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WikiLeaks on Dateline
Written by , Monday, 23 Aug, 2010 – 11:27 | No Comment

For those English readers curious about WikiLeaks, here’s the first part of an enlightening interview on Dateline.  I’ve previously written about Central Asian reactions to the whistle-blower site.

The lessons of technology for Kyrgyzstan’s self-reinforcing destruction
Written by , Wednesday, 11 Aug, 2010 – 5:00 | 3 Comments
Do the lessons of technology cast light onto Kyrgyzstan's future? Photo by Flickr user photonichelle (CC-usage).

Do the lessons of technology cast light onto Kyrgyzstan's future? Photo by Flickr user photonichelle (CC-usage).

Editor’s note: Can the peaks and pitfalls of the consumer economics of information technology teach us something about Kyrgyzstan’s recent past, its present, and its likely future? neweurasia’s Nils thinks so. Applying “hype cycle theory”, he compares the interim government to a new electronic consumer product and the Kyrgyz public to the network of users with some enlightening results.

As an economist I have among other things written about the adoption of new information technologies in the past. Now living in Kyrgyzstan, I find it stunning how some of the economic theories common in marketing and communications research, particularly hype cycle theory, can also be applied to the political events we have witnessed over the past months (and possible years).

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Central Asian views on WikiLeaks: trust, truth, and tech
Written by , Friday, 30 Jul, 2010 – 0:55 | 7 Comments
Image from the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation for public use.

Image from the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation for public use.

Editor’s note: WikiLeaks may end up becoming Central Asia’s best hope for bringing to light their leaders’ many dark secrets, say neweurasia’s bloggers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Yet, there are many problems, not least of which is trust, all of which WikiLeaks or other whistle-blower websites will have to overcome, writes neweurasia’s Schwartz.

The whistle-blower website WikiLeaks has made international headlines for its leaks of sensitive information related to the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet a little-known aspect of the organization is its work in the former communist world, including Central Asia.

According to AsiaMedia, WikiLeaks has specifically professed interest in the former Soviet Union alongside other regions:

“Our primary interests are oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal unethical behaviour in their own governments and corporations.”

In a 9 June 2007 e-mail to WikiLeaks volunteers that has been leaked on the website Cryptome, another website specializing in revealing sensitive and secret information, an anonymous author speaking for the operation explains its strategy in the West as ultimately serving the purpose of its strategy in regions like Central Asia:

“Apart from the beneficial effect on Western democracies, we believe this will provide a strong, consistent base where we can operate efficiently and freely, permitting us to concentrate our efforts on the most repressive regimes.”

And more than a year later, an anonymous editorial to WikiLeaks volunteers, also leaked on Cryptome, evinces a sophisticated understanding of the peaks and pitfalls of journalism in the former Communist nations:

“In transitional states, journalistic freedom and journalistic persecution appear to stem from the same root cause: the inability of power groups to defend themselves from journalists by using means more sophisticated than arrest or murder. Because [arrest or murder] comes at some cost to the persecutor, [such tactics] are rarely employed.

“In other words, all but a few ‘off limit’ subjects can be reported freely and these limits are not yet well understood, which is why some journalists are murdered.”

Unfortunately, many here at neweurasia can relate to these remarks, as we’ve all had friends and colleagues who have suffered as a result of these often enigmatic limits.

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The power of information — to help or to hurt?
Written by , Wednesday, 28 Jul, 2010 – 0:00 | No Comment
WikiLeaks has set fire to the debate over information, secrecy, and journalism. Image by Flickr user NightRPStar (CC-usage). Click on it to watch a CNet debate.

WikiLeaks has set fire to the debate over information, secrecy, and journalism. Photograph of a burned DVD by Flickr user NightRPStar (CC-usage). Click on it to watch a CNet debate.

Unless you’ve been living on Mars, by now you’ve probably heard about the leak of a huge cache of American digital military logs by the enigmatic website, WikiLeaks.  It’s stirring a heated debate in journalism, intelligence, and legal circles.  This is an important one for the world to have because operations like WikiLeaks may be changing the way journalists and sources, as well as governments and citizens, relate to information.

It’s all the more important for Central Asia.  For one, because Afghanistan is more than just tangentially connected to the region.  What’s been happening there has had direct repercussions on the former Soviet republics, from instability in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the wranglings over the Manas airbase, both hidden and public, between the US and Russia.  Hence, Central Asians should be intensely interested in the conduct of the war there.

