A schematic of the Central Asia Power System (CAPS)

Lenin once famously declared that “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” In Central Asia, at least, once one of those pillars collapsed, so did the other.

Chapter 2 of my hypothetical book, Until Death Do Us Part, will be about Central Asia’s unified energy system. The energy story is similar – and indeed intimately related – to the region’s shared water resources and infrastructure, about which I blogged some weeks ago. Central Asia’s electricity and power-generation capacity and transmission networks were designed with utter disregard for the borders between Soviet Socialist Republics and controlled from by central planners. When the USSR collapsed and sovereignty (as well as the need to heat homes and fuel lights) devolved from Moscow to the capitals of the new Central Asian states. Havoc ensued.

After the USSR’s dissolution, as scholars tried to understand both what was happening and what had happened in the countries of the former Soviet Union, the academics Blanchard and Kremer hit upon the simple but powerful concept of “disorganization.” Their argument, fleshed out in a 1997 article under the name of their principle, was that the Soviet collapse caused a decentralization of bargaining between buyers and suppliers. WIthout Moscow controlling which widgets went to which producers at what price, two things happened: a) the market began to rationalize itself, necessarily causing harm to the more irrational elements of the Soviet economy; and b) those aspects of the market that could not spontaneously rationalize began to collapse. Stories abound about remote factories being marooned and then cannibalized for parts because their location made no economic sense. This effectively describes what happened to Central Asia’s electricity system – except the countries had no alternative but to force the disorganized system to work.

Lenin’s project to electrify the Soviet Union (the “GOELRO plan,” from the Russian name for the State Commission for Electrification of Russia) began in 1920. Over time, the Unified Energy System (UES) was constructed, linking most all of the Soviet Union. And it was built to maximize efficiency. The UES joined together regional grids with some of the heaviest-duty transmission lines ever made, and the regional grids were planned on the principle of ease of construction rather than Republican borders. Mind you, this made sense in the Soviet Union. Thus when you look at the map of the Central Asia Power System (CAPS) above, you see that northern Kazakhstan is highly connected to southern Russia, but to southern Kazakhstan by only one line. Moreover, Southern Kazakhstan’s grid, like those of all of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, were controlled from Tashkent, the in Uzbekistan. When these territories all became independent states, Tashkent had a lot of power.

The system muddled along for a while, but finally began to seriously break down in 2009. In that year, both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan accused Tajikistan of siphoning electricity illegally, and thereafter opted out of the CAPS. However, “sealing” national infrastructures could only be done with nominal effectiveness. Parts of Southern Kazakhstan still share the Uzbek grid, and Uzbekistan’s withdrawal stranded Tajikistan – all of the energy for which has to run through Uzbekistan.

In Kazakhstan, this has resulted in some inconveniences, although Almaty sometimes seems to be isolated to the greatest extent possible from all inconveniences. Instead, southern Kazakhstani cities occasionally go through periods of electricity shortages, especially in the cold winter months. Tensions flared again this winter, which was particularly cold here as it was also in Europe, when Kazakhstan accused Uzbekistan of taking more than its fair share – the same accusation earlier leveled at Tajikistan.

And it is poor Tajikistan that suffers the most from this mess. Friends there tell me they get a few hours of electricity a day, and this despite the fact that Tajikistan might have one of the largest power-generation potentials per capita of any country in the world (hydropower potential). However, the small, mountainous country, was given a raw deal by the CAPS. Mountains divided Tajikistan’s grid into two unjoined parts, each of which originates in and can be manipulated by Uzbekistan. A few years back, Uzbekistan scuttled an agreement between Turkmenistan and Tajikistan by disallowing the Turkmen energy swap to transit Uzbekistan.

Today, all the countries of Central Asia are striving for energy self-sufficiency as a key component of national security. The link is obvious when you consider a case like Tajikistan. However, numerous analyses have demonstrated that all the countries would gain from efficiencies of scale (among other benefits) were they to operate cooperatively as they were forced to do under the Soviet Union (but with important additional market principles – like pricing energy resources). Instead, most of Central Asia perseveres in its state of disorganization and rolling blackouts. Hopefully time and practice will bring some maturity to the region’s energy trade relations.


