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
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
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