This article has been reprinted with permission from The Central Asia Program; it was originally included in the collection:
The author would like to thank Aksana Ismailbekova and Philipp Lottholz for their valuable suggestions and comments on the draft of the article. Translation from Russian to English is made by Philipp Lottholz.
Peace-Building and International Organizations in Kyrgyzstan
Since 2010, international organizations (IOs) in Kyrgyzstan have been working together with the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic (KR) to achieve sustainable peace and development of the country. International organizations conduct parallel work at the community and national levels, where they help and advise the government in creating a roadmap for the country’s development and raise questions about necessary reforms. In turn, the Kyrgyz government is open to international recommendations and strongly supports cooperation with them. Notwithstanding the efforts of rebuilding infrastructure undertaken by the State Directorate for the Reconstruction and Development of Osh and Jalal-Abad, government measures for peacebuilding and conflict prevention were more technical and institutional in nature, as for example state institutions were organised and reorganised and new concepts were adopted since 2010.
The work directly at the community level after the events of 2010 was mainly carried out as part of projects and grants of international organizations and agencies, such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the European Union (EU), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations (UN), which can be divided into three categories. The first category includes projects to alleviate the consequences of the conflict, which worked on the restoration of houses and documents, the allocation of internal refugees, and mediation and reconciliation of the parties. The second category includes projects to reduce tensions and prevent new conflicts, for example, projects focusing on building up capacity of the national and local governments, creating local networks for conflict prevention (early warning systems), training youth groups, women and community elders (Kyrgyz: aksakaldar), and creating networks of non-governmental organizations for effective advocacy and lobbying. Finally, the third category includes projects aiming at sustainable, long-term peace and at developing the country through mini-projects and social business projects implemented by communities (so-called ‘seed grants’), and reforms in public administration, for example, reforms of the police, judiciary and in other sectors.
Despite significant efforts on the part of both IOs and the government, in practice, almost all activities in the communities were carried out in the form of cultural events. Communities have hosted many theatre performances, festivals, competitions, concerts, film screenings, orsport events that have called communities to embrace friendship, tolerance, and diversity. Notwithstanding the fact that these projects were successful in and of themselves, they were also limited, because they were short-termist and unsustainable and theslogans they propagated were quickly misplaced. Therefore, I would like to argue that such cultural events are insufficient to achieve long-term peace and prevent conflicts. The state and international donors need to work on a longer-term solution, in particular on building a “new” civic nation through constructive clarification and promotion at the community level of the collective idea of“Kyrgyz Jarany” (“Kyrgyz citizen”).[i] So far, community-level efforts to explain and promote the idea of “Kyrgyz Jarany” have remained minimal, even though it was adopted in “The Concept for Strengthening the Unity of the People and Interethnic Relations in the Kyrgyz Republic” in 2013 (hereafter referred to as the Concept).
Delegates at the discussion of “Kyrgyz Zharany” at the Government Agency for Local Self-Government and Interethnic Relations in the Kyrgyz Republic 2018, as reported by FOR.kg news.
Some steps of the government to implement this idea do not receive support from communities and local governments, and both the idea and the Concept are perceived as generally seen as top-down measures that were decided without the population participating in their development and understandingtheir values (see Sheranova 2020). The lacking understanding of the importance of the civic idea of “Kyrgyz Jarany” precludes the solution of important socio-economic and political issues by the state, such as lacking economic opportunities and accessto justice, challenges to rule of law, and insufficient minority representation. Working closely with communities to clarify and promote the idea of “Kyrgyz Jarany”, especially from the state’s side, is today’s main priority in ensuring long-term peace,as it helps to shape relationships both among representatives of different ethnic groups and between the communitiesand the government. I will substantiate this argument with the following analysis of the peacebuilding and conflict prevention efforts ofinternational organizations and the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic as well as effects thereof.
