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Post War Period

By the late 1950s Dushanbe bore little resemblance to its pre-war self, let alone the village it had been a generation before. It had quadrupled in size and had, in the centre, mains electricity, piped water, a 'modern restaurant' and (according to official data) 61 hospitals. The expansion had been brought about by the arrival of thousands of Slavs, Europeans and other Soviet nationalities who moved to the city before, during and after the war. Very many had been deported by Stalin from the Western Soviet Union, ostensibly for fear that they would collaborate with Nazi Germany. These groups included Pontic Greeks, Ingush, Chechens, Meskhetian Turks and others. Other incomers, especially scholars and doctors, were banished individually to Central Asia. Still more chose to try their luck in the south, drawn by the prospect of a warm climate, jobs on building sites and bountiful fruit and vegetables.

Dushanbe benefited in particular from the enormous influx of Germans. The church in southern Dushanbe, with its narrow steeple and icing sugar plaster, is run now by the Seventh Day Adventists. But it was built as a Lutheran church, the heart of a German community that once numbered fifty thousand - almost a quarter of the city at one point - based in their own quarter, Sovietsky.

More than any other single group, it was the Germans who built modern Dushanbe. Some were prisoners of war who never returned home, as the lines ol German graves in southern Tajikistan testify. The great majority, however, were among the half-million Soviet Germans deported from the Odessa and Volga regions of Russia in a single week of September 1941. Some were taken directly to Tajikistan, many arrived after years of exile in Siberia.

'We were given 24 hours to get out,' remembered Ella Ivanova, blue-eyed and fair haired, she still knows a few words of German even though she spent almost all her life in Dushanbe. 'We had to leave our cow, and everything but the clothes we wore. We were put under guard in a cattle wagon and sent to Siberia.'

Ella and her family endured more than ten years in exile, half-starved in a settlement so remote that wolves attacked and ate the school teacher. It was not until Stalin's death in 1953 that the political climate grew easier and they were allowed to leave Siberia. Like thousands of others, the family made its way south in search of work and ended up in Dushanbe.

'We found a paradise on earth here,' said Ella, 'There was mud up to your knees on Prospekt Lenina then, but Father found work as a builder. We thought him the richest man in the world! In Siberia, children used to shout Fascist! Fascist! at us, but in Dushanbe all that stopped.'

The Germans were received warmly, by and large, and earned themselves a reputation for honesty and industry. But after forty years in Dushanbe, another twist of history moved them on. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the great majority moved to a Germany they knew only from grandparents' stories, or to Russia. Some came to regret the move, finding themselves foreigners once again. For older people, the isolation, especially in the freezing Russian winters, came as a horrible shock. But they had sold all they had and there was no way back to Dushanbe. The exodus has continued through the early years of the 21st century, but a scattering of German families still remains.
The coming of so many Slavs and Europeans changed Dushanbe profoundly. It became recognizably Soviet, part of the shared world that stretched from Vladivostok to Krasnovodsk. There was a botanical garden, cinemas and a zoo filled with animals supplied by Moscow. The mobile projector van brought films even to the villages, where the whole population would turn out on hot summer nights to watch Indian box office hits, whose mixture of romance, skulduggery and seductive song and dance routines was wildly popular, as they are today.

Many girls cut their hair, put on European dress and went to university. They loved their new freedoms and married at 21 instead of 17, often having some say in their choice of husband. 'I felt I was the luckiest girl in the whole world,' remembered one teacher. 'My great-grandmother was like a slave shut in the house. My mother was illiterate. She had 13 children and looked old all her life. For me the past was something dark and horrible, and whatever anyone says about the Soviet Union that is how I see it.'

The relationship between Moscow and this most southern republic, grounded in empire, flowered as such and remained entirely on Russian terms. The lingua franca of the city was Russian, and the new urban generation began to grow up knowing Russian better than Tajik. Those without Russian had no chance of a decent education or more than a manual job, so village Tajiks were often at a disadvantage, unable to better themselves. Politically, even educated, successful Tajiks were last among equals in Soviet-wide structures. They hardly ever took senior posts in other parts of the Union, in the army or in the political apparatus around the Kremlin. Some prestigious occupations, like working for Aeroflot or Intourist, were also almost completely closed to Central Asians.

While the Union was in its heyday, however, most urban young Tajiks did not stop to question it. Cut off from the outside world, with nothing to compare their lives against but those of their parents, they felt themselves immensely privileged.

It's worth to add that the Bolsheviks never fully trusted the Tajikistan SSR and during the 1930s almost all Tajiks in positions of influence within the government were replaced by stooges from Moscow. The industrialisation of Tajikistan was only undertaken following WWII, after the loss of much of European Russia’s manufacturing capacity. But living standards remained low and in the late 1980s Tajikistan endured 25% unemployment, plus the lowest level of education and the highest infant mortality rate in the Soviet Union.

For most of the Soviet era, Tajikistan was heavily reliant on imports from the rest of the Union – not just food, but fuel and many other standard commodities. When the Soviet trading system started to disintegrate, Tajikistan was left badly equipped to fend for itself, and dangerously unbalanced.