The traditional community unit in Uzbekistan is known as the mahalla — a neighborhood from several to several dozen households. The Uzbek mahalla has a long history and is the focal point for family and religious holidays. As a rule, each community has its own small mosque, teahouse, and bazaar. In the Soviet period, mosques were converted into libraries or local administrative units. After Independence the mahalla was institutionalized but lost most of its democratic power as an independent, self-governing body. Now it performs local administrative functions on behalf of the government as a territorial association of families fostering cooperation and mutual assistance.
Neighbors are the second-most important people for Uzbeks after their family. Traditionally, you spend all your life in the same community, growing up with the same people and sharing with them your food, joys, and sorrows. Such communal organization implies establishment of close relations with all the neighbors, regularly reinforced by reciprocal visits, exchanges of gifts on certain occasions, and communal charity work known as hashar.
This flexible and resilient communal network requires compliance with the rules established in the neighborhood, ensured by families who voluntarily give up certain rights to privacy in exchange for communal support. If you wear the same clothes as everyone else, drive the same kind of car, participate in all the traditional events, respect your neighbors, obey your parents, and don’t mix with people considered strange, you can be sure that when you need to borrow some rice, or a ladder, or when you need someone to look after your son while you are at work, your neighbors will be there to help you.
This collectivist lifestyle strongly contrasts with the individualism of the more socially mobile and self-sufficient urban Russians. In the larger cities, especially in new residential areas with apartment blocks, the traditional mahalla structure has merged with the Soviet-style administration and a certain cultural compromise has been reached. The social openness of the Uzbeks has also greatly influenced the local Russians, who often find it difficult to adapt to the more cold and reserved attitudes between neighbors when they move to Russia proper.