Cinema, Local Power and the Central State: Agencies in Early Anti-Religious Propaganda in Uzbekistan

In: Die Welt des Islams
Cloé Drieu Paris

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Lenin, Stalin or Trotsky took early measures to control the cinema in order to transform and enlighten the masses and to implement a proletarian and atheist culture that could replace former norms and homogenize beliefs and values. However, the use of theatre or cinema as a vector for cultural changes was also praised—in a less conceptualised manner—by some Muslim Turkestani élites, who had come to consider, at least as early as 1913, performing and visual arts a mirror that could help society to understand its illnesses and thus to overcome them. The early Soviet period radicalized these conceptions of power and enlightenment toward cinema, which proved a locus for political debates, modernization and agencies that were contended, throughout the 1920s and the 1930s, by Russian Communists and vernacular political or cultural élites in power. Examples of early anti-religious policy as well as film propaganda shed light on this process. In the Soviet context, the analysis of film production permits us to ascertain a complex set of dependencies and agencies between central and local powers, between artists and politics. This article will first focus on a brief institutional history and on the way vernacular élite and ordinary people welcomed the cinématographe in order to underline its peculiar position for our understanding of the cultural changes in the inter-war period. Second, it will examine how officials organised antireligious policy in Uzbekistan, using film in particular. Finally, the article will discuss anti-religious films and their ambivalence until 1937.

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