Diamond Plates for the Elite

In 25 years of independence, not all Central Asian republics were able to build real system of governance, say Russian experts Alexey Malashenko and Andrey Grozin.

Were Central Asian republic read for independence following the breakup of USSR? IS it correct to view Central Asia as a monolithic sociocultural and political phenomenon? This questions and many others were answered by professor Malashenko and the head of the department of Central Asia and Kazakhstan of the Institute of FSI countries, Grozin, as part of the discussion called “Central Asia: 25 years without USSR”, that took place in Moscow’s Saharov Institute , with the help from Egor Gaydar’s fund.

In Malashenko’s opinion, the term Central Asia is a questionable one. It surfaced after the fall of the Soviet Union, replacing the more familiar term Middle Asia and Kazakhstan.

“After USSR broke apart and the term Middle Asia and Kazakhstan was replaced with Central Asia, nothing seemed to change. It was a monolithic region. However, as the years went by this region started dismantling due to a number of reasons: religious, ethnic, cultural, economic and political ones.

There was little to no integration between its countries. There are some mutual connections and mutual interests. However, ask a Tajik about what unites him with an Uzbek, and he would give you such a lecture about what separates the two, that you would be shocked. And unless Russia or China interferes, I don’t see any ways for integration.

The outside influences are also considered separately by the countries of this region and relationships are built on a bilateral basis. Also, when CA is mentioned in Washington, they are implying the chunk of land near Afghanistan and Pakistan, plus certain connections with Islamic governments and such.

I don’t know how the relationship between these countries will change, as they mature. But, as I understand it, there is no single region of CA as of today, and the term central Asia can only be used as a working title. There is no other term, and this one is questionable.”

Grozin agrees with professor Malashenko.

“Central Asia has long seized to be a homogenous region, as Russia and the West continue to view it. I think there are more difference between in the countries in this region than in any others. Political systems, ethno-psychological stereotypes, economic systems largely divide these countries.

The notion of the region as a whole, inhabited by similar people, is an inheritance of the 90s, a time when the concept of the great game was very popular and when this region still remained united following the fall of the Union. With every passing year, however, these similarities diminish. And, if before, on the level of official speeches from the rulers of these countries, you could hear theses about common historical unity and brotherhood, you would barely ever hear that today.

The sides differ greatly. Additionally, it is evident, that in about five or so years, they will differ even more, as the system of governance advances, the transfer of powers happens, the ruling elite changes and the economy modernizes or stagnates. This fact is obvious to the experts of the region and doesn’t raise any doubts, even though only five years ago such talk would be considered revolutionary.

A failure of any attempts at regional integration on an economic or political-economic basis can be explained by immature nature of political institution of the 90s. It is enough to recall what was going on in all post-soviet countries during those years – centrifugal force dominated over centripetal force and any arguments for integration, even rational ones, arguing it was necessary if only for survival purposes, weren’t accepted by the elites. Selfishness of the elites is the main reason why any attempts at creating a united Central Asian region failed.”

When answering the question on the readiness of the elites to go off on their own, following the breakup of the USSR Malashenko said the following:

“Imagine a situation: You are being beaten hard on the head with a plate, but suddenly gold and diamonds star simultaneously pouring from it – that is what happened. Who were the leaders of the Soviet republics? They were first secretaries of the local communist party, who had Russian bureaucrats in their apparatus, who could at any moment put their firsts down and demands answers. Of course there were regional elites during USSR, and with the approval from Moscow they basically ran these republics, being in fact put on a leash. But suddenly they became national leaders. What a joy! But they didn’t realize this right away. At first, everyone was scared, since nobody was ready for such a turn of events. However, in a matter of months they realized that they could put up their own flag up instead of the Soviet red one, create their anthem and send their chosen ambassadors to the countries of the world.

An interesting thing has happened: a big fear on one hand, and a big surprise and joy on the other. But, how will they use this opportunity? They have no experience, no money, and no nothing except for the land, the people and a sense of their grandeur.

A euphoria from the sudden independence has passed around 1995-1996, when it has become obvious, that works needs to be done, that Russia has no money, that a working government and economy has to be created – all the things that constitute nation building. Endless problems have surfaced such as clan and ethnic struggles, lack of water and a rising of islamist opposition in some places. Even the civil war has started. However, there is still no ruling elite as such and no competent employees in sight. How to build a government, a democracy, and what is it? They didn’t even read the books on the subject. This is why I think the elites only think that they have built a government. But in reality it may only be applicable to Kazakhstan’s government.”

In Andrey Grozin’s opinion, CA’s elites had a different level of readiness in regards to changes.

“In Turkmenistan, a number of people, simply having a higher education, was pretty low. Of course there no people there, ready to build a government. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were in a slightly better shape. They had people who could be put in charge of the foreign ministry and had an experience of running a government. In initial stages there were high turnover rates, but in about a year or two mechanisms were created, programs for training employees abroad were established, such as “Bolashak” in Kazakhstan. Thus, an employee crisis was eventually solved. Today, there is no issue concerning training of government employees. However, there was chaotic process happening, after the fall of the Union, when this so-called golden plate of independence already existed, but it was still unclear what to do with it at the time.”

As time went by, nation building has started with varying results in all countries of the region, and today there is no need to talk about the post-Soviet space, as such doesn’t exist. All countries of CA had chosen their own path, leaving their common past further behind.


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