Here are JPEG images of Art Leaflet, issue 5, in which my article was published. My article appears on the second page, for any Russian readers. The pamphlet is edited and released by Alexander “Sasha” Ugay, a Kazakhstani contemporary artists (about whom the argument of my article does not apply) and my drinking buddy. The English-language version was in my last blog post.

Below is the English-language version of my article appearing in a recent art publication in Almaty:

Despite Kazakhstan’s increasing inclusion in world affairs since the collapse of the USSR, the country’s art scene has remained on the fringes of the international market. “The art market’s limited understanding of post-Soviet art is almost entirely reducible to Russian art,” observed British art historian Sarah James in 2008.[1] But efforts by James, among others, to encourage interest in Soviet and post-Soviet art outside of Russia have not yet brought Kazakhstan’s art into the mainstream. This is because of a misdiagnosis of the disease; the root problem is that, with few exceptions, Kazakhstan’s local art narratives do not resonate beyond its national boundaries.

According to James, the dominance of Russian post-Soviet art results from a concentration of financial capital in Moscow and the hegemony of Postmodernist critical discourse. However, the global economic crisis has diluted capital and weakened Western theoretical authority. If James’s arguments were correct, this should have created opportunities for artists on the margins to access the mainstream. But even as the Soviet empire is being conclusively dismantled in many spheres, the metropole-periphery relationship between Moscow and the former republics has persisted in the post-Soviet art world. We therefore need an alternative explanation.

Art derives meaning by participating in narratives, the invention of which is the purpose of art history, criticism and theory. The narratives can be grand or modest, general or personal, global or local: the impact of Matisse’s arthritis on his late work or patronage relationships in 15th century Italian city-states. In isolation from any story, however, a study is not a portrait, and a maquette is not a sculpture. Art history weaves artworks into a narrative, and it provides stories guiding the production of new art. Once contextualized, the appreciation of art is not merely a matter of taste. Stories save art from being a trivial commodity.

While art historical narratives take many forms, they are not all of equal value. Although there are no objective criteria against which we can measure the quality of narratives, it is undeniable that some better capture the imagination or reflect the prevailing zeitgeist. We know about Van Gogh’s suicide because it explains something profound about his work; we know about Andy Warhol because he so perfectly represented his era. It follows from this that an artwork’s value—intellectual or monetary—is determined by both the degree to which it interacts with a narrative and the quality of that narrative.

Consider the rise of China’s contemporary artists to international prominence about fifteen years ago. While conventional wisdom is that these artists flourished because of Chinese wealth, the original buyers were in fact Western. What caught their interest? Not a change in styles, which had emerged decades before, but rather a change in the dominant narratives surrounding Chinese contemporary art. The stories of China’s rise and the shift of global power from West to East emerged in the late 1990s and were perceived to threaten Western values. The romanticized vision of the Chinese artist as unable to express herself under a repressive authoritarian regime neatly encapsulated Western anxieties. As a result, Chinese art became a sought-after intellectual and political commodity.

Moscow became the center of the post-Soviet art world in the 1990s and subsequently because, in the Western mind, the narrative of the collapse of Communism was a Russian story. Western intellectual audiences wanted evidence of the contrition and realignment of values “appropriate” of a defeated enemy. Successful Moscow artists like Dmitri Gutov or Valery Koshlyakov were happy to oblige and thereafter attracted international interest and demand.

Meanwhile, in Almaty, Tallinn, and Yerevan, new nations began reclaiming identities, rediscovering histories and reviving mythologies. The art demanded by the process of rebuilding countries was often intellectually monolithic and, by necessity, isolated from broader trends in art. International markets were unfamiliar with the narratives that gave rise to a resurgence of primitivism in form and traditional themes in content across the former Soviet space. In Kazakhstan, the dominant narratives were the ancient origins of Kazakh culture and the historic nomadic life as represented by yurts and horseback batyrs [warriors]. These motifs served important cultural-political purposes, but did not resonate with international audiences. Thus, much Kazakh art in could not “become one more commodity to be packaged for sale,” as Susan Reid has written of Russian post-Soviet art.[2]

On the other hand, Kazakhstan is rich in narratives potentially attractive to international markets because of the country’s long, often difficult history and uncertain future. Alexander Yerashov is an example of a young local artist investigating less popular local themes. In a series of humorous hand-drawn posters, Yerashov exploits Soviet, Russian folk and pop-culture visual vocabularies to present ironic and counter-factual versions of Soviet history that reflect on post-Soviet cultural trends and aspirations. More broadly, his drawings examine propaganda’s functionality, the significance of uniqueness in an age of digital reproduction, and the stigmatization of social utopianism, which are all questions that remain urgent after the collapse of Communism. His works connect historical and geographical particularities to universal topics.