For another, neweurasia‘s bloggers have been exploring the importance of the online world for the real world.  In particular, our Turkmenistan blogger Annasoltan, has written about seen some deep metaphysical importance for the internet in her nation. During the tragic events in southern Kyrgyzstan, our Kyrgyz language blogger, Mirsulzhan, and I worried whether services like Twitter, which had become a veritable rumor mill, was not only compromising journalistic credibility, but instigating more violence.

We’re curious to know your opinions about the power and appropriateness of certain kinds of information, whether what WikiLeaks has done is a good or bad thing, and whether you’d like to see them expand into your nation in Central Asia or would be worried if they did.  State your opinion by leaving a comment below! You can also answer this survey on my personal blog.

In the hope of prodding discussion, I claim editor’s privilege to fire the opening shot.  Incidentally, I was actually able to speak yesterday with the website’s founder, Julian Assange, in a phone interview on behalf of RFE/RL.  It was a brief conversation, unsatisfactory to the philosopher in me but satisfactory for my immediate journalistic needs.   So, what follows are my two manat.  You can skip over them if you just want to comment straight away.

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Cyber-Sunset in Bishkek
Written by , Friday, 14 May, 2010 – 16:42 | One Comment


Since the uprising last month, I’ve made it a daily habit to check out the live feed of a webcam that overlooks Ala-Too Square in Bishkek.  I’ve been sick the last few days, with a bad headache and supreme grogginess that not even the blackest coffee can cure, but in pursuit of my editorial duties I’ve nevertheless stepped up my strange little ritual now that potential trouble is rumbling in Bishkek and the South.

However, I’m guilty that it’s not entirely for professional reasons that I’m also scoping out this webcam.  The truth is I also think it’s really cool that I can actually look into the heart of another country live from my laptop. Perhaps I’m still child-like, Luddite, or even Orientalist in a weird digital way, but online “new” or “social” media, or what I like to hyperbolically call “cyberjournalism“,  still has strong allure and fun for me.  Anyway, it’s a magnificent screen capture, isn’t it?

A digital bloom five years later
Written by , Wednesday, 24 Mar, 2010 – 17:35 | 3 Comments

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan.  Future historians will debate just how revolutionary the event actually was, but the people of Kyrgyzstan are already well ahead of them in skepticism.  Nevertheless, at the time it was a big moment, both for the country and for me, and as I will explain below, it may remain important, if not for its material results, but for its ultimate symbolism.

At the time I was working with Ben and Ollie on neweurasia‘s predecessor website, Thinking East.  When Elnura Osmonalieva e-mailed us her remarkable and exclusive photos of the events in Ala-Too Square and her account of what happened, my jaw dropped.  We had our first-ever scoop! And quite an exclusive it was, replete with all the prerequisites for great journalistic drama — a popular uprising, the toppling of a corrupt political leader, and high hopes.

But it was immediately obvious that more was at stake than just Thinking East‘s journalistic chops.  For one, Elnura was not a professional photojournalist.  For another, I learned that some of our contacts, who were members of the KelKel movement, had participated in the street protests and direct action that resulted in Akayev’s flight from the country.  Conceptually-speaking, clearly something more complicated, interesting, and powerful was going on than just “mere” journalism.  Thus was my first encounter with citizen-based new media, face-to-electronic-face, spontaneous, and history-making.

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OtherTube, PseudoBook, and the fate of the world in Turkmenistan
Written by , Friday, 19 Mar, 2010 – 19:39 | 10 Comments

Image by Flickr user alphadesigner (CC-usage).

Editor’s note: Is Turkmenistan becoming a battleground between two enormous visions? neweurasia’s Annasoltan believes it is. For too long her country has been written off as an absurdity when it’s really a microcosm of a greater human struggle. “We are tiring of the slow dial-up death of tyranny,” she writes, “we want to be jacked in, hyperlinked, downloaded, and shared!”

My editor here at neweurasia, Chris Schwartz, wrote what I think is a very accurate and thought-provoking description of new media:

New Media is the Media where there is no audience : we are all content creators… Old (traditional) media is defined by its one-to-many relationship of creator and recipient (audience).  New Media, however, is defined by its many-to-many relationship between receiving/sending creators.

When I read this, I thought to myself, Yes, it’s really such freedom for self expression! Theorists like Marshall McLuhan even believe that the liberalizing impact of technology has taken on a life of its own, developing as if by its own energy, and will eventually break the many ideological chains that bind humanity.  We will become a digital species, a truly global village.

