Comparing Life in Different Locations in Russia & Central Asia

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  • 0:00 Life in Central Asia & Russia
  • 2:15 Cuisine
  • 3:05 Freedom & Tolerance
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to explain how life varies in Russia compared to parts of Central Asia and how the various countries are different from each other. A short quiz will follow.

Comparing Life in Central Asia & Russia

Russia casts a large shadow over all of Central Asia. The historical influence of the Soviet Union can't be ignored. However, the countries of Central Asia still have their own cultures that are quite separate from Russia. Islamic culture and traditional nomadic lifestyles are the most significant influences: the former, especially in Southern countries, like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, and the latter, especially in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Together they make up the five countries of Central Asia that we're going to discuss today.

Life in Russia can be hard. They have a history of struggle of various kinds, from oppressive emperors to the iron hand of the Soviet Union to the incredibly harsh winters. Life in Russia has created a tough, stern approach to existence for those who have weathered it over the decades and centuries. On days when the winter cold seems to break, you'll find people sunbathing along lakes and on beaches, even in weather that would seem downright cold to many people in other parts of the world. They enjoy it while they can!

Kazakhstan is a land of nomadic herders. Or, at least it was not long ago. To this day, there are many people who live a semi-nomadic lifestyle, moving their livestock from place to place, riding alongside on horseback. The traditional movable home, known as a 'yurt', is still used by many who don't even move it. But life in Kazakhstan is one of contrast; on the one hand, you have people living these very traditional lifestyles, and, on the other, you have city people who produce precise equipment and launch it into space on behalf of the Russians and Americans.

While all the countries of Central Asia share the nomadic heritage of Kazakhstan, they vary in several ways - in how much that heritage impacts modern life, in the nature of their governments and to what degree the Soviet past casts a shadow over their countries.

Kyrgyzstan shares a lot with Kazakhstan and is certainly the most similar, though Kyrgyzstan has a particularly corrupt regime and many of their natural resources have been used up. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are far more urban, and very few people live nomadic lifestyles in modern times. Drought and famine have been major problems, particularly for Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In all four countries, unemployment is high. People often have to scrape by through local trade and offering taxi services with their personal vehicles.

Cuisine in Central Asia & Russia

Russian cuisine is influenced by what grows well in the country and by the abundant fish available thanks to the Arctic Ocean and Caspian Sea. Fish and caviar (fish eggs) are popular. The traditional borscht soup contains commonly grown vegetables like beets, potatoes and cabbage. It's probably not surprising that warming drinks are popular in such a cold place: from tea, which was brought to the country on the trade roads from the Far East, to vodka, which is the Russian national drink.

In Kazakhstan, their history as nomadic herders has led to a diet that relies a lot on what animals provide: meat, cheese, milk and yogurt. But this nomadic diet is mixed with grains and spices from the Southeast and Southwest. The further south you go in Central Asia, the spicier the food becomes.

Freedom & Tolerance in Central Asia & Russia

After 70 years under Soviet Rule, some limited freedoms have finally come to the people of Russia. But the cultural influence of their history will remain for many years to come. Russians still like strong, centralized governments, and there is a lot of emphasis put on the importance of the extended family and the motherland. When times were hard in Soviet Russia people had to rely on their families to survive, and the collective in general is seen as more important than the individual. Other views might be considered selfish. Such cultural values make a lot of sense, but certainly don't encourage the government to give up any of its power over people's lives.

Compared to the rest of Central Asia, Kazakhstan's culture is tolerant and diverse. People live their lives with a lot of religious freedom. There is a large Russian population, and a quarter of the people are Russian Orthodox, with 75% being Muslim. This might not seem very diverse, but consider that most other countries in Central Asia are closer to 90% Muslim.

Uzbekistan has free, high quality education for its citizens. However, the government is one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, continuing many of the economic policies of the Soviet Union, and this very much limits its citizens in their day-to-day lives. Strict adherence to Islamic and state law is compulsory. Religious schools, neighborhood mosques and religious publications are a major element in everyone's lives.

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