Accepted paper:

Displaced Soviet Children during the Great Patriotic War in Uzbek SSR: Experiences of Evacuation, Adoption and Adaptation


Zukhra Kasimova (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Paper abstract:

The government-led evacuation to the Soviet "East" in 1941 had turned Tashkent into the major cite of children's reception. For many displaced orphans from the Western parts of the Soviet Union who had no family to return to, adaptation after an adoption was not just a temporary stage, but rather a first step towards the full integration. I argue that these Russian, Ukrainian, and Latvian children had no other choice but to adopt local Central Asian religious/social practices, master the indigenous language(s), and in some cases, even change their Russian or Ukrainian names to Turkic or Persian ones. I refer to this process as a downward integration since in the Soviet discourse of the time Central Asia was a "backward" periphery that was expected to "catch up" with the more advanced republics, to adopt progressive "European"/Russian social norms and to modernize. One may say that structurally, European children adopted by Central Asian families serve as an example of the inverted colonial situation, where the relationships of subjugation and domination are turned upside down twice: first, because the agent of integration into the Central Asian society is a minor, de facto inferior to the family hierarchy. Local foster parents were active agents who picked and thus saved the children. And last, but not the least, because the recipient culture is marked as less Soviet and less modern. To account for this complex encounter that contributed to the transition of Soviet nationalities' relations from the "brotherhood" to "friendship", I suggest a dialogical model that approaches the evacuation experience from the standpoint of mutual interactions that reshaped both evacuated children and the host families. Case studies drawn from the Soviet newspapers not only evoke a rigid heteronormative family model where gender roles mattered above all but show how the adoption of evacuated children contributed to the rise of status of Uzbek "Eastern" women. These cases allow us to see the actual hybridity of identities, gender roles, and loyalties, produced by the Soviet experience of evacuation. To examine the unique experiences of the Slavic children adopted by the Central Asian parents, I suggest the "internal displacement" - for unlike "The Lost Children" by Tara Zahra, Soviet orphans, though having endured very similar hardships of displacement, were still on the Soviet territory, although cultural and language disparity in the Soviet "Asian periphery" required them to adapt and integrate in a distinct way.

panel HIS-13
Revolution and Stalinism in Central Eurasia