Choikhonai Surkh: The Replacement of “Opium Dens” with Red Teahouses and the Limits of the Soviet Enlightenment Project in Tajikistan

In: Central Asian Affairs
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  • a The George Washington University, Associate, The Central Asia Program, The Elliott School of International Affairs, The Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, USA
  • | b Columbia University, Global Health Research Center of Central Asia, Research Affiliate, USA

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Abstract

In this paper I trace sanitation, education, and cultural enlightenment practices in early Soviet Tajikistan, and reassess the role of red teahouses in addressing drug use and other health issues in the country. I examine the assertions of Soviet historians and physicians by drawing on extensive archival records from Russia and Tajikistan and local newspapers published in Tajikistan in the 1930s, and in doing so accentuate an alternative account that illustrates the limits of Soviet undertakings and the appalling gaps between the aspirations of Soviet leaders and reality. Red teahouses failed both to focus on health challenges and to tackle the use of narcotic intoxicants in early Soviet Tajikistan. The majority of these new Soviet facilities functioned as commercial socio-gastronomic entities until the late 1930s and beyond, rather than spreading health propaganda and engaging in the cultural construction and enlightenment of the Tajik people.

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