From the free-market dynamos of the Baltic to central Asian plateau states grappling with Islamist insurgencies, the 15 former Soviet states are a wealth of contradictions once as unthinkable as the collapse of the USSR itself 20 years ago: democratic and authoritarian; Christian, Muslim, and vehemently secular; eager to join the Eurozone and also to ally with China; tied to their Soviet past, yet anxious to move on. [[SHARE]]
Two decades on, here are snapshots of 15 countries straddling East and West.
After gaining independence in 1991, Tajikistan's Moscow-backed government saw the rise of an Islamist opposition movement. In response, President Emomali Rahmon, a former Soviet apparatchik, imposed a decade of forced secularism and continues to fear the specter of the blossoming religious fervor among Tajiks. Men with beards are randomly detained, women are prohibited from attending religious services, young people studying in Islamic countries like Egypt and Iran have been called home, and most recently, children under 18 were barred from mosques.
But keeping God out of the public square hasn't helped the country's moribund economy and society. Tajikistan is now battling problems that include widespread drug addiction, a series of food and energy crises, and the fallout from its post-independence civil war. Islamist radicalism is growing due in part to the Taliban insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.
Above, a 41-foot high statue of revolutionary Russian leader Vladimir Lenin, reportedly the tallest monument to Lenin in central Asia, is lifted from its pedestal in Tajikistan's second largest city, Khujand, on May 30. The statue has been moved to a park on the outskirts of the city.