Yerashov situates Kazakhstan’s specific experiences over the last two decades within more general narratives of post-Soviet development and the spread of a postmodern, international cultural order. Thus, instead of marginalizing contemporary art from Kazakhstan, as James suggests is the case, the postmodern critical discourse provides Yerashov a shared vocabulary by means of which international, or at least regional, audiences can relate to the artist’s specific narrative. The challenge confronting Kazakhstan’s artists, art historians and critics is therefore to compose narratives that make local, unique stories relevant to a wider audience.

Paull Randt, U.S. Fulbright Researcher, originally published Ugay, Alexander, ed. Art Listovka (Art Leaflet), issue 5, May 2012.

[1] James, S. “Behind a Theoretical Iron Curtain,” Art Monthly, no. 317, 2008; pp. 7-10.

[2] Reid, S. “The Art Market and the History of Socialist Realism,” Art History, vol. 22, no. 2; pp. 310-316.

I originally hoped to publish the below piece with another online Central Asia news and opinions site. That didn’t work out. It is therefore slightly out of date, but I wanted to share it here nonetheless.

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An incidental development in the anti-Putin protests in Moscow may have lasting implications for cultural connections between Russia and Kazakhstan.

Following Putin’s inauguration as president for a third term, and in a continuation of earlier protests, thousands in Moscow have taken to the streets. Several incidents last week ended in violence between police and protesters, and on 9 May two of the opposition’s leaders, Aleksei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov, were arrested. Prior to his arrest, however, Navalny used Twitter to rally supporters to Moscow’s Chistye Prudy Park for an Occupy-style sit-in.

The crowd that gathered at Chistye Prudy took the name “OccupyAbai” after the nearby statue of the 19th century Kazakh poet-philosopher Abai Qunanbaiuli. To the Occupiers, the statue did not have any significance except as a geographic marker. Announcing the protest location, Navalny Tweeted that he was “going to #chistiyeprudy to the monument of an obscure Kazakh poet” (iPort.kz). An AP reporter later described the “OccupyAbai” name as “a random choice” (abcnews.com).

Abai is anything but obscure in Kazakhstan. His statue stands at the end of a main thoroughfare bearing his name. His poetry is still widely read, and Mukhtar Auezov’s novels Abai and The Path of Abai are modern classics of Kazakh literature. Moreover, were one so inclined, one could draw out resonances in the Moscow opposition’s choice of name. Like those in Chistye Prudy, Abai too wanted modernization and reform in his country.

That Navalny was ignorant of Abai illustrates the gulf that divides the formerly fraternal Soviet peoples, and especially the remove Muscovites feel from those in Russia’s former Central Asian colonies. Ironically, the statue was unveiled in 2006 by Putin and Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev as a symbol of the close cultural ties between their two countries. Those ties were evidently weak. But by and large, this is true in only one direction. It is hard to imagine a Kazakh as educated as Navalny not knowing Pushkin. Nonetheless, the lack of a cultural dialog leads to unpredictable interpretations of the signals being sent. Even as Kazakhs watch events in Moscow, they are reaching different conclusions about their significance.

On 11 May, #OccupyAbai was trending as the third most popular topic on Twitter globally and the first among the Russian-language Tweets. People were interested in the “unknown Kazakh.” Indicative of the different attitudes now prevailing in the two countries, this was not viewed as a bridge between the protest spirit in Moscow and any analogous feelings in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh Internet space seems more interested in the good PR for the country: one commentator of TengriNews.kz speculates on the increase in book sales; Murat Izhanov, proprietor of Kazakh.ru, wrote that this was an opportunity to popularize Kazakh culture.

In light of the Arab Spring, many in Kazakhstan have been wondering if the protest spirit in Moscow will spread. If the revolution will be Tweeted and Internet ephemera are a barometer of societal moods, then anyone hoping for a Central Asian Spring should not hold his breath. The cultural divide between Russia and Kazakhstan appears to be acting as a firebreak.

