Thursday, August 7, 2008

Central Asia's Soviet hangover

Old people here still talk fondly of Soviet times. It's quite a toss-up trying to figure out when people were better off. The giant planned economy allowed monstrous factories to spring up that supplied people thousands of miles away, and no one had to worry about getting paid of course - that had nothing to do with their salaries.

The few rotting carcasses of abandoned factories that get used these days are home to photo studios, clothes shops, small workshops. Most just lie empty. Parks and the grounds of public buildings are encroached by chaikanas and small shops. One of the beneficiaries has started a greenhouse and chicken farm in the shadow of Lenin's statue in an old park. Apparently people got the opportunity to buy public land, in some places in return for maintaining the parks for an entrance fee.

"Grandfather" Lenin is everywhere, many of the statues in better state than the towns and villages decaying around them.

One of the beneficiary businesses had been lucky. The old Soviet printing press the owner bought over had been simply abandoned, without the usual looting or vandalism. A babushka operating one of the old offset presses proudly declared that Lenin himself must have used the machine in his time. The 18-colour, A3-format highspeed Rizograph machine in the airconditioned office is an uncomfortable (but very profitable) anachronism. Hooray for disruptive technologies though, this printshop outsources the printing of five local newspapers - and starts their own rag next week.

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