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Limited Shelf Life

As with perishable products, books too seem to have a limited shelf life in countries governed by ideology. In the former Soviet Union, some books did not survive more than a year or two in public libraries. They were condemned to extermination as soon as their authors fell out of favour with the regime. There were also books, such as those by Joseph Stalin, which lost their credentials after the death of their author. Stalin’s books were soon removed from libraries at the order of his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, whose own books in turn faced the same fate even before his death. A change in the leadership frequently meant a parallel change in the contents of libraries.

In the same way, ever since the first modern libraries were established in Tajikistan in 1924, their stock of books has been through the cycle of elimination and replacement over and over again, in order to conform with and reinforce the current ideology of the day. Another factor contributing to this process was the change made in the script twice within the course of ten years- first from Persian into the Latin script and then from Latin into Cyrillic.

After the collapse of communism, Tajikistan has been going through a period of ideological confusion. However, there is no doubt that this country wishes to make a clean break with its communist past and all the legacy of that period. Libraries are targeted once more, this time with the decision to purge them of all communist literature. A debate is now going on both against and in favour of this move. There are those who believe that these books are of no use any more, are just taking up space, and can be replaced with much more useful books. Some, on the other hand, are against the obliteration of what they consider to be a record of an important part of the history of their country.

In this multimedia report, we join this debate whilst visiting a number of libraries in the Khatlan province of Tajikistan.

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