I pray this is true, not only for the sake of humanity, but also for the sake of my nation, Turkmenistan.  Chris and I have been writing a  lot about the rise of the “Turkmenet” and what it may mean for the future of my country.  For our readers in Europe and North America, the symbolic importance we attach to as simple a thing as mobile phones may seem strange, but you have to remember just how harsh is the nature of Turkmenistan’s totalitarian regime.

Indeed, my nation may very well be a kind of battleground between two visions, both of which Chris calls “transhumanist”, the expansion of human potential to the point of transformation, but are very opposed in their methods to accomplish this and what the “New Man” would be like.  To paraphrase my colleague Averroes, in the totalitarian vision, humanity is reduced to being sheep, but in the digitalist vision, we become shepherds.

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We c u: cyberparenting in Kyrgyzstan
Written by , Wednesday, 27 Jan, 2010 – 9:00 | No Comment
Photograph by Flickr user Kamil Porembinksi (CC-usage).

Photograph by Flickr user Kamil Porembinksi (CC-usage).

Editor’s note: This is a translation of Nuraika‘s post (RUS).

I recently started hearing about SMS Reports. “What cold they be?” I wondered. A blog, a magazine or some sort of educational novelty? Apparently, it has been around for some time, and is a system whereby teachers update parents on their children’s progress via text messages. My school had nothing of the sort, which I’m now secretly happy about. Read the full story »

Influenzastan, part 5: the internet is a far more dangerous virus
Written by , Tuesday, 24 Nov, 2009 – 9:00 | 2 Comments

A map of the internet bearing a curious reminiscence to a neural virus. Image by the Opte Project, courtesy of Flickr user curiouslee (CC-usage).

Editor’s note: Has Turkmenistan come down with a bad case of the swine flu?  neweurasia’s Annasoltan investigates in this fifth part of a post series on Turkmen healthcare.  Previously, neweurasia’s Timur and Bakhrom debated whether the disease in Kyrgyzstan is a serious threat.  Read the rest of our ongoing coverage on the disease here.

Yesterday I explored the similarities between 2003′s avian flu crisis in China and today’s on-going swine flu crisis in Turkmenistan.  To review: In 2003, when the Chinese government tried to cover up the avian flu outbreak, the result was a public relations disaster. History is now repeating itself in Turkmenistan.

But there is a deeper level going on here.  Just as in China, as the Turkmen government tries to repress information about swine flu, the Turkmen people are turning to the internet for answers.  The results could be perilous for the future of the regime.

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Attack of the alphabets: will Cyber-Cyrillic threaten global online unity?
Written by , Monday, 2 Nov, 2009 – 10:00 | 19 Comments
ICANN has announced plans to de-Latinize the internet.  Will the move threaten global online unity?  Photograph by Flickr user Kecko (CC-usage).

ICANN has announced plans to de-Latinize the internet. Will the move threaten global online unity? Photograph by Flickr user Kecko (CC-usage).

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which coordinates the Internet’s global system of unique identifiers (URLS, domain names, etc.), has announced (ENG) that it will soon be possible to register domain names with non-Latin characters, including the Cyrillic alphabet.

At a conference in the South Korean capital, Seoul, the corporation’s CEO and President, Rod Beckstrum, remarked, “Of the 1.6 billion internet users today worldwide, more than half use languages that have scripts that are not Latin-based.”  He adds that this change is very much necessary also for future potential users as the internet continues to spread (a video of the conference is available on ICANN’s website; read the announcement here).

On the one hand, this story isn’t new.  Back in December 2008, the Ukraine started distributing the domain names .Укр and .БЛОГ for only $12.  This was followed by Bulgaria, whose domain service Register.bg, announced two months ago that any company which wants a .bg domain name will be able to register a Cyrillic address as well.  Meanwhile, Russias domain service webnames.ru began registering versions of  .CC, .TV,.COM, .NET and .SU in Cyrillic.

And let’s not forget neweurasia itself, which since 2005 has been using Cyrillic in much of its blog URLs.  Of course, none of this represents a total “Cyrillization” of domain names, but it is to point out that using the script isn’t that revolutionary.

On the other hand, it does have some dangerous potential to break apart the global online community.  Since Russia has been a major player in the drive toward the “de-Latinization” of the internet, we need to ask whether the Russian government realizes this or not.

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