The research project will add to the recent studies of social change in periods of structural crisis. In all post-socialist/post-Soviet countries, a shift from a socialist state economy and communist party rule to the market-orientated model and neo-liberal ideology has been a painful process, which has led to economic decline, stagnation, social marginalisation and polarisation among different population groups. The different development trajectories of post-Soviet Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and post-socialist Mongolia can be explained by a comparative analysis of the socio-political dynamics and reform during perestroika, the status of different elites in relation to Moscow and particularities in cultural and religious institutions and identities before the disintegration of the USSR. The ideological trends, which resurfaced with perestroika, have been determined by the course of social transformation, and are still reflected in people's attitudes towards the reform.

At the beginning of the 1990s, when the re-nationalisation of historical writing commenced in the newly independent states, the very recent Soviet past was either blurred over as a period of social chaos or contrasted as a beginning of national awakening. In the recent studies of the 20th-century history of Central Asia, little attention has so far been paid to the late Soviet period, although the crucial change which came into the Soviet Central Asia and Mongolia with the penetration of new trends from the West and the East has been widely acknowledged.

This project investigates the history of the recent past: it studies the adaptive strategies of social groups in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia during perestroika, in a broader socio-cultural context and seeks to explain how the newly introduced ideological trends and cultural ideas impacted on social groups and personalities. The comparative element is the core of research and aims to distinguish the similarities, differences and specifics of patterns of social consolidation in the three societies. The study begins chronologically from the end of Brezhnev's "stability of the cadre" era in 1982 and Tsedenbal's long rule in Mongolia in 1984 and continues up to the dissolution of the USSR and CMEA in 1991.

The research will be based on field interviews, open and published sources, media sources kept in national archives, memories, literature and literary criticism, and statistics. Although some materials extrapolated from the Soviet newspapers and public-political journals are published, most data remain untouched. The present time offers us a unique opportunity to record narrative stories about perestroika in Central Asia. Oral history interviews will be held with people from different social, political and ethnic groups at republican, regional and local levels. Since the perestroika ideology was experienced variously by different layers of the population and people's perceptions of perestroika have been continuously in flux, the categories used by respondents to describe social reality will be contextualised and scrutinised.

The longue durée approach will be used to analyse the social transformation of Central Asian societies during perestroika. Social groups are distinguished according to their influence upon socio-political and cultural transformation, and power is understood to be concentrated not solely in state institutions, but dispersed among various social groups at different levels. The titular nation concept was reframed and imposed upon the population by the ruling elites, while other identities, linked to ethnicity, religion and new ideological trends, often emerged in ambivalent forms and uncontrolled by the government.

The research will be carried on by international research team, consisting of project leader at the Central Asian Seminar at the Institute of Asian and African Studies of the Humboldt University in Berlin and senior scholars from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. The senior researchers will supervise selected doctoral students, who will be writing their PhD theses in the framework of the project at their home institutes. All the case and comparative studies will be situated in the broader framework of the project, contextualised and brought together in the edited collective volume.

Project partners:

Senoir scholars:
Dr. Tolganai Umbetalieva (Kazakhstan)
Dr. Gulnara Aitpaeva (Kyrgyzstan)
Prof. Jigjidijn Boldbaatar (Mongolia)

Ph.D. students:
Munkhsaruul Enkhbaatar (Mongolia)

Project Advisory Board:

- Prof.  Jacques Legrand, President of INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientalist), Paris

- Prof. Dr. Matthias Middell, Director of the Centre for Advanced Studies, University of Leipzig

- Prof. Dr. Hans-Henning Schröder, Head of Research Division Russian Federation/CIS, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Berlin

- Prof. Dr. Petra Stykow, Geschwister-Scholl-Institut für Politikwissenschaft, Universität München

- Prof. Dr. Peter van der Veer, Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen






Previous projects:
Towards Social Stability and Democratic Governance in Central Eurasia. Challenges to Regional Security


Research project in cooperation with: Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies

The research project examines the transformation of political elites and formation of elites' collective identity in Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia from 1924 until the present. The current Kyrgyz and Mongolian political elites, formed in the Socialist period, have - albeit their partial transformation - retained positions of privilege; current policy-makers largely consist of the former Soviet/Socialist nomenklatura.