What Happened Yesterday, is Forgotten Today: Celebration and Lack of Diversity
In 2010-2011 community-level peacebuilding projects worth 10 million USD were implemented with the support of the UN Peacebuilding Fund. These projects involved young people, women’s networks, and water user associations (Jantzi et al. 2017). In 2013-2016 the UN Peacebuilding Fund allocated another 15.1 million USD to support the second phase of peacebuilding. In the second stage, the UN has already introduced longer-term priorities for peace and development, such as the rule of law, respect for human rights, minority representation in governance, capacity-building of local government to prevent and resolve conflicts and support national cohesion (ibid.).
Furthermore, from 2010 to 2015 the OSCE and the EU provided assistance to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic to improve security in 63 communities, increase public confidence in the police and prevent crime by training 2,500 police officers (OSCE 2015). The EU allocated 5 million Euros to create a mapping of local resources and community needs for the effective distribution of humanitarian assistance (REACH 2014). From 2011 to 2013, the OSCE created local networks for conflict prevention, consisting mainly of women and youth, and trained them in mediation and conflict prevention methods (Winner 2012). In parallel, the OSCE worked with territorial youth councils in the cities of Osh, Jalalabad, Batken and Tokmok to increase tolerance and trust among young people of different ethnic groups and develop their capacities (2011-2016).
USAID ran its “Kyrgyz Republic Transition Initiative” (2010-2013) that supported 450 (mostly infrastructure) projects totaling 20 million USD to mitigate and prevent conflict and facilitate political transition (USAID 2014a). In 2010-2014 USAID also organized school youth theaters to build peace through theatrical performances (USAID 2014b), supported the creation and training of local early warning networks (USAID 2014a), and increased the role of women in peacebuilding by strengthening women’s initiative groups (USAID 2015a). USAID also allocated nearly 13 million US dollarsfor a program to improve public administration in Kyrgyzstan, implemented in 2013-2016. (USAID 2015b).
The author at consultancy work in the Kyrgyz Republic (photo credit Akmal Mamadaliev).
My personal observations while working as a consultant in international organizations in the Kyrgyz Republic suggest that most of the international projects implemented at the community level were carried out primarily in the form of cultural events, namely, in the form of theatre performances, festivals, competitions, concerts, film screenings or sport events. Cultural events have become endorsed as tools for peacebuilding and conflict prevention on the ground. They were often carried out as part of mini-projects run by participating women and youth groups, such as women’s initiative groups, territorial youth councils and others. Mini-projects were aimed at promoting friendship, diversity and tolerance among local residents. In general, they can be described as successful, because, firstly, they have a large outreach to spread messages about friendship, diversity and tolerance among the audience. Secondly,they represent a joint organizational effort of representatives of various ethnic communities and the local government, during which representatives of ethnic groups get to know each other and develop friendly and trustful relations.
Nevertheless, cultural events are more eventually limited and inefficient. First, they are short-termist and unsustainable measures to achieve sustainable peace and development because they are one-off activities and are usually carried out only within of projects. After projects are completed, they are rarely held regularly by communities, with the exception of celebrations like Nooruz. Secondly, the messages spread by cultural events are quickly forgotten. Ideas of diversity or multiculturalism, tolerance and friendship quickly fade away in everyday life once cultural events and mini-projects are completed. The messages recede into the background of community life when unresolved socio-economic and political issues keep causing social tension. The peacebuilding efforts of international organizations were also assessed as ineffective by a group of researchers led by Nick Megoran (2014). According to them, many organizations duplicated trainings and seminars on mediation and tolerance for elders, women and youth within target communities, because such activities can be easily reported to donors while the root causes of the conflict remained unresolved.
