Evolution of political regimes in Central Asia: ways and opportunities
Institute of East Europe and information-analytical Prognosis.ru organized a roundtable conference "Evolution of political regimes in Central Asia: ways and opportunities" on March 1. The roundtable conference took place on the premises of Territory of the Future Publishers in Moscow. Experts on Central Asian countries participated.
Those present discussed various options of evolution of political regimes, potential crises, problems of the choice of state ideology (ethnic nationalism and so on), models of political modernization, and "future image" of the countries of the region.
Artyom Ulunjan of the Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Ferghana.Ru news agency expert) pointed out in his report at the roundtable conference that stability of Central Asian regimes is one of the central issues being discussed by experts and media outlets nowadays. It is clear after all that Central Asia stood out from the rest even when it was a part of the now defunct USSR. Disintegration of the Soviet Union launched a lengthy transition period that lasted right into the early XXI century. Even nowadays, political models in Central Asian countries are different. All of them may be divided into two groups, one comprising Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and the other Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Degree of totalitarianism is the distinctive feature. Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian country more or less close to democracy, but absolute control over the legislative branch of the government is typical of absolutely all countries of the region. It may be added as well that the lower house of the parliament is elected in the second group.
According to Ulunjan, not a single country of the region may be said to have the opposition in the traditional democratic meaning of the word. Things being what they are, three potential scenarios of the future development appear to be likely: 1. people's scenario (like the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan); 2. revolution of the nomenclature (Turkmenistan in the wake of Saparmurat Niyazov's demise); and 3. attempt at evolution. Unfortunately, this latter will only boil down to the efforts of the powers-that-be to remain where they are (at the top) as long as possible, gradually evolving.
Aleksei Vlasov, Deputy Director of the Center of Information and Analysis of the Moscow State University named after Mikhail Lomonosov, made an emphasis on Kazakhstan. Vlasov said that forms of rules are actually similar in all countries of the region and only degrees of totalitarianism vary. Granted that Kazakhstan is showing an impressive economic growth, it is impossible to say that economic reforms in this country transform into political. All countries of the region chose ethnic nationalism as the state ideology.
The political system Central Asian countries are putting together may be branded as "controlled democracy" or "facade democracy". Whatever the authorities are doing is only meant to preserve the status quo. Opposition in Central Asian countries is purely virtual. An element of the existing structures, it is ever careful not to offend the authorities too much. That is why the power crisis in Central Asian countries Russian experts called inevitable is actually unlikely. Installation of "controllable democracy" is the most probable variant of development. Escalation of tension within the ruling elites with unpredictable consequences is only possible as an aftermath of unforeseen developments (say, deterioration of the Islamic factor). Kyrgyzstan, highly unstable at this point, is the only exception in the region. Construction of the state and statehood there from scratch may turn out to be necessary.
Ajdar Kurtov of the Institute of Strategic Studies concentrated on Central Asian opposition. Some opposition leaders immigrated, others were imprisoned, the third bought. Some chose to join the pseudo-opposition like what exists in Kazakhstan. In fact, the situation in Uzbekistan is fairly similar to that, and Tajikistan seems to be moving in the same direction now. Political systems in the countries of the region are based on domination of a single political party.
In any case, modernization and transformation of Central Asian political regimes is going to be as inevitable as it will be slow. Step-by-step changes are possible when state power is passed down the line, but rulers and heirs will certainly do everything possible to retain the state power and prevent redistribution of power and property.
Sanobar Shermatova who sits on the Expert Council of RIA-Novosti news agency spoke of the opposition too, to be more exact - of the chances of the opposition to participate in transformation of political regimes in Central Asia. To what extent is general public prepared to accept this "foreign body" (after all, a lot of activists and leaders of the opposition have spent years abroad, driven from their own countries)? Representatives of the Turkmen and Uzbek opposition recognize the necessity to labor for changes in their respective countries but say that they can only count on themselves. The West could put the Uzbek authorities under pressure and force it to initiate political transformation but it is not going to. Counting on a color revolution in Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan is pointless too.
The Tajik opposition in the meantime ascended to the pinnacle of political power on two occasions already. It even controlled 30% of the parliament once. And yet, numerical strength of the opposition is going down now. The recent election left the national parliament practically without anyone from the opposition. The Tajik political regime is doing what it can to drive the "foreign body" of the opposition out of political life.
Kyrgyzstan is the only country of the region where radical Islamization is possible. Hizb-ut-Takhrir is officially outlawed in the country, but its representatives are nevertheless active. They even participate in municipal elections. As a matter of fact, Hizb-ut-Takhrir followers won elections in some regions, and that worries experts bad. A great deal of purely social problems and impoverishment of the population play into the hands of Islamists.
Dmitry Furman of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences pointed out that there were actually no distinctions between the existing Central Asian regimes and that all of them were but emulating democracy. As a matter of fact, Central Asia is not the only such region in the world. Similar regimes exist in Russia, Egypt, and many other countries.
Sergei Abashin of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences added that thinking that Central Asia would always be inseparable from Russia was a gross mistake. New generations mature in Central Asian countries, new elites come to power, and they lack the historic memory of the post-Soviet zone. Hence the importance attached to the continued presence of Russian scientists in the region.