Politics and Society
Editor’s note: British student Danny Gordon has been cycling across the world to raise money for UNICEF and Sports Relief. He recently passed through Central Eurasia, and NewEurasia managed to catch up with him to ask his impressions about crossing borders here…
Somewhere on the dusty, Kyzyl-Kum desert road between Nukus and Bukhara, I was stopped and offered tea by a large man who ran a roadside stall. It was a kindness that had been a common theme since Turkey. I leaned my bicycle against a post and children materialised as if from nowhere, curious about this alien form of “velosiped”.
I sat down, and the usual questions came, only now they came in Russian since my host presumed it more likely that he could be understood in Russian than Uzbek. “Where are you from?”, was the inevitable opener. It seemed innocuous enough, but so many before this man had asked me, and subsequently been overjoyed that the answer had been “England”, that it was obvious that this was more than just a conversation starter. It seemed to be a method by which you could quickly determine friend from your enemy.
It is no surprise that in countries where demos do not have much say governments can and do “insistingly recommend” living lives in a certain way. The Tashkent mayor Rakhmonbek Usmonov thought so too and issued a decree regulating wedding ceremonies, RFE/RL’s Uzbek service reported. According to the decree, the wedding parties are to be concluded by 10PM. The reasons behind limiting the time are quite noble: noise pollution, regulating working hours in restaurants hosting wedding ceremonies, etc. Read the full story »
A lot has been happening in media and telecommunications – Internet, libel, translation, TV, social networks, mass media, blogging, songs and cell phones – in Central Asia these past few months, for the good and for the bad. Let’s take a look at two stories from each country, regarding media advancements and setbacks that have taken-shape in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan so far in 2012.
Press Freedom in CENTRAL ASIA
The 2012 Freedom of the Press Report, published by human rights group Freedom House, was released in May. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) informs on the role Eurasia/Central Asia plays in the report:
“As a region, Eurasia remained mired in severe press freedom problems, with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan also rated “not free.” Ukraine barely hung onto a rating of “partly free,” just one point away from being downgraded.”
Press release from the OSCE Central Asian Youth Network (CAYN):
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Centre in Astana, Kazakhstan is pleased to invite undergraduate students currently enrolled in universities in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, including students from Mongolia and Afghanistan studying at Central Asian universities to submit applications for competitive selection to attend the OSCE Central Asian Youth Network Seminar, which will be hosted by the OSCE Centre in Astana and held on 4-6 September 2012 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The seminar will bring together promising students from Central Asian OSCE participating States to enhance their critical thinking skills and ability to think beyond the box about existing threats to security in Central Asia. The seminar also aims to stimulate creativity and encourage a co-operative
approach among students from countries in the region. Seminar participants will be selected based on the quality of their application (particularly the critical review) and their community involvement.
How we evaluate your critical review: We expect a highly original personal perspective on the topic. We will look for an ability to challenge existing assumptions, a coherent presentation of arguments, a clear structure, and intelligent comments. Anti-plagiarism rules apply to all works received.
The seminar’s working languages are English and Russian; applicants must be fluent in both.
CAYN alumni are also encouraged to apply. There are 10 funded places reserved for CAYN alumni. The candidates will be chosen based on their proposed substantive contribution to the event. But in any case, if you happen to be in Almaty at the time of the seminar, please feel free to join
CAYN2012 (prior registration is required). Successful candidates will be invited, all expenses paid, to attend the seminar in Almaty to participate in panel discussions, interactive exercises, and a simulation game with their fellow Central Asian students, CAYN alumni, and leading regional experts. Upon completion of the seminar a group of students will be provided an opportunity to participate in a familiarization tour of the OSCE Secretariat in Vienna, Austria. We look forward to welcoming you to Almaty!
OSCE/CAYN2012 Student Application: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dEZySzV1MXk0ZTVCdzBJaGI3N1ZNdlE6MQ
OSCE/CAYN2012 ALUMNI Application: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dFFEMEtRT2swbmg3NFR6SV82N1NMVUE6MA#gid
DEADLINE: 15 June, 2012 (Earlier submissions are encouraged)
A Tajik singer has summed up his support for Russia’s pro-Putin political culture via music.
Tolinjon Kurbanhanov has mixed music, politics and religion in a melodious melting pot, void of separation and flourishing with his own expression. The singer’s music is openly, politically expressive and far from traditionally, culturally Tajik. Kurbanhanov’s two videos, that though are a few months old – are still, to this day, being viewed by thousands.
Kurbanhanov has made a name for himself by praising Russian political figurehead Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin through song. Singer Kurbanhanov’s first song/video about Putin was released on the eve of the presidential elections in Russia, with aims to encourage folks to – say the least – vote for Putin! The song, titled “GDP”, quickly became an Internet sensation after hitting the Web on February 4th. In less than one month, “GDP” was viewed 1.5 million times. And on May 21st, the video clocked in at 1,310,373 views.
Uzbekistan’s unique accomplishments in theatre and art have been respectfully recognized. On April 5th, the country’s Ilkhom Theatre (“Inspiration” in Uzbek) was prized with the 2011 Prince Claus Award, from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, for it’s cultural achievements. The Theatre (Ильхом Театр Марка Вайля) is Uzbekistan’s only independent theatre, was the first in the USSR, and today also functions as a school of dramatic art. The award was presented to the Uzbek Ilkhom Theatre, by Dutch Ambassador to Russia, HE Mr Ronald Keller.
