Elites and Economic Development in Central Asia

01 November 2010
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As a part of the ex-Soviet Union, the Central Asia is known in a world as a field of “Big Game” or as a legendary “Silk Way” which connected Marko Polo’s China with a medieval Europe. Sandwiched between China, Russia and Europe, the five countries usually classed as geographical crossroads.

Central Asia was incorporated into the Soviet Union in the 1920’s and ruled by communists for nearly 70 years. Since the five countries gained independence in 1991 they have all faced the challenge of building their own political structures.


With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, independence has placed enormous challenges in Central Asian states. The political elites in these republics felt they have a freedom to choose their political orientation. There were a lot of models: Islamic states, ‘Tigers’ of the Pacific rim and secular West.


The process of nation-building, furthermore, has gained momentum with independence. This entails a long and painful process of unification, search for national ideals, emergence of new political elites and a surge of nationalism as a tool of nation building. All these reasons maintain instability in Central Asia and this process will continue for years to come. The latest events in these regions as Tulip Revolution and upcoming political changes in Kyrgyzstan, Andijan bloody events suppressed by government in Uzbekistan, some protests in Almaty against the existing government in Kazakhstan are bright symptoms of «search yourself» process.

The Central Asian countries had not accepted the collapse of the Soviet Union with a great pleasure like other dependent republics did. Furthermore, the newly independent countries of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan were frightened by unexpected sovereignty. Leaders of these newly emerged five “stans” had suspicions on how will they exist independently without Moscow’s subsidies? Giant neighbor as China and big neighbors as Iran and India potentially threats the existence of Central Asian region by overpopulation and economic pressure.

However, in a short period of time the Central Asian states had changed Soviet planned economy and authoritarian government to market economy and democratic regime. Presidential elections in these states were natural processes of accepted democratic regulation. All elected presidents had decided to establish their own national identity and nation-state. However, 18 years later we will see the same persons are sitting on the presidents’ chairs. Furthermore, we will see “the family” in the very important government posts; consequently, everything in these states depends on “family”. Republic becomes a “family-state” when the president’s son controls business spheres and the daughter leads mass media as in Central Asia. When president and the first lady take a responsibility to be a “father” and a “mother” of a nation.

There are many reasons forced an establishment of the “family-state”. A deep corruption, social shock because of the system collapse, lack of self-regulation experience as an inheritance of old Soviet system, mentality and lack of political consciousness can be shown as main factors.

“Families” invest capitals to foreign companies; make business in foreign states and save money in foreign banks. The tragic example of National revolution in Kyrgyzstan known in a world as the “Tulip Revolution” clearly shows us that “family” will run away in a critical situation and will live happily outside the country. Because of “family” regulations, the Central Asian region has high percentage of unemployment and increasing poverty, corruption and “stunned” economies. Newly independent states of Central Asia need completely new minds instead of “communist” leaders of ex-Soviet Union, which concentrated all authority in their hands.

Applying of the Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev’s children for the parliament and succeeding to be deputies by anti-constitutional ways provoked factors of “The Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan. However the “son and daughter” of Kyrgyz nation had had highest places in Kyrgyz government without being deputies or officials. The Akayev family which couldn’t provide economic development in the country had caught mass-media and broadcast: numerous quantities of newspapers and journals, and TV channels were working directly to family’s interests. Most of the serious businesses in Kyrgyzstan were owned by the family so in such situation family’s expansion to the parliament was considered as an effort to create a “monarchy”. Especially at the latest period of presidency his efforts to bring his children to political arena were negatively noticed by society.

Furthermore, the first lady had unrestricted authority besides she wasn’t working in government officially. The ex-Kyrgyz president’s daughter Bermet Akayeva had established pro-government party ‘Alga, Kyrgyzstan’. She had completed her education in Moscow and Lausanne continued by working in Switzerland in one of the UN offices. After arrival to country she began to consult political parties and organizations however she was also a business lady as well as her husband. By this way, Akayev family occupied political and economic arteries of Kyrgyz state. During Askar Akayev’s presidency according to official statistics 300 thousands of Kyrgyz citizens had been working in Russia in worse labor conditions. Especially, labor emigrants have faced the aggression by Russian nationalists, which has been emerging stronger in the last years.(1) Since 1991 according to official dates about 700 thousands citizens emigrated from Kyrgyzstan.(2) If we will consider 5 millions Kyrgyz population it means that 20 % of Kyrgyz nation became refugee after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Notwithstanding investments, credits and grants from developed countries and international organizations Kyrgyzstan has about 2 billion US dollars national debt. It means that every Kyrgyz citizen from 9 to 90 has indebted 400 US dollars. After ten years of leadership, Akayev was accused of participation in corrupt cadre politics, large-scale economic manipulations as a result of ineffective leadership. Akayev’s family members were frequently accused of hindering the functioning of state institutions by interfering in the economic and political sectors. The former first lady was considered one of the most corrupt political elites. Her charity foundation “Meerim” was suspected of money laundering. With the March 24 Revolution, the establishment of a number of criminal actors in politics was evident. Lack of having experienced modern statehood and democratic governance, Kyrgyzstan now appears to be in the process of forming a new political culture. Clashes between opposition and the government are signs of a “state-in-the making”.

Examples above had shown us that a tribe system or tribalism institution continuing in Central Asian nation-states since ancient times allows elites to occupy both government and parliament. Through the centuries societies have been trying very different political systems. However most of the modern states prefer democratic regulations and nation-state model. Nonetheless there have been emerged new forms of monarchy and dictatorship – “family-state” or “family elites”

Let’s try to determine these terms separately; Family – by its simplified statement is a group of persons related with each other by blood connection; State is a political system which has a defined territory with capability to use armed force and to make politics based on constitution. Therefore family-state is a new emerged political system consists of family members dominated on defined territory with capability to make politics according to “family” interests. The difference of family-states from monarchies is that formally there is no “family” in the government of “nation-states” when monarchies declared their dynasties’ right to government was given them by God. Consequently, as Luis XIV said “L’état, c’est moi” – “I am the state” so president families of Central Asian states could also say “We are the states”. 


(1) http://english.pravda.ru/main/18/87/345/10666_skinheads.html, Skinheads in Russia: Who Are They?

 http://www.rickross.com/reference/skinheads/skinheads50.html, Russian skinheads lose massive fight to Asian men in Moscow metro , Pravda/January 31, 2005

(2) UNDP, Doklad o çeloveçeskom razvitii v Tsentralnoy Azii 2005, Slovakya, tablo 6.1, 160.s., Turar Koyçuyev, Ekonomika Kırgızskoy Respubliki, KTMÜ 2003, 55

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