Heritage and the Politics of Culture
During the World Nomad Games, an international sports, culture and tourism event organised bi-annually in Kyrgyzstan between 2014 and 2018, Kyrgyzstan is presented as a great nation of true nomads, an ancient civilization of strong, brave people with a rich cultural heritage. An (imagined) connection between the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Kyrgyz people’s history, as well as the uniqueness of Kyrgyz culture is strongly emphasised. At the same time, the international scope of the event, the unofficial slogan “We are all nomads” and the official slogan “United in strength! United in spirit!” suggest a notion of universality, and equality and connectedness between all peoples of the world. This paper explores the discrepancies between this rhetoric of inclusion and equality on the one hand, and practices of exclusion and inequality on the other. It argues that inclusive cosmopolitan rhetoric and exclusive ethno-nationalist practices in Kyrgyzstan operate on different temporal scales. Inclusivity is connected to both notions of a shared ancient history in which all people were nomads, and to future, global aspirations that re-connect all people to this heritage. Exclusion results from contemporary political relations, which are heavily influenced by recent historical processes and events, and from processes of modernisation and heritagisation. Notions of, and power over, history, heritage and tradition create difference, as nomadic heritage and tradition mean different things to different people, and are strategically used to differentiate between groups, resulting in hierarchisation, and social, political and economic inequalities.