In terms of free expression and artistic development, the 2011 Prince Claus Fund was awarded to Ilkhom Theatre for:
“the high quality of its dramatic productions, for creating a space of freedom in a zone of silence, for nurturing and inspiring the younger generations in Uzbekistan, and for upholding the role of theatre as a means of opening minds and stimulating development.”
Popular Uzbek singer, Yulduz Usmonova, has been censored by authorities in her homeland for years… but not any longer. Usmonova is said to have received official permission to stage her first concert in Uzbekistan, since 2007. And that concert is being held today, March 6th, in the historical city of Samarkand.
The singers website says:
“Уважаемые поклонники и почитатели творчества Юлдуз Усмановой .Рады ,вам сообщить , что 6 марта 2012 года в г. Самарканд , в ресторане “Дилафруз ” пройдет концерт Народной артистки РУз Юлдуз Усмановой.”
“Dear fans and admirers Yulduz Usmanova. Glad to inform you that the March 6, 2012 in the city of Samarkand, in the restaurant “Dilafruz” will be a concert of the People’s Artist of the RU Yulduz Usmanova.” (Google Translation)
In regards to her performance in Uzbekistan, the Facebook page titled “yıldız usmanova” – which has almost 45,400 “Likes” – shares the same information as above about Usmonova’s March 6th performance.
Read the full story »
With the help of a fellow Turkmen citizen-journalist, I’ve obtained and translated this official media coverage of our nation’s recent presidential election.
“Election” officials in Turkmenistan are reporting that 96.28% of the country’s three million eligible voters have cast their ballots. As is well-known by now, the OSCE didn’t even bother trying to observe the poll, but the Daily Telegraph also reports that over the last two days, authorities had restricted entry across its land borders to foreigners and blocked many Western journalists from covering the election. Nevertheless, the ever-reliable RFE/RL reports at least one irregularity, albeit an anecdote, of a person voting for his/her entire family.
This election is only the third time in more than 20 years of independence that Turkmenistan has held a presidential election, and only the second time when there has been more than one candidate running. Berdimuhamedov won the first alternative election held in 2007, less than two months after Niyazov died. It’s hard to say what exactly the regime is hoping to achieve by this empty ritual. neweurasia‘s Annasoltan has come to the unsettling conclusion that it may just be an exercise in megalomania — seriously.
The Kazakh foreign ministry circled their caravans in Washington, DC early last week to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence. The Atlantic Council pounced on the opportunity by hosting the symposium “Twenty Years of Kazakhstan Independence and US-Kazakhstan Relations” in a ritzy ballroom. Keynote speakers included Lt. General Scowcroft, Senator Chuck Hagel, Asst. Secretary of State Robert Blake and a small fleet from Kazakh’s foreign ministry.
Amongst all these familiar faces, the ambiance was warm, with frequent smiles and winks beaming from the red-faced Ambassador Idrissov towards the elevated stage of panelists. On-stage anecdotes were carefully tossed from seat-to-seat coupled with hearty laughter, reminding attendees of the once humble diplomatic beginnings of the precocious Khazak republic. Yet, glowing praise and positive sentiments were not without a rigid and an unmistakable undertone of the United States’ expectations for the newly minted Eurasian state.
Whether intentional or not, the level of optimism among diplomats and academics reached a sometimes paradoxically conspirative tone, equivocating expectations for Kazakhstan’s (perhaps unwittingly sinister) role in current and future geopolitical Eurasian affairs. There were several implications made in the direction of multilateral decisions with the United States. As statesmen, one after the other, lauded Nazarbayev’s wisdom in relinquishing stockpiles of inherited biochemical and nuclear capabilities, sociopolitical manoeuvring toward Western powers amidst Russian soft-power influence, development of refinement technology, and the space program, it was interesting to gauge who was offered the local Kool Aid (or mare’s milk in this case) and who wasn’t.
There was also a tone of paternalism and an anxiety evident as officials began kneading the Kazakhs on talking points that uncannily paralleled the messy situation within the “rough neighborhood” to the South of the country. The topic of weapons disarmament alluded to what the cunningly peaceful Nazarbayev did right, and consequently what Ahmedinejad is doing (wrong) fifteen years later. General Scowcroft advised Nazarbayev (via the Kazakh diplomatic officials in attendance) to push towards multipartisanship and liberalization in the political process. The Kazakhs were warned that the world, and especially the United States would be intently watching. As I listened, I mulled over the possible consequences if Kazakhstan fails to move in a more democratic direction. Of course, the problems emerging from Iranian and now Syrian mass discontent came to mind as possible outcomes.
Kazakhstan’s GDP has tripled within the past decade and a half, and so free and fair elections come with the dangling carrot of WTO membership. Mr. Ross Wilson, Director of the Atlantic Council, stated on this point:
“And WTO membership is one of those things that’s kind of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval about your rules, about your regime, about the trading arrangements and providing a certain amount of additional reassurance to a would-be investor that the general rules of the road that are accepted around the world, well, more or less apply here. It doesn’t solve all your problems, but it solves some. And so I think WTO accession can be – and certainly I hope – would be marketed by the government as a way to promote more foreign direct investment outside of those extractive ministries that Kazakhstan needs to diversify… to diversify its economy.”