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Life on an Atomic Collective

The Post-Soviet Retreat of the State in Rural Kazakhstan
Magdalena E. Stawkowski
p. 196-219


This article is a case study of Koian, a former livestock and agricultural collective farm overlapping the border of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan. I examine how, despite economic hardships, village residents have reinvented their collective farm as a “collective bank” on a post-Soviet agro-nuclear landscape. Although informal economies and social networks play an important role in ameliorating a lack of state commitment to the region, the village has become a relatively stable economic unit and a lynch pin of a broader strategy of upward mobility for family members who move to cities.

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Koian in historical context
Living sami po sebe
To the Bazar

First lines

In the village of Koian, on the border of a Soviet-era Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan, young men collected hay at the end of the summer. They worked abandoned agricultural fields, ten kilometers from the village, just beyond a rugged mountain ridge and along a makeshift dirt road. Backs bent under the weight of dried straw, the men threw it high, with broken pitchforks, onto the back of the tractor. The mosquitos and biting flies incessantly gnawed at their bodies. They talked and laughed, surrounded by grasslands in a seeming desolate landscape. For lunch, they drank flasks of tea and ate dried mutton and deep-fried biscuits under the blazing sun. Leaving early in the morning, they returned to Koian only after dark, exhausted. House by house, hay was piled upon flat rooftops and the village slowly took on its winter look. Yet, these much prized fodder crops (wheat) were not native species to the area decades earlier. In the late summer months when the men from Koian ...

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Bibliographical reference

Magdalena E. Stawkowski, « Life on an Atomic Collective », Études rurales, 200 | 2017, 196-219.

Electronic reference

Magdalena E. Stawkowski, « Life on an Atomic Collective », Études rurales [Online], 200 | 2017, Online since 01 July 2019, connection on 12 November 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/etudesrurales.11762

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