Letter From Bishkek

Image by Gustavo Jeronimo

In 1930, the Czechoslovak journalist Julius Fučik made the long trip eastwards to Frunze, the capital of Soviet Kyrgyzstan; when he left, he wrote a letter of thanks to his comrades there, stating: “we had set out for a country which the bourgeois story-tellers described as savage and exotic… what we have received from you we shall take to the proletariat of the whole of western Europe.”

Video: Taxi Driver Mows Down Pedestrians Near Red Square, From Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek, as the Kyrgyz capital has been known since 1991, might have seemed an unlikely source of utopian inspiration. But this city has repeatedly played the role of an unassuming archetype. Fučik, an ardent Communist Party member who was murdered by the Nazis for his role in the wartime Resistance, made the trip from Central Europe to Central Asia in order to visit Interhelpo, a brief experiment in communal living founded on the outskirts of the Kygryz capital in 1925. Frunze was itself named in honour of Mikhail Frunze, a Moldovan Bolshevik who was instrumental in winning the Eastern Front for the Reds in the post-revolutionary Civil War. This distinctly modern city has always been marked by internationalist intervention, seen as a tabula rasa by a succession of outsiders (predominantly Russian, of course) who have had to contend with the intentions of a native Kyrgyz population whose impact on the shaping of their own capital is often problematically elided. Which is to say: the extent to which Bishkek now is a (post-)Soviet capital is very much up for debate, as is what precisely that “Soviet” heritage might mean for today’s residents…

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