20 лет спустя – Twenty Years After, Part 1 Posted by on Aug 22, 2011 in Culture, History, News


Well, «друзья» [friends], it has happened again: I sat down to write «про грамматику» [about grammar] and instead I wrote about something completely different. I found this «фоторепортаж» [photo essay] on the website of «магазин Внешняя политика» [the magazine “Foreign Policy”] called, in English, “Russia’s Big Backyard.” I have opted to translate the title as «ближнее зарубежье» [the near abroad] since that’s basically what the English title implies. 

I do not know much «авторское право» [copyright], which is why I am not putting any of the excellent photos in this post. Instead, I will provide links to appropriate photos throughout this post, so you can click on them if you want.

Since it is «двадцать лет после СССР» [twenty years since the USSR], many news websites are writing about what has happened «за двадцать лет» [for twenty years]. «В центральной Азии» [in Central Asia] there are «две религии» [two religions]: Christianity and Islam. There are still remnants of Soviet rule in «Узбекистан, Туркменистан, Таджикистан, Казахстан, и Киргизия» [Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan], like «этот памятник Ленину в Таджикистане» [this monument to Lenin in Tajikistan].

Unfortunately, «в сельской местности» [in rural areas], it can be difficult for people to get access to health care and social services. These countries’ political systems are not perfect, either. Most of them could be classified as «диктатуры» [dictatorships].

«Узбекистан» [Uzbekistan] has a large Russian minority, though many have left «в Россию» [for Russia].

«Казахстан» [Kazakhstan] appears to be doing the best of all the Central Asian countries. «Экономика» [The economy] has grown a lot. Unfortunately, «Нурсултан Назарбаев» [Nursultan Nazarbayev] has had power «за двадцать один год» [twenty-one years]. «Я очень хочу поехать в Казахстан» [I really want to go to Kazakhstan] just to see the world’s largest tent. «На последнем этаже – пляж!» [There is a beach on the top floor!]

I do not know much about «Киргизия» [Kyrgyzstan], except for the fact that there was a revolution there recently. Oh, and one of my friends was there recently, and she rode a horse, just like the people in this photo.

You would probably be fine with speaking just Russian in all the countries I’ve mentioned so far, with one exception: «Туркменистан» [Turkmenistan]. The first president had «культ личности» [a cult of personality] that included emphasizing native culture over the Soviet-era Russification. Luckily, there is less of a personality cult since the first president died — «его преемник» [his successor] was his personal dentist, of all people. The current president «очень любит лошадей» [really loves horses].

I’ve never been to any of these Central Asian countries. If you have, please share your experiences in the comments!

I’m planning four parts for this series. «Часть первая» [Part 1], this part, is about «центральная Азия» [Central Asia]. «Часть вторая» [Part 2] will be about «Беларусь, Украина и Россия» [Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia]. «Часть третья» [Part 3] will be about «Кавказ» [the Caucasus]. «Часть четвёртая» will be about «балтийские страны» [the Baltic countries]. I originally was going to write «прибалтика», which is what I had learned to call the Baltic countries, but a native-speaking friend told me that is an imperialist term that should be avoided. Thoughts?

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About the Author: Natalie

I'm Natalie and I love the Russian language and sharing my knowledge with others. I graduated from university with a dual degree in Russian language & literature and history.


  1. Simon Bradley:

    I just asked my (Russian-Latvian) wife about «прибалтика» vs. «балтийские страны». She said she’d use the former, just because it’s shorter, but thought that perhaps ethnic Latvians might have more of a problem with it.

  2. Delia:

    I am used to ПРИБАЛТИКА and always use it.

  3. Delia:

    I’ve been in all % Central Asian stans (this is how they’re known in the US), and lived in Uzbekistan какое-то время (for some time). I don’t even know what to add to the post. Природа очень красивая (nature is very beautiful), люди приветливые и очень гостеприимные (people are friendly and very hospitable). A lot has changed since 1991. In general, люди недовольны (people are not happy). Those interested can check the Central Asian news website
    Если есть вопросы (if you have questions), I’ll be happy to answer them.

  4. Ryan Moore:

    I spent last summer in southern Kazakstan near the Uzbek border. It was a fantastic experience and a wonderful way to learn about a culture very different from my own. It was my first experience in a majority Islamic culture and I loved it. The city I was worked in was a very Kazak city as opposed to Astana(where the awesome big tent is) which is much more Russian. I enjoyed the real dirty, smoggy, old ladas next to beamers KZ I lived in. The capital of Astana was very different. For the most part it’s clean, manicured, and green. It looks like a national capital should, but it’s too shiny. There was a six lane road with almost no one on it… This shocked me to no end. I was used to crossing the street for my life on a good day. The people are fantastically welcoming and friendly especially so because I was so far away from home. I miss them…and the tea. If you have the chance…go! I’d love to talk to anyone that wants to know more!

  5. Candace:

    Every time I read this blog I learn something new!

  6. Roy Livermore:

    Дологая Natalie!
    I visited Moscow in 1991. There was nothing in the shops. My landlady queued 3 hours a day for food. A bootblack lady «чистильщика сапог» cleaned my shoes for 1 rouble.
    I live in Australia Пока Рой

  7. Craig:

    And nothing about Moldova?

  8. Rob McGee:

    Here’s a trivia question for language geeks:

    Of the five Central Asian Republics, why is Tajikistan the “odd man out”?

    P.S. I was going to write this question in Russian, but I’m not sure of the best colloquial way to say “odd man out” or “one of these kids is not like the others, one of these kids just doesn’t belong!” (©1970s, Sesame Street).

    The best I could come up with was “Из пятёрки центральных азиатских республик, чем отличается Таджикистан?” (From the quintet of Central Asian republics, what distinguishes Tajikistan?)

  9. Rob McGee:

    Just to be clear, my question in the previous comment relates to language/ethnicity.

  10. Russian:

    My “zhena” from Ukraine says a lot of the health care can only be received from cash. So you have to pay someone, and then, whoever has the most cash will get the best doctor, or just to get any doctor…terrible