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Nationalities Papers special issue

Nationalities Papers The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity

Special Issue: "Imagined" vs "real" nation-building: language and identity policies between theory and practice in Central Asia


"Imagined" vs "real" nation-building: language and identity policies between theory and practice in Central Asia 

Nationalities Papers 43(3), May 2015

Guest editors: Rico Isaacs (Oxford Brookes University) and Abel Polese (Tallinn University) 

Much of the existing literature on nation-building in Central Asia offers a statist top- down approach which focuses on how the nation and nationhood is “imagined” by political elites. In this special issue the contributors provide an analysis which seeks to explore the process of nation-building in Central Asia by addressing the other side of the state-society relationship. The case studies in this collection examine the “grey zone” between “imagined” and “real” differences between state-led policies and discourses related to nationhood and identity and how they are received by different audiences at different levels (regional, national and international). The authors bring to the fore the contested nature of nation-building in Central Asia as well as focusing on new or less conventional analytical tools for the study of nation-building such as cinema, construction projects and elections. This article provides the introduction to the special issue and lays out the contribution the articles make to the existing literature on nation-building in Central Asia. It also sets out the rationale and aims of the collection.



Featured article

A tale of two presidents: personality cult and symbolic nation-building in Turkmenistan

Abel Polese (Tallinn University) and Slavomir Horák (Charles University in Prague)

Free downloadable copy at:

This article proposes a comparison of the attitudes of the first and second presidents of Turkmenistan to discuss possible overlap between personality cult, as it has been initiated and developed by the two presidents after independence, and nation-building narratives in the country. Nation-building in post-Soviet spaces has been studied comprehensively, but this paper is distinguished by two interpretative frameworks.

First, this article is possibly the first comparison of personality cult as it has been constructed by the two Turkmen presidents since 1991. Second, it looks at some specific aspects of the personality cult as possible markers of a Turkmen national identity that becomes, by force of this, de-ethnicized. We suggest that a number of idiosyncratic aspects of the personality cult in Turkmenistan contribute to construct an official nation-building narrative so concentrated on the figure of the president as o minimize the ethnic features of nation-building measures that scholars have noticed in a wide range of cases in the post-socialist region.