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вторник, 23 марта 2010 г.

KYRGYZSTAN: THE TOP PROBLEMS OF THE NATION AND REALPOLITIK


“It is time to change our people.”
-- Bertold Brecht

Prologue

Spring has come, but will be there a thaw? The first is given by God and nature, which He created. The second depends on people. Spring brings hope, even to the most disappointed people. Maybe everything will turn out alright, they begin to think. This is the particular way to perceive changes in nature. However, even though humans are part of nature, they live in accordance with their own laws. Among these laws and rules, psychological feelings and their changes play an important role. It has to be said that they not only represent the reactions of people to their very existence, but they also shape the course of events. In this meaning, the major participants of the political process must take into consideration that current expectations shape future events. When there is a failure to meet expectations (the past 17 years can be defined as a failure to meet expectations), one must lie, thereby prolonging such expectations. This is what the Kyrgyz authorities are doing now. The opposition is the same. This spring is not an exception. The current authorities are self-satisfied and unconcerned, as the authorities were during the corrupt times of the previous leaders. The opposition prays for the failure of the powerful, as usual without having a clear vision of what would happen after that failure. Moreover, we still do not have a real national agenda. We do not have the skills to formulate it independently; our political and governing instincts are emerging only gradually. Let’s look around and see the world surrounding us.
Special attention has to be given to what defines the face of the modern world, and shapes the future of humankind until 2020. Globalization is most beneficial to those who have mastered advanced technologies. The gap between those who “have” and “have not” in the world is increasing. Religions, especially Islam, are becoming strong centers of gravity for those looking for an escape. The confrontation between Islam and the West is intensifying. The center of the world economy is moving towards Asia, thanks to China and India. The developed nations are concerned with climate change and environmental degradation. A number of the post-Soviet countries of Eastern and Central Europe (as well as the Baltic states) were able to move out of historical deadlock. What about us? Where are we? We moved from an unpromising, communist condition to a poor and corrupted Third World condition. We are now a part of the periphery of our strong neighbors – Kazakhstan, Russia and China. The geocultural orientation of Kyrgyzstan is not clear. Among Central Asian countries, only Kazakhstan seems to have some grounds to present itself on the world stage. If the Kazakhs can address two challenges – the post-Nazarbaev syndrome and the construction of an economy that is not dependent on oil – there will be even more grounds for them to have new ambitions. As for the rest of the Central Asian countries, their stable existence is not yet a fact. The states are weak and could break down. The majority of people of the region live nowadays in poverty and fear, uncertain and without hope for a better future.

From “Being Soviet” to Asianism

National cultures, mentalities, and peculiarities of thinking play decisive roles in the well-being of nations. The Baltic States, after some discussion and debate clearly defined their overall direction after 1990: it is toward Europe and NATO. They completely dismantled the Soviet system – which was, in their view, useless – and now they are successfully adopting new values: capitalism, democracy, and human rights. The drive for freedom and better standards of living, in their view, meets their aspirations. Central Asians made a different decision. They had
a choice: to begin building democracy, or to position themselves in opposition to democracy. They rejected the achievements of the Soviet epoch, but kept its defects. They have chosen a middle way. While using the label of democracy, they have restored backward, almost the mediaeval, methods of governance. Russia also crawled into Asianism, but with other arguments and programs. All these regimes can be fairly called “imitation” regimes. Compare two types of imitation: Japanese and CIS. The Japanese choose an advanced model, copy it, and improve it. The Japanese imitation thus gives birth to a new phenomenon of good quality. The CIS country will take from the advanced model only the form, decorate it with sweet words, and completely change its content. As a result, it is hard to recognize the original model. It is crippled. This is especially true when it concerns political life. The top people in the CIS countries live luxurious, capitalist lives and have unlimited rights and freedoms, while the majority of population live in poverty and have no rights. This situation was created because the people, because of their culture and way of thinking, have allowed those in power to suppress them. They agree with the argument that democracy is not for them, that it would take at least 200 years to achieve it, and that it is better to live as they used to live. It is more stable. They have started to become convinced that democracy and order are not compatible with this part of the world. The local intelligentsia, instead of bringing the ‘light’ of new education to masses has taken shelter under the heel of the powerful, like a scrawny chicken waiting for grain. The leaders of the countries keep repeating that their people are not ready for democracy, and that their long terms
of governance are part of a transition period. Such Stalinist thinking is opposed by the practices of the Bolsheviks themselves. If the ardent Bolsheviks in the 1920s used the logic of our current rulers, they could not have created the Cultural Revolution in Middle Asia, and the people would have remained illiterate. But they were able to create it; and they did it in a short period. So why do we deny the possibility of creating a democratic revolution in our thinking right now? If a person stole grain from the field, the Bolsheviks put him in prison. People were hungry, but the fields of the homeland were full, and the country was able to survive the war. Based on similar logic, what if – for example – nowadays people were imprisoned for buying votes? Do you think we would come closer to democracy?
I think we would. Democracy likes order. Some might dislike democracy, but in the contemporary world, there is simply no other way to legitimize power. “It means that people, and society accept its backwardness, the situation of ‘catching up,’ and compensate by saying ‘we may not have the democracy, and people steal, but we are creating the first Uzbek state, the Kazakh state, Turkmen state.’ This is compensation,” D. Furman explains. The countries’ leaders are representatives of the backward parts of our societies. They are the phantoms of the past. Our societies are sliding down into the trap of Asianism because of them. Dictators want to
sustain their power and wealth and make their people live with the concepts of the old world. They apply the categories of the Third World and their supporters voluntarily play along. Commenting on this type of harmful thinking, Janos Kornai, a professor of Harvard University wisely said that “democracy cannot feed people, it is more important to have social guarantees, social justice, and living standards; now I recall one Hungarian poet who wrote “The Song of Dog” and “The Song of Wolf.” The dog has a warm hole, with food and chain, while the wolf starves and freezes but remains free. It is a question of worldview and life priorities.” However, there is another way – the way of building true democracy. The nation must decide on the key issues of its existence.

