For many years, it was strictly forbidden to photograph the ornate subway stations in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The Soviet system had also been built with a nuclear attack in mind, and could serve as a refuge from radioactive rain in times of war. But since the ban was set aside in early 2018, foreign visitors have begun to show greater interest in the oldest metro system in Central Asia. And with good reasons.
The Taskent metro system is much more than just a means of transportation. In the decades it has, the design and names of the 29 ornate subway stations have changed to reflect the turbulent trends in Uzbekistan's history. In summary, a trip in the Tashkent subway tells the story of a country where the construction of the nation is still in progress.
This story begins in the early days of Soviet socialism.
Vladimir Lenin once said that “communism is the most electrifying Soviet power in the whole country” (Коммунизм – это есть советская власть плюс электрификация всей страны). In November 1920, electricity was a sign of the bold promises of future progress; It embodied the innovations that have now become accessible to the masses. Just 12 years later, the Soviet leadership pronounced another strategic and futuristic priority: the construction of the metropolitan, as Europe's subway systems were known in the second half of the 19th century. On May 25, 1932, the Sovnarkom, the then executive body of the Soviet Government issued a decree:
«Считать Метрострой важнейшей государственной стройкой с обеспечением ее лесоматериалами, метат мататаламатасталаматалатала горов п. как первоочередной важности ударной стройки всесоюзного значения ».>
The construction of the metropolitan should be considered as a project of the utmost importance for the State, with its provision of wood, metal, cement, transportation. etc., and is a key priority in matters of superproductivity at the national level. ”
In other words, no effort would be spared to demonstrate the success and superiority of Soviet technology. In the 1930s the first underground pit was excavated in Moscow, and in May 1935 the first line was officially inaugurated. These facts can be reviewed in the 1935 documentary “There is a meter” (Есть Метро) that covers the entire construction process between 1931 and 1935:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aiizmFOeRE (/ embed)
The development of the subway also implied a key turning point in the development of the Soviet economy: while the first five-year plan (1928-1932) highlighted heavy industrialization, the second five-year plan focused on urbanization. As a result, the subway became an important cultural symbol, present in movies, children's books, poetry and songs. He was hailed as a testimony to the success of Stalinism in official songs, like this one from 1936:
Мы верили, мы знали, / Что, роя котлован,
Мы твой, товарищ Сталин, / Осуществляем план.
Опишут для столетий, / Да не одно перо
А после скажут детям / Как бились за метро!
We believed, we knew that with digging a hole,
we would, comrade Stalin, make your plan come true.
They will describe it for centuries, and not just with a pen
And they will tell the children how they fought for the subway!
– Truck over the subway (Песня о метро), 1936.
However, in later decades, the subway also entered the marginal or dissident culture, as shown in this 1969 song by Bulat Okudzhava:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkK-FFFCEPw (/ embed)
Inspired by the success of the Moscow metro, in later years the Soviet Government announced that it would build a subway in each Soviet city with more than one million inhabitants. That ambitious plan finally came to a halt, but by the time the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, it had built subway systems in 13 cities, including Leningrad (1955), Kiev (1960), Tbilisi (1966) and, of course, Tashkent (1977 ).
Tashkent has its subway
The people of Tashkent had to wait several decades for their subway, which was the first in the remote and comparatively underdeveloped Soviet Central Asia. The planners faced several challenges: the Uzbek capital had suffered a devastating earthquake in 1966, which destroyed half of the city. The city lacked trained engineers and subway workers. The long and scorching summers of Uzbekistan posed ventilation problems. That is precisely why the Soviet authorities had to prove that they were up to the occasion.
Mobilizing human resources and special construction materials throughout the Soviet Union, in 1973 the first wells of the Tashkent metro were excavated. Just four years later, in an unprecedented stakhanovist spirit, the first subway line was opened in November 1977. The date was chosen to coincide with the 60 years of the Russian revolution. Therefore, as the images of that day show, all local politicians were present at the inauguration, in which a congratulatory message from Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was read to the crowd.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zV6CcXPUK2A (/ embed)
In subsequent years, new nations were added to the system. By 1984, a second line was opened. As this 2007 documentary shows, particular attention was paid to the design of the stations:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Qg4Uv3LBM4 (/ embed)
As in other Soviet subway systems, each particular Taskent subway station was assigned a particular political and cultural message to illustrate the key messages of Soviet ideology. When Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991, its new government followed the example of other new states and changed the name of streets, squares and subway stations to distance itself from some elements of the Soviet past. Thus, they reaffirmed the symbols of Uzbekistan's pre-Soviet past, long since eliminated and sometimes censored. Of the 23 stations built during the Soviet period, 11 have received new names. For example, the Lenin Square station is now called Mustaqillik maydoni, or Independence Square, in Uzbek.
Of the 29 stations still operational today (a third line was opened in 2001), five subway stations are particularly revealing of Uzbekistan's changing narratives around national identity:
Xalqlar Do'stigli (Friendship of the Peoples): This station is an emblematic example. Known as Friendship of the Peoples during the Soviet period, its former name reflected the extensive attempts of the Soviet ideology to emphasize its supposedly peaceful international role during the Cold War, as opposed to Western imperialism. The station building, at ground level, conveys this message of futurism. In 2008, the then president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, who maintained a fairly independent line from Moscow, renamed the station with the name of Bunyodkor (“The Founder”), in honor of his own role as the founding father of the new Uzbek nation . However, in 2018, the second president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who wishes to strengthen ties with Russia, returned the old name of the station.
Paxtakor (The cotton grower). The name of this station symbolizes the eternal dependence of the Uzbek economy on cotton production. During the Soviet period, Moscow assigned to each of the 15 Soviet republics a particular crop to mass produce. This focus on cotton monoculture has continued in subsequent Uzbek governments with a high price for the country's population. The cotton sector has used forced labor, including child labor. Irrigation of the vast cotton fields has caused an ecological disaster in the country with the decline of the Aral Sea. Today, Uzbekistan is the eighth largest cotton producer in the world.
Chilonzor. This station was named after the nearby district of Chilonzor, whose huge residential complexes developed along the lines of the Soviet urbanization. Chilonzor is one of the most impressive in terms of art: its walls are covered in white marble, while several three-dimensional ceramic panels, all made by prominent sculptors, illustrate the Soviet vision of Uzbek life: a mixture of rural traditions and achievements urban, all enhanced by a series of huge crown-shaped candelabra reminiscent of the Moscow metro.
This is a “Uzbek scene,” which depicts men drinking tea on a tapchan, a wooden platform that helps insulate themselves from the scorching heat:
Alisher Navoi. This station was named in honor of the fifteenth-century poet and linguist Alisher Navoi, whom several states in Central Asia claim as his own. Navoi was born in the current territory of Afghanistan and wrote in Persian, Arabic and Chagatai, ancestor of modern Uzbek.
Kosmonavtlar (The Cosmonauts). In the Kremlin narratives, the cosmonauts, astronauts of the Soviet Union, were the apex of Soviet science and progress. This station is decorated in cosmic blue with portraits of Uzbek medieval astrologers and Soviet cosmonauts.
From Soviet times to post-Soviet times, from socialist times to Islamic times, the Tashkent metro celebrates and commemorates the remarkable history of Uzbekistan. Its stations have become an integral part of any visit to the capital of Uzbekistan, which may indicate that tourism will be the next chapter in the long history of the construction of the nation of Uzbekistan.