Diversity and Its Discontents in Krygyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is back in the news. For those who do not follow such things closely, that unhappy nation borders on the western edge of China. The fighting between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks has claimed perhaps 2,000 lives, according to the latest estimate , and half of the country's 800,000 Uzbeks are now refugees. I don't understand what the problem could be, as the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are both Muslim, both followers of the Religion of Peace.When Kyrgyzstan left the Soviet Union in 1991, it had 100,000 ethnic Germans, almost all of whom have since returned to Germany. There were over two million Germans in the Soviet Union when it collapsed; they began entering Russia in the seventeenth century, islands of Lutherans in a sea of Eastern Orthodox and Muslims. They survived the Stalinist purges and anti-German feeling of WWII, going "home" only with the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

How and why did these communities retain their ethnic character-language, religion, etc.- over centuries when the Germans who emigrated to the US assimilated within a generation or two? My great-grandfather arrived after the Civil War. His children were bilingual: my grandfather would function as translator for the Russian-German farmers of the community. But he taught my mother exactly one sentence in the old tongue: Die Katze lauft im Schnee. That's it. One sentence. A culture lost in one generation. He raised his children as Americans, not German-Americans. His son, my uncle, fought in World War II with no qualms.


Oh, cries the multiculturalist, that's so sad! They lost their culture! We're all so much richer when we're a tossed salad, not a melting pot.

Yes, our forbears lost something, lost a great deal when they lost their old culture, but we all gained in the process. What kind of a country can Kyrgyzstan and the other former Soviet republics be when an ethnic group, in this case Germans, identifies so strongly with their homeland that, even after two centuries they leave as soon as they get the chance? That's not a country in any meaningful sense of the word, just an agglomeration of groups vying for power and the spoils of the state.

Oh, cries the multiculturalist again, look at Switzerland! Four languages! Two religions! That's diversity! That's how it can work! Yes it is, the Swiss have managed it well. Care to comment on Belgium? Canada? Ukraine? And those are the nations that have dealt with their diversity fairly well, where intercommunal conflicts have been comparatively benign-so far. Care to comment on Serbia? Croatia? Kosovo? Kyrgyzstan? The list could be expanded to wearisome length.

Admittedly, these conflicts have been exacerbated by government policy, politicians dividing up the goodies and privileges of the state by ethnic group, playing one off against another, but that is the point, isn't it? Divide and rule-effective short-term policy, bitter fruit in the end. What kind of a country would America be if all the Smiths, the Andersons, the Schroeders considered themselves, first and foremost, English and Swedish and German, respectively, if they identified so intensely with the old country that, even after the lapse of after one or two or even three centuries they would return to their "homeland" en masse given the opportunity?

Maybe we'll find out, because that is the course our politicians have put us on for the past half century, a society where you pick out your enemies based on language, the church they go to, the way they dress, a society where the threat of intercommunal pillage and mayhem lies just around the corner, just one coup or economic crisis away from bursting out afresh. If we're lucky we'll go the way of Canada or Belgium; if we're not, there are the Kosovo and Kyrgyzstan models.


Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d@gmail.com.


Kyrgyzstan is back in the news. For those who do not follow such things closely, that unhappy nation borders on the western edge of China. The fighting between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks has claimed perhaps 2,000 lives, according to the latest estimate , and half of the country's 800,000 Uzbeks are now refugees. I don't understand what the problem could be, as the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are both Muslim, both followers of the Religion of Peace.

When Kyrgyzstan left the Soviet Union in 1991, it had 100,000 ethnic Germans, almost all of whom have since returned to Germany. There were over two million Germans in the Soviet Union when it collapsed; they began entering Russia in the seventeenth century, islands of Lutherans in a sea of Eastern Orthodox and Muslims. They survived the Stalinist purges and anti-German feeling of WWII, going "home" only with the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

How and why did these communities retain their ethnic character-language, religion, etc.- over centuries when the Germans who emigrated to the US assimilated within a generation or two? My great-grandfather arrived after the Civil War. His children were bilingual: my grandfather would function as translator for the Russian-German farmers of the community. But he taught my mother exactly one sentence in the old tongue: Die Katze lauft im Schnee. That's it. One sentence. A culture lost in one generation. He raised his children as Americans, not German-Americans. His son, my uncle, fought in World War II with no qualms.


Oh, cries the multiculturalist, that's so sad! They lost their culture! We're all so much richer when we're a tossed salad, not a melting pot.

Yes, our forbears lost something, lost a great deal when they lost their old culture, but we all gained in the process. What kind of a country can Kyrgyzstan and the other former Soviet republics be when an ethnic group, in this case Germans, identifies so strongly with their homeland that, even after two centuries they leave as soon as they get the chance? That's not a country in any meaningful sense of the word, just an agglomeration of groups vying for power and the spoils of the state.

Oh, cries the multiculturalist again, look at Switzerland! Four languages! Two religions! That's diversity! That's how it can work! Yes it is, the Swiss have managed it well. Care to comment on Belgium? Canada? Ukraine? And those are the nations that have dealt with their diversity fairly well, where intercommunal conflicts have been comparatively benign-so far. Care to comment on Serbia? Croatia? Kosovo? Kyrgyzstan? The list could be expanded to wearisome length.

Admittedly, these conflicts have been exacerbated by government policy, politicians dividing up the goodies and privileges of the state by ethnic group, playing one off against another, but that is the point, isn't it? Divide and rule-effective short-term policy, bitter fruit in the end. What kind of a country would America be if all the Smiths, the Andersons, the Schroeders considered themselves, first and foremost, English and Swedish and German, respectively, if they identified so intensely with the old country that, even after the lapse of after one or two or even three centuries they would return to their "homeland" en masse given the opportunity?

Maybe we'll find out, because that is the course our politicians have put us on for the past half century, a society where you pick out your enemies based on language, the church they go to, the way they dress, a society where the threat of intercommunal pillage and mayhem lies just around the corner, just one coup or economic crisis away from bursting out afresh. If we're lucky we'll go the way of Canada or Belgium; if we're not, there are the Kosovo and Kyrgyzstan models.


Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d@gmail.com.


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