The former A. Akayev regime in Kyrgyzstan was for a long time considered the least autocratic in Central Asia, while Mongolia is still seen as one of the most open and democratic societies in Asia. Nevertheless, the difference between the two countries' post-socialist transformation is remarkable. As seen in Kyrgyzstan in March 2005, clashes between the political clan in power and the opposition in many ways resemble the social discontent of the 1920s, however in Mongolia, attempts by the opposition to repeat the Kyrgyz ‘Tulip Revolution' have not appreciably escalated social and ethnic conflict. Why political and business groups in Kyrgyzstan exist in acute struggle against each other, destabilizing the country and splitting it along ethnic lines, while in Mongolia the former ruling party (The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party - the MPRP) is maintaining its leadership, providing for relative political stability?

To describe the formation of political elites in the twentieth century the project combines methods of comparative history with concepts of social science and anthropology. The socialist socio-political transformation is analyzed within a long-term historical perspective and the focus is put on social systems in crisis periods (for example, re-division of land in Central Asia, collectivization of the Mongolian and Kyrgyz nomads, the fall of socialism, etc.), when the most radical differentiation in identity of the group and the leader occur. Concurring with scholars recognizing similarities in the formation of group economic and political interests in Central Asia and Mongolia with the rest of post-Soviet, post-socialist countries, this research, nevertheless, emphasises the particularities of networks built by local groups to promote their interests.

The research is based upon newly accessible materials that have not been utilized by scholars yet, mainly from the former Soviet and Mongolian archives, as well as data from the interviews taken in Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.

The Newsletter articles


Socialist Revolutions in Asia: The Social History of Mongolia in the Twentieth Century (London and New York: Routledge, 2009)

The Comintern and Revolution in Mongolia (Cambridge: White Horse Press, Inner Asia Book Series, 2002)

Ed. Towards Social Stability and Democratic Governance in Central Eurasia: Challenges to Regional Security (IOS Press, Amsterdam: NATO Science Series, 2005)

“Ethnic Factor in Establishment of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic and the Mongolian Peoples’ Republic” in The Tragedy of the Great Power: national question and the dissolution of the USSR (Moscow: Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Science 2005), pp. 227-253. (in Russian)

“The Public Discussions on the ‘State of Law’ and Contemporary Political Regimes in Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus” in Johnson, W. & Popova, I. (eds.) Central Asian Law: An Historical Overview (The University of Kansas: Journal of Asian Legal History, 2004), pp. 237-259.

International and national refereed journals:

“Regional factor in intra-elite rivalry in present Kyrgyzstan” in The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review, volume 37 (2010), (Brill Academic Publishers), pp. 55-83.

“Political parties against the background of neo-liberal reform in present Mongolia” in The Journal of the Mongolian Society (Bloomington: (Indiana University) (forthcoming)

"External Powers' Influence upon Kyrgyz Political Elite" in Caucasian Review of International Affairs Vol. 3 (1), (Winter 2009) pp. 86-97.

"Elites, Reforms and Power Institutions in Soviet Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia in the 1920-1930s: a Comparative Historical Analysis" in Ab Imperio, 2/2007 The Politics of Comparison (Kazan) pp. 369-403.

"The Impact of Collectivization and Industrialization on the Transformation of Central Asian Societies" in Vestnik MGU (Lomonosov Moscow State University), series on Asian studies, no. 3, (Moscow, 2006) pp. 59-69.

“Contemporary Azerbaijani Historiography on the Problem of “South Azerbaijan” after WWII” in Iran and the Caucasus, Vol. 9, 2005 (Brill Academic Publishers) pp. 85-120.

“Comparative Historical Analysis of Pan-Asiatic Social Movements in Inner and Central Asia. Z.V. Togan and E.D. Rinchino” in Journal of Central Asian Studies, Vol. VII, No. 2, (Oklahoma State University: spring/summer, 2003) pp. 2-19.