Do we have a national agenda?

Seventeen years have passed since we gained independence. Towards which of the world’s social-political coordinates are we moving or do we tend to belong
to? With which civilization do we identify or want to identify? What are the major political, social and economic values that define us as a state? There is rhetoric, but there are no reasonable answers. Moreover, we say one thing, but do another. First, we were the periphery of the Russian Empire, then a Soviet province. We were the stock-farm of the USSR with an educated population, which at the same time produced torpedoes and cartridges. What are we now? For example, Lithuania positions itself as a regional player, while Estonia has chosen the strategy of a
“Golden province” on the Baltic. Latvia is a financial center and a transition country. In Central Asia, Kazakhstan has become the regional leader and now, through Eurasianism, it wants to move closer to European civilization. In addition, the Madrid speech of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan and the selection of Kazakhstan to be the OSCE chair in 2010 show the country’s serious efforts to consider the question of democracy. The other Central Asian countries do not have compasses or their compasses are broken as a result of unrest.
From a realpolitik point of view, we need to start defining the shape of the society we desire and a path for Kyrgyzstan for the first half of the 21st century. This is necessary if we want to create a basis for the consolidation and unity of the new nation. For a society to build a solid consensus it must have faith in its leaders and it must have well-defined and supported goals. So far, we have neither. Instead of major political goals, the people have a cold war, in which the limited power of the nation is being wasted on inter-regional and inter-clan competition. It is necessary to build, in practice, a free and democratic state. We have to take steps towards it with confidence but without lying and imitation. We need to strive to be closer to European civilization and to secure ourselves from despotic, theocratic and authoritarian regimes; to benefit from a relationship with them, but to realize that the future is not theirs; to set a goal of becoming a country that is stably developing; and to define goals for 2020, based on comprehensive discussions and a national dialogue. We have to be a small state with big but reasonable ambitions. From this perspective, it is important to get rid of the psychology of a perpetual “little brother.” Even when there is no need, most Kyrgyz officials look at Russia, the imagined “big brother,” and blindly copy its model. Russia’s goal is to become a superpower; therefore, nationalism and order are more important for it than democracy and freedom. This fact of Russian reality must be the basis for our conclusions about our relationship with Russia. Some Russian experts themselves, such as O. Klyamkin, recognize that, “Neither a democratic political system, nor the rule of law were established in Russia. Political competition, fair elections, an independent judiciary, free mass media and well-developed local self-governance, all these are hard for us to achieve.” The new political elites of Russia have many instructive merits, but why do we import their shortcomings? Russia always chooses between being itself and being European. Asymmetry to the Russian political regime has more prospects in the course of long-term cooperation than an effort to build the symmetrical model does. Our economic thinking is a particularly urgent issue. As a poor country, we should not think like foolish, people. We need to learn how to save, and how to spend money only for those things that generate income. We need to be consistent with our priorities. There is a continuous tendency both in the parliament except priorities when we adopt a budget. The state turned into dependents, reliant on foreign aid. Previously, we
were ‘drunk’ on long-term preferential loans; nowadays think about how to become financially independent. Therefore, we are among the most underdeveloped countries of the world, according to indicators of economic competitiveness and corruption. Let’s add up all the programs of the previous and current regimes – the Comprehensive Development Program, the National Program on Poverty Reduction, and the Economic Development Strategy. And what do we have? A lot of words – some of them are even correct. But there is no life these programs. In particular, there is no imagination. Why not?

