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Uzbekistan: Karimov Unveils Statue Celebrating The Literary Legacy Of Poet Ghofur Ghulom

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the well-known Uzbek poet Ghofur Ghulom, whose literary career spanned the Stalinist purges and World War II. Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who recently unveiled a statue of the poet, called him a patriot, while scholars of his work are mixed in their assessments of his legacy, RFE/RL reports.

Prague, 15 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- In 1949, during the height of the Stalinist purges, the Uzbek poet Ghofur Ghulomivich Ghulom wrote a poem about the building of the Turkestan-Siberian railroad -- a poem that could also be interpreted as a risky comment on Stalin's labor camps:

"These are very ancient roads,

Alexander the Great is a master of the world,

the Caesar of Rome, and the murderous Chingis Khan,

They all left traces on the road,

by saying 'qon' (blood) and

5 million, 10 million slaves,

slaves and widows,

with chains on their bodies,

passed along this road saying 'non' (bread)."

Ghulom was born on 10 May 1903 to a poor family in Tashkent. Events making the centenary of Ghulom's birth are taking place throughout this month in Uzbekistan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov unveiled a statue of Ghulom at festivities in the capital on 10 May, noting the poet's contributions to Uzbek literature.

As was characteristic of his generation of Uzbek intellectuals, Ghulom was not only a poet and writer but also a translator and scholar who had a particular interest in oral literature. In his own poetry, Ghulom made use of the best traditions of classical and oral literature while also absorbing new forms and ideas from his contact with the Russian people and their literary works.

Edward Allworth, professor emeritus at Columbia University in the United States and a noted Central Asian scholar, says Ghulom's early work in the 1930s was very much in the spirit of Socialist Realism, the ideology based on the principle that the arts should glorify the political and social ideals of communism.

"One of his very first books was published in 1931, and the title of it was 'Dynamo' -- which you can recognize as 'dynamo' -- and it was much around the five-year plan, kind of what you might call exhortative verse, encouraging people to work harder and to produce more and to meet the goals of the five-year plan and that kind of thing," Allworth said.

Allworth agrees with the assessment of prominent Soviet literary critic Viktor Zhirmunsky that Ghulom does not belong in the circle of lyric poets because he preferred topical political themes.

"By saying that he was not in the circle of intimate poets, as [Zhirmunsky] did, he meant that the poetry was -- what shall we call it -- topical, topical and in the party spirit -- that is to say, in the Communist Party spirit. And this is what Ghofur Ghulom is mainly known for in his writing of the 1920s, '30s and '40s," he says.

After the war, however, Ghulom increasingly turned away from such themes to what Allworth called "more neutral areas," such as children's verse, and devoted much time to his children's education. Several of his children and grandchildren currently occupy senior positions in the Uzbek government. Ghulom also spent many of his hours encouraging younger poets and writers.

Ilse Cirtautas, director of the Central Asian Turkic Program at the University of Washington in the northwestern U.S. city of Seattle, notes that one of Ghulom's proteges, contemporary Uzbek poet Said Ahmed, includes a "wonderful portrait" of Ghulom in his recent memoirs.

"He gives us a wonderful portrait about Ghofur Ghulom, his personality, the way he received the guests, the spontaneity of his poetry which he recited," Cirtautas says.

Not everyone is so charitable in their assessment of Ghulom, however.

Abdulla Abdurazakov, an Uzbek philologist living in Norway, describes Ghulom as a controversial figure, a "very difficult person," who, like most of his contemporaries, made painful compromises to survive the Stalinist terror.

"Ghofur Ghulom was one of the representatives of a crucial epoch, a difficult epoch, and he himself was a very difficult person. I could tell he reached the peak in the art of poetry. He struggled between two fires. Sometimes he was on that side, sometimes on another. Sometimes he struggled for justice, for Uzbek pride, for national values. But when he was under persecution by the authorities, then he begins to eulogize the authorities. For example, when his colleague Maksud Shayhzoda was arrested, he began to criticize his friend, to defend himself from persecution. But when Maksud Shayhzoda was released, Ghofur Ghulom met his friend with a friendly embrace," Abdurazakov said.

The centenary celebrations of Ghulom's birth are focusing on his literary legacy, however, rather than on the choices he made during his life. Karimov, at the 10 May ceremonies, lauded Ghulom as a patriot of the country and nation.

The New York-based Congress of Bukharan Jews also intends to honor Ghulom, who died in 1966, with a centenary celebration later this month. Members of Ghulom's family have been invited to attend.

"Lovely moments of our lovely age.

Will ask its value from dear people.

It's high time to decorate life's notebook

With beautiful sentences."

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, in particular Shukhrut Babajanov, contributed to this report.)