Dr. Russell Zanca, Northern Illinois University
June 2, 2017

At the end of 1991, the USSR, whose national anthem proclaimed it to be an “indestructible Union of free republics,” self-destructed.  In Central Asia five former republics of that Union — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan — suddenly became free. The results of this lightning — and largely unwanted — independence have been varied but almost universally messy. DINO (Democratic In Name Only) regimes are the norm and some, like Turkmenistan, have become genuinely nightmarish.  How and why did this happen? What have been the results and what are the prospects for this important region?

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Central Asia was the focus of the “Great Game” between the Russian and British empires.  In the 21st century the players are different, but the “game” is still afoot. Russia, China, Iran and the United States are all engaged to greater or lesser degrees.  How will the newly independent states of the region respond to the challenges of unexpected nationhood, their own regional antagonisms, and great power intrusions? What are America’s interests in the area and what policies best serve them? In his talk, Russell Zanca will take up these questions and provide some much needed answers.

Russell Zanca is professor of anthropology at Northeastern Illinois University. As a scholar who has worked in Central Asia for more than 20 years (since 1992), he conducted most of his early projects in Uzbekistan and spent time in all of the neighboring countries. He has filled a number of roles in the region, including teaching and advising. Recently, he has been involved in higher education in Kazakhstan, in particular at the Nazarbayev University in Astana where he has played a role in the establishment of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences with the U. of Wisconsin. Zanca is a member of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at the University of Chicago as well as serving on the Executive Board of UC’s Executive Committee on Central Eurasian Studies. In 2015, Russell founded the Chicago Central Eurasia Group, which consults with professionals and political leaders on the region.

Supported by New Mexico Humanities Council, Sandia National Labs
& Los Alamos National Bank