The choice of the country is the problem of the elite

The elite, which initiates reforms, plays a decisive role in defining the strategic vector of the country’s development. We have to recognize that there is no elite in Kyrgyzstan that is ready and able to build democracy and an economy. The main reason is the absence of an appropriate mechanism for forming new elite, as well as of the system of control by society. As a result, formally there is elite. But, it does not act as a leading, creative, advanced minority within society. The mass protest against the “anti-people” regime in 2005 resulted only in a primitive counterrevolutionary turnover of bureaucracy. This was mainly because, at the moment of change, the leaders of the revolution did not have a national agenda. The corrupt bureaucrats from one side and the opposition provincial leaders from the other side did not aim to move the country toward freedom. Democracy was the victim of their great struggle for power. From the global perspective, there is no fundamental difference between them. Our young people must realize this to avoid becoming hostage to politicians from the past. To start building a new Kyrgyzstan, we have to clear away the odds and ends of the past. The youth just rejecting the world they do not like. The cadres’ policy of Kyrgyzstan has been established on the weak ground. The low level of social selection over the decades, the absence of a rich culture and competitive environment are the major reasons for the lack of true cadres. People who are appointed to ruling positions cannot act independently, creatively, and constructively. Under the current regime there have been no fundamental changes. Moreover, the administrative machine absorbed the right of citizens to elect their leaders freely and denied the principle that access to power should be through fair elections. The alleged political stability is a result of inertia and the rejection of alternatives.
Thus, we must build a healthy, competitive environment where political candidates have to go through a competitive struggle, where an independent judiciary operates properly, where decision makers are watched by free mass media, and where the selective-instrumental approach to laws is not possible. Here, one rule is especially important. For the progress of country, it is crucial to have – at the top of political pyramid – leaders who have true democratic beliefs. We have to stop recognizing and obeying backward rulers and bring to power those politicians who have progressive views, are backed by a real electorate, and advance their own political ideologies. Only when the country’s leadership depends on people’s votes will the state receive the concrete program of the majority. The people must decide who their leader will be. A candidate must rely on his wisdom, experience and principles, rather than on bribery and cheating. Why are we unable to break the chains of Asianism?

Poverty. Illiteracy. Fear.

The people of Kyrgyzstan have not become free since the end of Soviet rule. First they got tangled in the net of kleptocracy; then they fell under a plutocracy, which was established in their country. The only systematic phenomenon in our country is corruption, which constructs the basis of power. The people of Kyrgyzstan were not able to avoid the capture of their state by influential groups. The result is that our country is being continuously robbed, and the way out of poverty has become the problem of only the poor people. Therefore, they leave the country. Labor migration, avoidance of fulfilling the duties of a citizen and a taxpayer, smuggling, and the development of a large-scale shadow economy are all basically protests against the state structure and those in power. The people who are in the country must adjust to a certain ruler, whether it is the “big boss” in a village or in a city. They have no choice except to sell their political rights to such a ruler to secure themselves. Effective micro-lending and insurance could help improve the situation, formally arranging the property of poor people under their names. During a meeting with people who suffered from the earthquake in the south, I faced the problem that many of village residents do not legally own their own houses or other property, and therefore, they cannot receive the preferential loans and other useful financial support. The state is not addressing this. From the other side, land distribution during privatization created the possibility not for growth but for certain unsolvable problems. We, as a nation, are undergoing cultural and intellectual degradation because of a catastrophic drop in the quality of education in our high schools and universities. Given the current state of our education system, we may forget to adopt high-technology production lines, improve the efficiency of state bodies, and provide humanization of all spheres of human and foreign languages is so low that hopes to create an IT-sector or biotechnological production sector seem naïve. Thus, we have not used the possibility of producing products with added value. The deficit of qualified specialists is apparent in the business sector. Generally, higher education today is a system for the realities of modern life. As a result, the quality of specialists in state governance and public policy continues to fall. It seems reasonable to consider the problem of education for the poor, because the solution to this problem impacts the social mobility of the state.
It is time to realize that the current state of the education system is a danger to the nation. In this sphere, we have to show the political will to start a system of crisis management.
There are two types of fear that dominate in the country: a fear of uncertainty and a fear of disclosure. Since the majority of people do not participate in the decision-making process, and the state is hardly concerned about their lives, the fear of being left alone with difficulties is the dominant psychological factor in society. Many common people do not see guarantees of stability; they are tired of constant upheavals and think that their personal participation in social issues does not make a difference. In essence, they are afraid for the future. The expectations that have not been met and the “big lie” dampened their belief in the power of collective action. The top bureaucracy lives in constant fear of judgment day. The political history of states proves the religious postulate: punishment will come soon or later. Being in power is associated with violating the law, and the fear of being held responsible leads to more violations. The fear of creating a precedent explains the unwillingness of regime. The common people and government officials do not live in a single society, but in parallel worlds. We can get rid of fears only through radical changes in the behavior of the powerful and the gradual process of rebuilding the lost trust of society. But how can we do this? First of all…

