Maria Merkulova's Blog

What is happening to Kyrgyzstan?

March 8, 2013

This week Bishkek is up to changing it’s mayor, last week there were gossips about preparing a new revolution; protestants in Jalalabad are erecting tents on the central square of the city. What are the key reasons of Kyrgyzstan’s stable instability?

The question of “why Kyrgyzstan can not stabilize it’s political system?” is complex, but if you take a look at the Kyrgyzstan’s political system from outside, you can find three main problems which shape that system - lack of access to resources, lack of participation of new elite in decision making, and nationalism. Let’s see what are this problems, and why they’re shaping instability.

Access to resources.

According to WorldBank 33,7% of people in Kyrgyz Republic live below poverty line, GNI per capita is $880 - Kyrgyzstan is one of the two poorest countries in the region. What makes the situations worse, is that those resources that Kyrgyzstan has are distributed nonuniformly across the country’s territory. This peculiarity has two consequences - fighting for existing limited resources and migration.

Fighting for resources is political in it’s core, so this fight always affect the state politics. Two revolutions created the following pattern of resources redistribution: if you were excluded from previous one you can drive people out on the streets and try to change the rules and redistribute resources again. A few years ago, during Otunbaeva’s transition period I was writing a master’s thesis where this pattern was described as a “stabilizing system through revolution”, in 2011 Dmitriy Furman, famous russian scholar published a paper “Kirghiz Cycles” where he describes the same idea and the same regularity: democratic revolution - turning of a democratic president to an authoritarian one - new revolution. Transformation from presidential to parliamentary system should have changed that cycles pattern, but as we can see - resources are still under redistribution, and Kyrgyz Republic already have one Prime Minister replacement. In addition, lack of resources influences not only state, but also local politics by rising political competition between so called “clans” and here we can find another pattern: northern clans in power (on the state level) are succeeded by southern and visa-versa. On the local it’s the economical rivalry between southerners and Uzbeks, sometimes becoming one of the reason of armed conflicts.

Migration is also a very important consequence of resources distribution across the state. Since 1989 Kyrgyzstan faces internal migration from remote and mountain areas to valleys and towns. Nowadays, people are moving from rural to urban areas and from south to the north. Migrating from the areas with no proper education or medical care and looking for a better future for their children, these people in fact create more complex problems for urban areas, which can not embrace such amount of people, facing the new problem of hyper-urbanization.

Basically, New Silk Road initiative and other regional trade improving initiatives can help the situation by rising trade opportunities and infrastructure along new distribution networks, making jobs in maintenance and services in rural areas or regional centers which are now seen only as a terminal point on migrants way to Osh and Bishkek. Also a Russia-Kyrgyzstan water plant projects in Naryn and Kambarta-1 are to create jobs in the coinciding regions.

Lack of new elites participation

Kyrgyzstan is in need for its elite to renovate. Politicians who opposed Akaev and brought Bakiev to power are the same people who then opposed Bakiev and appeared in power during Otunbaeva, and later. This problem is common to all CA states, and some of them are helping young people to get a better education abroad and inviting them to work for the government later, only they still are not working at the decision-making level, thus don’t have an opportunity to use their skills and shape politics. Lack of new elites participation is effecting political competition and is one of the cause of creating and re-reforming some of the state institutions. Of Course, if we want to have new people in power we need to have a place for the old one, to make them feel safe and struggle less, since this struggle paralyzes decision making process in power, and in parliament in particularly.


Several experts from the region and out of it are now raising awareness on the issue of Kyrgyzstan’s national policy - nation-building in this country was based mostly on ethnic grounds, so kyrgyz community was the main focus of this process. Rewriting history for creating a figure of a “founder figure” Manas and building an image of a kyrgyz man, strong awareness on the issue of kyrgyz language brought us to so called ethnic nationalism. In the country which is not unicultural such policy is not helping for imposing stability. We can find different reasons of why that was done, but what is important is how to change it. Some experts start to talk about imposing concept of civic nationalism instead of ethnic nationalism, it means that nation building should be based on common values of all citizens, not the “titular nation” one’s, putting the citizen identity above all other. The one serious concern that this idea evokes is “how we change national policy after we raised tension between ethnic groups?” Some of the answers may be found in language policy - promoting multilingual education opportunities, and some may be found in economic cooperation between ethnic groups.

Three problems described above are interrelated, all of them are part of one great trend in Kyrgyz political system. From the times of Akaev, political parties slowly, but inevitably, were gaining power. First parliaments had more independent candidates than party affiliated ones, but, slowly understanding the role of political parties, “clans” incorporated in new political reality. During the first revolution the power of masses was revealed, so today system is strongly dependent on the need of a “voter”. If one looks again at three problem of stability he or she can find out that - migrants are votes, people who want to participate into redistribution bring with them votes, nationalist are a great source for votes. In system where politicians are obsessed with power more than with avocation votes become a most important commodity - those who can accumulate more votes - win. That creates populism which is not usually focused on gaining some real results. Kyrgyzstan is in need for new elites to participate in politics and business, to help their own country fight a condition of stable instability.

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