Igmen, Ali F. Speaking Soviet with an Accent: Culture and Power in Kyrgyzstan. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012. xi + 236 pages. Paper, $27.95.
The book under review is undoubtedly a great contribution to the growing literature on the Central Asian region. In an elaborate analysis of cultural and educational clubs in Kyrgyzstan beginning in the 1920s, historian Ali Igmen argues that Kyrgyz tradition meshed with Soviet art in the clubs to create representations of "Kyrgyzness." The book sheds light on the ways in which Kyrgyz selectively maintained certain pre-Soviet traditions while casting off others and adopting a new culture that resulted in an entirely new society. Igmen analyzes the process leading to what has come to be known as "Kyrgyzness" by focusing on three factors: the club, the development of Kyrgyz identity, and the official policymakers of the Soviet state. These policymakers, Igmen argues, acted as agents of opposition and authority who challenged the Kyrgyz elite to revive and further develop their own cultural identity.
The work consists of six chapters, in addition to an introduction and a conclusion. The first chapter deals with the question of status and various methods of categorizing the Russian Empire's "Asiatic" subjects, as well as the response of Muslim Central Asian thinkers and intellectuals to imperial Russian and Soviet rule. Subsequent chapters analyze the ways in which cultural clubs, festivals and other activities in the 1920s and 1930s contributed to the formation of an aesthetically Kyrgyz community with an underlying Soviet influence. Igmen demonstrates how "Kyrgyzness" evolved under the influence of Soviet cultural programs in the clubs in the 1920s, and that the Kyrgyzs became interested not only in their epic heroes and cultural traditions, but also in Bolshevik protagonists, which clearly shows the fusion of heroes from Soviet and Kyrgyz sides. The reading and performance of the new Kyrgyz cultural narrative in clubs, theaters, and cultural Olympiads became a constant and treasured practice throughout the Soviet era and made Soviet legends of Kyrgyz heroes. At the same time, Kyrgyz celebrations sponsored by the state contributed to a regional tendency toward indigenous art, which proved mutually beneficial to artists and the state.
The fifth chapter looks into how Kyrgyz professionals influenced contemporary Soviet theater by adding indigenous elements to Soviet and traditional styles...