However, the OccupyAbai incident is spurring a cultural rapprochement with potential consequences for the future. Now that Navalny and Udaltsov are in prison, some reports suggest Abai has become the figurehead of the protest movement; others have begun referring to the protesters as the “independent government of Abai-stan” (yvision.ru). Protesters are also beginning to find inspiration in Abai’s poetry. One line in particular is being frequently quoted: “The worst man from any number of men is the man without convictions” (my translation). The longer Muscovites and Kazakhs consider this sentiment together, the more likely it is that future popular movements in Russia will find deeper resonance in Kazakhstan. Such concerns aside, though, the joint appreciation of Abai may be the first step in a greater sharing of cultural touchstones between these two neighboring countries.

Karlag HQ at Dolinka. They have preserved the building as it was.

“Karlag” is the abbreviation of Karagandinskii ispravitel’no-trudovoi lager (Карагандинский исправительно-трудовой лагер), the Russian for Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp, the largest of the camps that comprised the Gulag. On my recent trip to Karaganda, I spent my first day at Dolinka, a small town 45km to the southwest. Dolinka was home to Karlag headquarters. The old administrative building from which Karlag was run is now a museum to Stalin’s victims.

The Gulag was most notably introduced to the West by Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago (1973). Under Stalin, Soviet “criminals” were sent to labor camps in some of the least hospitable regions of the USSR to perform hard labor: coal mining in Kolyma, agriculture on the Kazakh steppe, the construction of the Belomor canal north of Moscow. According to an authoritative study by Steven A. Barnes, Death and Redemption, 18 million souls passed through the Gulag system–approximately 6% of the USSR’s population as it was in 1991–and many died or otherwise never returned to their families and homes.

There are many myths that surround the Gulag. One is that it was a wholly capricious system in which the majority of inmates were innocent of crimes as we, in the West, perceive crime. Another is that the Gulag was a system of death camps.

The Belorussian monument at Spassk

Karlag’s history demonstrates that it is wrong to think of the Soviet corrective labor system as similar in a substantive way either to German concentration camps on the one hand or the American internment camps for Japanese[-Americans] in WWII on the other. For one thing, Karlag was much larger than any camps in either of those systems: 200km wide at its widest and 300km long at its tallest, our tour guide at Dolinka compared it to the size of France (670,000sq. km). This is not quite accurate because Karlag was not a rectangle, but the point stands. This camp was on the scale of small or mid-sized European countries. There is no way that such a massive territory could be efficiently patrolled and guarded as to be impenetrable either in or out.

Moreover, as Barnes argues convincingly, unlike a Nazi camp, Karlag was a penal colony with the reeducation through labor and reintegration of its prisoner population into Soviet society as its ultimate goal. At Karlag, inmates  were put to work by and large in agriculture and animal herding.

Lastly, the inmates ranged from prisoners of political conscience and innocents ratted out for allegedly having spoken even a few words against the State to hardened criminals, POWs and others who might “conventionally” be considered threats to the the general population. Again drawing from Barnes, the

The monument to repressed artists at Dolinka

Gulag system developed a remarkably complex bureaucracy and system of institution with which to sort and categorize prisoners: those considered more dangerous were sent to the most distant and difficult camps.

None of this is to say, however, that the system was not deeply perverse. The “most dangerous” criminals were those who were the “counterrevolutionary agitators,” i.e. “politicals” from the intelligentsia. Thieves and professional criminals were treated with greater leniency because, in the eyes of the state, these people were closer to the working classes and more redeemable.

Furthermore, Stalin frequently classed whole populations of people as suspect and had them deported into the Soviet hinterland. Thus in the 1930s Poles were the first to be relocated from the European Soviet Union to Kazakhstan; later quite literally all of the Chechens and the Ingush were deported to Karaganda. But as in Dante’s Inferno, there were gradations of Hell. The deportees did not technically live within the borders of Karlag. They lived much as the free citizens of Kazakhstan at the time. However, Karlag’s administration was bureaucratically responsible for the deportee populations, and the deportees could not freely relocate elsewhere. They were, in effect, put under house arrest in new homes in a different republic of the Soviet Union. Interestingly – and something never mentioned in the museum at Dolinka – Barnes writes that ethnic Kazakhs were rarely incarcerated at Karlag. It would have been too easy for them to slip into the steppe and hide among the free population. Kazakh Gulag prisoners were sent to camps within Russia.

