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Daniel Zaretsky: Developing Youth in Kyrgyzstan

Daniel is an American who has a BA from the University of Michigan and MBA and MIA degrees from Columbia University. He worked in Kyrgyzstan in 1994 and 1998 and is Founder and General Director of Knowledge Across Borders, a private business based in New York and Tajikistan.

The current events in Kyrgyzstan certainly give reason for pause. The bloodletting between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south and the continued instability in the north all point to the ineffectiveness of the current interim government.

That leadership is generally made up of the same old tired faces who have served in previous ineffective governments. And in fact, those tired faces, all of whom are above 50 years old, received their formal education and training during the Soviet period.  As is well known, the Soviet Union was a closed society and so information about the advances in the Western and East Asian worlds, let alone in Europe, in such spheres as organization, technology, legal rights, and so on, was not readily available. In addition, Soviets did not have freedom of travel and could not go firsthand to observe these advancing societies.

This fact points up one of the great problems that those in Central Asia faced after independence. While there are many less developed countries in the world, particularly in Africa and parts of Asia, those countries were generally not closed to the world. Therefore, in these societies, there were cadres of people, the number generally increasing every year, who were able to study in the advanced countries. And this has been going on for at least 50 years.

That group of people, some of whom are now in power, understands how to build prosperity, through private enterprise, private property, rule of law, minimal government intervention, human rights, and so on, even if the societies as a whole don’t generally score well on these points. However, as mentioned above, the Soviet system did not allow for this travel and study in the West and so a country like Kyrgyzstan was completely unprepared for independence and the norms of the globalized world in 1991.

And so it was inevitable that the crowd in power then and continuing to the crowd in power now are not fit to lead Kyrgyzstan, continuing to be unprepared. It is therefore to the youth of Kyrgyzstan that one must turn for any hope for the future.

Youth are important, for a number of reasons (Here, I generally mean those in their teens and twenties, though some in their thirties and forties also apply). First, the current youth in a place like Kyrgyzstan, did not experience their formative years under the Soviet system. Rather, they have been involved in the global system and have had access to information through the Internet and through the freedom to travel. Therefore, they have a different mindset than the older generation.

Second, young people have not hardened their opinions yet and can more easily change when presented with evidence challenging their core beliefs. Third, youth are the most idealistic and risk-taking part of the population. They are more prepared to act on their beliefs than older segments of the populace.

It is the current young generation therefore that can change the mores of governance in Kyrgyzstan. My thesis is backed up by the fact that those most involved in trying to improve society, make business easier through cutting of taxes and licenses, strengthen the legal system and human rights embrace philanthropic ideas, are either youth organizations specifically or are otherwise staffed by youth.

Examples, are too numerous to list, but include groups like CAFMI, the Central Asia Free Market Institute, whose key members are in their 20s and who have travelled the world and seen it for themselves. They therefore precisely understand how important rule-of-law is, as well a host of other issues that I mentioned above. It is these organizations that are actively holding seminars and training new members.

It is also these organizations who by the way, took key roles while the government was paralyzed, in helping to contain fighting first in Bishkek after the recent revolution and then to deliver aid in the south during the fighting there. For example, they organized ad hoc groups to patrol various Bishkek neighborhoods to prevent looting. Later, they created groups to collect aid in Bishkek that was then sent down to Osh where other groups organized and distributed that aid.

Therefore, I believe that what is needed is a strong youth movement, an association of these groups in different regions of the country. Not a de facto organization as currently exists, but a formal organization that perhaps also coalesces into a political party. Otherwise, young people will continually get shut out while the older Soviet generation holds on to power and continues the old ways of ruling, which were amply demonstrated by the provisional government, when those on the tape talked of people buying positions and of bribe taking.

First, there should be regional branches around the country, particularly in all the key cities. Second, those groups already existing and who are found to meet certain standards of governance, organization and outlook (perhaps as judged by CAFMI or another respected existing organization) should be permitted to join the association if interested. There must be membership requirements and inspections carried out at least once a year also based on criteria to make sure that all organizations maintain their standing.

Third, there should be a Board of Directors consisting of foreign and local experts. Fourth, these organizations should exchange members so that for example, someone from Bishkek perhaps takes a position in a Talas organization and that person from Talas takes a position in a Batken organization and so on. This movement increases the unity and sense of purpose of the association as a whole.

Fifth, the association should also be holding training events, conferences and seminars year-round in various locations in Kyrgyzstan, not just in Bishkek. These events allow the rank-and-file members to get to know each other and to get exposed to the latest ideas. In addition, those who could not afford to get to Bishkek can have the courses come to them in the various regional centers.

Sixth, social networking and online learning should be a big component of this program. All activists now have access to the Internet, if not at home, then at school or at an Internet café. They can stay in touch with each other and can also access knowledge through online learning platforms, which are much cheaper and reach much more people than inviting in trainers from abroad.

Kyrgyzstan does not have the money of a Kazakhstan to initiate a Bolashak program, where young people are sent to the West for study and then come back to Kazakhstan to work in the government, usually.  It will be incumbent on the association to conduct fundraising most likely from donors, who should be coordinated in their approach.

The donors could step in to fund similar types of programs, be they summer leadership camps for teenagers, internships abroad and university study for young adults. When the students come back to Kyrgyzstan, they should act as train the trainers, thereby training others in the new knowledge and techniques they have gained and having those train others. Furthermore, they should compete for certain responsible positions in government that will be held for them and which will include mentoring by local and foreign experts.

Depending on their plans, others could compete for seed money to start businesses or carry out philanthropic projects. It is important that none of the competitors receive their rewards for free. That is even the poorest person from a village who receives a scholarship to study in the US should be made to pay say $100 towards the cost of their education so that they value it. Giving away the store for free is never good as it breeds complacency, corruption and dependency.

It should be mentioned that this piece does not assume that all ideas from the West will be applicable to Kyrgyz society, but the general ones mentioned above such as private property, minimal government interference in business and the rule of law, have proved to work everywhere they have been properly carried out. In addition, as a caveat, donors should assist on the association finding ways to become self-funding, perhaps through graduated membership fees and so on.

I have written this short brief because of my great belief in the power of young people and because I have seen how they have stepped up to fill the void do to government inaction during the recent events in Kyrgyzstan. I hope that the youth will continue their good work and lead Kyrgyzstan into the future. Perhaps some of the above ideas might assist that process.


Category: Articles | Added by: Almaz (08/Jul/2010) | Author: Daniel Zaretsky W
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