ivanov who became a symbol of the prosecution of the ‘big fish’ and alleged prominent members of the CC CPSU – and even Gorbachev – of being in collusion with the ‘Uzbek mafiya.’ The case, the related media circus and the political campaign of the two radical mavericks threatened the credibility of Gorbachev and the legitimacy of the CPSU, the state and its survival in a time of serious changes and great internal challenges. Democrats and the inner opposition to the Gensek in the CPSU exploited the ‘Gdlyan-Ivanov affair’, and the whole case became a symptom of the collapsing system. The seventh chapter deals with the myth-building of the ‘Uzbek cotton affair’ in early Karimov’s Uzbekistan, where the story was narrated using critical discourse – such as ‘colonial,’ ‘purge,’ ‘terror,’ ‘new 1937,’ and even ‘genocide’ – in a Republic that had once been considered one of the most loyal within the Soviet system. Thus, the ‘Uzbek affair’ became a crucial event of Karimov’s ‘ideological shift’ from communism to Mustaqillik – the ideology based on the values of the Uzbek independence – and a sensitive identity issue of revenge/resistance against the former rulers, investing in a post-colonial trauma that contributed to legitimize the president’s regime and his relations with local power networks. Thus, dealing with recent Soviet times still represents a great challenge for contemporary historiography. The last decades of USSR history are still debated, defining a period that needs more work still to understand the characteristics, the limits and the contradictions that led to the end of the Soviet system. In that sense my primary goal in reconstructing these crucial and still obscure events here has been historiographical and it is intended at using primary unpublished sources, literature and oral history to uncover opaque aspects of the past. Relatedly, this research aims at offering a non-centrally oriented historiographical reconstruction of the final decades of the Soviet system, analyzing the evolutions of patrimonialism in USSR and the impact of perestroika, the dynamics of the purges and the symptoms of the collapse in the periphery of the empire in order to fill a historiographical gap of research on perestroika in Central Asia that is practically nonexistent. Furthermore, this research aims to recompose the framework of the ‘Uzbek cotton affair’ beyond its existence as a ‘simplistic label’ created by the media and too often related to the ‘Gdlyan-Ivanov affair’ only. Nevertheless, the case proceeded at different levels involving the party, prokuratura, MVD, KGB and soviets at the local and even at the central level, while only a part of the corruption and the other ‘negative phenomena’ revealed in the republic were related to cotton and a great part of the involved officials were not Uzbeks. Finally, this research aims at interpreting the last decades of Soviet history through a new interpretative key to understand how collapse-symptoms that had been exploited in Moscow and in Tashkent in order to avow the split from the USSR. The research is based on extensive unpublished archival material, literature and interviews and is aimed at expanding the horizon of current historiography.

Item Type: IMT PhD Thesis
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
PhD Course: Political History
Identification Number: 10.6092/imtlucca/e-theses/213
NBN Number: urn:nbn:it:imtlucca-27241
Date Deposited: 23 Mar 2017 12:28
URI: http://e-theses.imtlucca.it/id/eprint/213

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