Israeli monument at Spassk

The museum was otherwise decent, but the fate to befall Karlag inmates and deportees was better communicated by walking across the land these people were forced to work and from which they had to eek not only subsistence, but also production quotas of wheat. Labor above and beyond the Plan was the way to demonstrate ones reform and commitment to Soviet society. But even on the spring day on which I visited, it was cold and wet, and the soil looked neither rich nor fertile. It is hard to imagine inmates’ suffering in the depths of winter and peaks of summer.

An associated monument to Stalin’s victims is at Spassk, the site of a former POW camp under the umbrella of Karlag. Spassk now houses a series of monuments. Countries from which citizens were interned either as military combatants or as suspect peoples have erected stone markers reminiscent of large gravestones. The countries include Belorussia, Russia, Ukraine and also France, Korea and Israel, among others. Each has a simple inscription in several languages. There is little fanfare around the stones; behind them stand several unmarked black crosses of different sizes and unknown provenance. Together, the markers are a quiet, dignified and fitting memorial out on the steppe.

The steppe near Dolinka and Karlag on the day we visited

Evening concert and fireworks at Astana Square

Wednesday was Victory Day (День Победы, Den’ Pobedy), a public holiday across the former Soviet Union commemorating the end of the Great Patriotic War (aka World War II. Notably, the dates for the Great Patriotic War are always given as 1941-1945, which correspond to the Soviet conflict against the Fascists. All the inconvenient “stuff” prior to 1941, like the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact, is left out of the history). Celebrated on 9 May, the day the Germans surrendered to the Soviets, Victory Day is used to honor living and deceased veterans. Those surviving don their old uniforms and, chests heavy with medals and honors, and are escorted by their children and families to the war memorial; everyone else gives gathers to give the veterans flowers and thank them for their service.

Comrade Joe Stalin makes an appearance

This is my first time celebrating Victory Day, and it is an incredible throwback to Soviet times. As one friend remarked: “Oh, so this is what is was like.” The morning began with a flower-laying ceremony at the Eternal Flame in front of the local war memorial. Banners in Russian and Kazakh unabashedly displayed the hammer and sickle. Several veterans waved the Communist flag. Good old Uncle Joe Stalin even made an appearance – in portrait form. In the evening there was an orchestral concert of Soviet marches and hymns in Astana Square in front of what was the former Communist Party HQ (now the Kazakh-British Technical University). Clips of Soviet war films were projected onto a giant screen behind the stage. People of all ages were there singing along to their favorite old tunes. Even I knew some of the words.

Two things struck me as odd about this event. In the first place, it was not only very Soviet, but also very Russian. Although Kazakhs served in the Red Army, and Kazakhstan itself was integral to the war effort as the home of relocated industries and the breadbasket of the USSR while Ukraine was overrun, the majority of the veterans Isaw were ethnically Russian. Furthermore, the days events were by and large (although not exclusively) conducted in the Russian language, which is unusual these

Veteran holding a flag for photos

days for major public celebrations. In the second place, I was surprised that there is not more animosity, or at least ambivalence, among the population of veterans in Kazakhstan towards the USSR. It is my understanding that Soviet POWs returning from Axis camps were after the war sent to the corrective labor camp in Kazakhstan (part of the famous Gulag system) for fear that they had succumbed, in effect, to Stockholm Syndrome. This is how many of the non-Kazakh veterans – although admittedly probably not that many of those still surviving – ended up here to begin with.

These things aside, however, I very much enjoyed and respect the celebration. We have analogous holidays in the USA, but not nearly to the same extent. The politics of various wars aside, we could do more to honor those who have served and their memories. Moreover, the purpose of the holiday has expanded to recognize not only veterans, but also the elderly in general. As one young Kazakh guy told me, Victory Day is “a day for our grandfathers.” The cult[ure] of youth in the US being what it is, I appreciated that a day is set aside in the public calendar for Kazakhstanis – as well as people across the former Soviet space – to recognize the various contributions of their forebearers.

Great Patriotic War monument in Almaty

Our car sunk into some mud while fording a stream. We had to call for help, which took several hours to arrive.

I spent last weekend on the true Central Kazakh steppe in and around the city of Karaganda. I hope to post at least a few times about my trip and this unassuming city, because I found the former so enjoyable and the latter so interesting. Today, however, I am going to post only about the steppe.

