© 2014 ANNA BRENNA
 

Soviet Watermelon Jam

Soviet Watermelon Jam is the story of a journey in the Stans (suffix, which means country / nation and characterizing the name of the states in the area of Central Asia), of the atmospheres I breathed and of the people I met, among mountains of watermelons and reminiscences of communism and of the Soviet Union.

Watermelon jam is appreciated throughout the former Soviet Union area and is particularly popular in the regions of watermelon cultivation in Central Asia.

This "no man's land" has always been one of the most sought after prey on the part of Western conquerors: Russians and English faced each other for a long time in the nineteenth century in this corner of the world, inaugurating the policy of "The Great Game".

Mongols, Arabs and Russians, even before, contended for the khanates that dotted the region; going even further back, Alexander the Great passed from there to reach India.

Until 1991 the republics formed a territorial entity without internal borders called Turkestan. The borders between the various republics were traced to a table, to control the area according to the approach of Divide et Impera and they were not modified even when, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the five republics of Central Asia, hitherto controlled by Moscow, obtained independence.

During seventy years of Soviet rule, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the countries that, from the highest mountain ranges in the world to the vast desert territories once marked the route of the Silk Road, have passed directly from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. And today, after twenty-five years of autonomy, all five nations are still searching for their identity, between East and West and between old and new, in the middle of Asia, surrounded by great powers such as Russia and China, or by troubled neighbors like Iran and Afghanistan.

The contrasts unite them: decades of Soviet domination coexist with local administrations, the exorbitant wealth given by gas and oil with the most extreme poverty, the cult of personality with archaic customs still vital. And while the steppes are filled with ultramodern buildings and luxurious villas inhabited by new despots, the passion for carpets and bazaars, love for horses and camels, and countless local traditions continue to survive. The Soviets in Central Asia have brought, along with the numerous statues depicting Lenin, railroad, education and mass health, and that is why, especially among the younger generations, it is not uncommon to hear about Stans with nostalgia for their communist past.

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