To find the proper way to God

What do we believe in? Is it necessary to believe in God? Belief unites the temporary with the eternal. When a human being denies eternity, moral prescriptions and lives in the changing routine, the possibility of one’s adherence to evil is high. Therefore, it depends on how belief is cultivated, and how true human relations are built. Is it good that our country is moving deeply into religion? The number followers of Islam are increasing rapidly. We are part of Islamic world. Whether we like it or not, the religious processes of the Islamic world will concern us more and more. Today, the border between religion and the secular state is blurring. The sooner we find the way and define our positions, the better. Otherwise, within each religion in the country, the narrow-minded and corrupt clerics may start an invisible conflict between religion and state. It is in the interests of the nation and the state to contribute to turning religion into a source of spiritual improvement and human development. We need educated clerics who can help people turn their country into a place of kindness and love. Is this enough? No, it is also necessary to make people follow laws, which may become possible when there is a mechanism of public control over the powerful; there is fair and justified use of force; and there is unquestionable respect of the freedoms provided by the Constitution. These are difficult tasks, since the typical citizen does not trust laws and has many remnants of feudal, hierarchical thinking. An absence of respect for the rights of others, a willingness to take positions of domination over others, and a satisfaction in seeing others suffer, are widespread phenomena. The current changes in the formation of the power pyramid and local self-governance will only make things worse. Conversely, we have to be patient in supporting cooperation and mutual assistance at all levels, to develop horizontal links and an electoral system of power formation. Spreading a culture of healthy corporate logic and competition in business will block the remnants of the old model of relationships.

To understand the basis of the nation’s development

The nation needs cultural change. If we can approach, in an innovative way, the arrangement of our life, the society will have a good chance to develop quickly. The discussion of the reasons for the wealth and poverty of nations has been going on since the time of Adam Smith. China started developing when more economic freedoms were introduced and less political regulation was present. The history of the developed states may be explained as follows: “Decentralization of power and competition in the sphere of science and economic activities were the source of structural dominance of the West over the ancient and modern societies which have been supporting the political centralization in the economic and scientific activities.” Development is not possible without a wise attitude about freedom and democracy. Only a free person can create, experiment, and hence enrich the world with innovations. While free countries shape progress, while Nobel Prize-winning economists continue to prove the decisive importance of free choice for the development of society, the Kyrgyz plutocrats are building a vertical system of power. The ability to empower others to shape the future of society, the ability to not be afraid of losing power – these are the qualities of wise leaders. The history of humanity shows that in most societies, the powerful would not go for that. The desire for power was stronger. However, these societies were poor and remain poor. Is it true that our current realities are the Kyrgyz choice? It is the illusion of the vertical – up stairs that lead downwards!

Epilogue

Two smiling boys were approaching and I heard that they were talking about the coldness of the winter and about how, eventually, it would become warmer. In a good mood, with optimism, they are waiting for the thaw. They have to understand that one appreciates the warmth after experiencing the winter coldness. Anyway, no one can stop time, and it is better to work and look for the future with confidence. My little fellow citizens are right: optimism is good.

Bakyt Beshimov, Professor
2008 March

P.S. Photo Osh March 2005 The first days of the so called revolution

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