I traveled to Karaganda with Ashleigh, a fellow Fulbrighter and PhD candidate in archeology. Ashleigh lived in Karaganda from August 2011 through the long winter months before moving to Almaty, and she needed to return to say her thank-yous and goodbyes. Generously, she let me and another American friend tag along.

Leroy, Victor and Ashleigh in Victor’s office.

On the middle day of our three-day trip, Ashleigh’s academic supervisor in Kazakhstan, Victor, offered to take us out onto the steppe. Victor is an ethnic Russian born in Kazakhstan and has made a career and international name for himself as an expert on the early populations of this area. He is short, pot-bellied, and his is shock of white hair and bright blue eyes stand out against his tanned, leathery skin.

Victor also struck me as the quintessential archeologist: his animation belied his age, and while he seemed distracted and absent-minded in his office, he was altogether different once on the steppe. We drove for kilometers over what appeared to me to be untouched terrain before suddenly stopping and piling out of the SUV. Victor would then stalk around in the grass for a bit, eyes focused on the ground as (Ashleigh explained to me) he kicked over rocks looking for archeological remnants. Then he would call us over and show us, hidden under the grasses or shrubs, an artificial arrangement of rocks marking a grave or structure from (depending on the arrangement) the Turkic period, the Iron Age, or even the Bronze Age. He showed us kurgans, the grave-mounds famous across Eurasia, and identified the value of various geologic formations to the early peoples of what became Kazakhstan.

Descriptions of the steppe tend to focus on its emptiness. Lev Gumilev, perhaps the most famous Soviet ethnologist and anthropologist, described the steppe as “monotonous,” and a 1917 description by one M. Dostoyevsky (no known relation to the famous Dostoyevsky) emphasizes how ethnic Russians felt upon first beholding the steppe:

Travelers, coming to Turkestan from Russia on the Samara-Tashkent railway, as soon as Orenburg begin to feel the influence of Asia. The first thing thrown before their eyes is the incomprehensible steppe—flat, without a single tree; desert, with out any signs of life. Infinite—they stricken by the greatness of death; they are charmed by the beauty and peace. (Quoted in:

However, other observers have seen more potential in the steppe. According to the ancient animistic religion known here as Tengrism, Tengri is the god of the sky, the mother goddess Umai is the earth, and people live between them. The photo above suggests the ideational origins of this creation story.  More recently, the contemporary artist Elena Vorobyeva writes: “The steppe is a huge exhibition space where the artifacts are “shown’.” Indeed, many artists before Vorobyeva have also depicted the Kazakh landscape as a dramatic backdrop or stage upon which histories large and small have been enacted.

Picnicking from the back of our car before it got stuck. We kept warm with vodka – or, at least, I did.

I have found the steppe beautiful since I crossed Mongolia by train in 2004. I was impressed by the expansiveness and temperament of the steppe. There is an almost constant wind, which in the winter months can drive temperatures far down. We were even buffeted in the spring. But with Victor and Ashleigh, I came to see the steppe in a new light. They pointed out to me the varieties of grasses and flowers that each survive the harsh climate in their own way; they explained the ancient geology (that the extensive coal deposits indicate that this was once a forest, and that the steppe is created by wind-borne loess burying mountains geography beneath it); and most of all, they illuminated the cultures of the people who lived here millennia ago. The number of pre-modern graves we spotted during just our one “expedition” made it clear that this land is and has been far from empty for centuries.

Of all the unexpected revelations, however, I was most invigorated by something entirely unexpected: the smell. Artemisia, which smells a bit like sage, and other fragrant grasses grow in patches across the steppe. The spring wind carries their scents to the lucky noses of whosoever happens to be there to smell them.

I should be careful. It is easy to wax lyrical about the steppe after a visit in spring in a comfortable car. As I mentioned, and as the passaged quoted above emphasizes, the steppe is also a very violent and inhospitable place. Ashleigh describes living through the winter in Karaganda with colorful, evocative language, and I am not envious of that experience. Moreover, life on the steppe has never been easy, whether one was a nomad here centuries ago or a labor camp prisoner under the Soviets (the subject of my next post about Karaganda). Even today, maintaining infrastructure in this region is difficult and expensive. Nonetheless, the steppe undoubtedly possesses a remarkable romance.

Looking down on my companions from a hill.