Introduction Contrary to the well-known saying, may you live in a time of change, the dismantling of socialism at the end of the 1980s and beginning 1990s was advertised to the former citizens of the socialist block as unequivocally a positive change. The benefits of acquiring freedoms of speech, expression, religion and travel were believed to be key achievements that justified the dissolution of the socialist economies of the Soviet Union. “For me it was a real escape, I do not know what might have happened to my life if perestroika and glasnost had started later”, – reflects a former minister in Kazakhstan reflecting upon his life as a young man during the last years of the USSR’s existence. Although such principally positive attitudes to the destruction of socialism was rather typical for intelligentsia, successful politicians and entrepreneurs, in other parts of Central Asia, particularly in the peripheries, people, who suffered social marginalisation, drastic decline of living standards and malnutrition in the 1990s demonstrate a form of amnesia about those harsh times. “We have lived through it, and now we wish these memories to be swept away”, – says a middle-age woman from Karaganda.1

This research aims to shed light on the phenomenon of socio-political transformation under perestroika taking into account societal and cultural transformations. Much of the albeit limited research on perestroika in Central Asia has devoted to the study of political elites and their struggle for power in the 1980s and 1990s, leaving the large part of the population out of the dialogue about transformation during and right after perestroika. This article presents an analysis of the perceptions of different social groups about the fall of socialism. The research methodology uses interview data to show how certain conventional debates and rhetoric echoed both by scholars and in popular opinion have been developing in an interconnected manner to make up this shared historical space.