Thirdly, at the community level, ideas about diversity and multiculturalism or tolerance and friendship are perceived more as another reason to participate in projects and use the opportunity to make profit, while not everyone understands and shares the meaning of these terms. For example, the UN Peacebuilding Fund’s program in order to achieve national cohesion mainly focused on promoting ideas of tolerance and cultural diversity and supported the implementation of multi-language education introduced by the government. However, in its report, the program recognized that activities aimed at civic cohesion seemed more interesting for local communities and partners from a business point of view, while they were less aware of importance ofthe roles youth and women had played in building peace and unity in diversity (Jantzi et al. 2017: 30). They noted that the understanding of the importance of diversity and multi-language education among young people, schoolchildren and their parents was high only in multi-ethnic communities (Jantzi et al. 2017: 22). According to the researchers, government officials and UN staff understood multilingualeducation in their own respective ways. The latter understood it in terms of diversity and tolerance, the former as a mechanism of assimilation. Similarly, in another, more in-depth analysis (Sheranova 2020) I have shown how measures to strengthen diversity and tolerance are perceived differently among different actors, including ordinary residents and employees of local government and national institutions. When it comes to multi-language education at the community level, for example, ambiguous understandings and even misunderstandings over the increase of Kyrgyz language education in schools seem to prevail (Sheranova 2020). In the absence of interpretation guidelines by the government, this could have negative consequences, whether international project support is involved or not.
Fourth, cultural events have become practical in the hands of both the IOs and communities because they are easy to pilot, execute and report. For example, in the framework of mini-projects (seeds grants) implemented by communities, festivals and concerts were considered practical because they did not require large expenditures, while the budgets allocated within the framework of the projects were limited and there was no significant support from local government.In turn, IOs also piloted and experimented with innovative cultural methods like ‘forum theatres’ or ‘Drama for conflict transformation’ (IREX n.d.) and participatory video methodology (Davidi 2019), which were adapted from the experience of other countries. However, the coverage and discussion of social problems and issues of concern to the young participants of these projects usually did not lead to more decisive actions by the authorities or did not even receive public attention at all.
Overall, since 2010, international projects in communities have been largely limited to cultural events, which in no way are sustainable and long-term solutions to achieve peace and development of the country. Their messages on tolerance and friendship are only temporarily present in the public sphere and quickly evaporate due to unresolved socio-economic and political issues. For example, although the UN program stated the goal of increasing representation of minorities in government, it recognized in its report that this was a politically sensitive issue and that the program did not affect the actual representation of minorities in the country (Jantzi et al. 2017: 40).
From Celebrations and Slogans to Action: Implementing the Civic Concept “Kyrgyz Jarany”
The peacebuilding and conflict prevention efforts of the government of the Kyrgyz Republic can be generally regarded as technical and institutional (primarily, the development of new programs) and, judging by the events held, as cultural. In 2013, the Kyrgyz government, after consultation with the international community, adopted The Concept on strengthening of the national unity and inter-ethnic relations in the Kyrgyz Republic’.[ii] The Concept identifies three main areas: (1) state and legal regulation of interethnic relations; (2) the unifying role of the state language and the development of linguistic diversity; (3) the formation of the civic identity “Kyrgyz Jarany”. According to the approved Concept Implementation Plan,[iii] under the first direction, trainings for employees of the State Agency for Local Self-Government and Interethnic Relations (Russian: GAMSUMO) were delivered, 23 public reception centres and a monitoring centre were established and local initiatives to strengthen unity were supported, with a special emphasis on the Assembly People of Kyrgyzstan (ANC). Work within the second direction aimed to facilitate the transition to multi-lingual education, which for the most part included the transformation of schools and kindergartens with instruction in the non-state languages into ones with multi-lingual instruction, that is, instruction in Kyrgyz, Uzbek or other languages. Another emphasis was also put on translating Kyrgyz literature into non-state languages. In the third direction, special events, initiatives and mini-projects aimed at civic integration were supported, alongside cultural events and competitions, as well as research and print publishing in different languages.
Building Tolerance Through Distributing Children’s Books, USAID Kyrgyz Republic
The ANC is engaged not only in issues of strengthening the unity of the people and consolidating the “Kyrgyz Jarany” identity, but also in protecting the interests of ethnic groups. However, in practice, the activities of the ANC do not significantly go beyond cultural events and celebrations, either. For example, in the ANC report for 2016-2017 (ANC 2018) the number of cultural events and celebrations prevails over other aspects. In its report for 2019, GAMSUMO also notes that it mainly held cultural events in conjunction with the ANC. In addition, the website states without further specification that Gamsumo carried out 1,011 preventive measures in 2019 and reviewed 242 reports submitted via the public reception centres or other mechanisms. [iv] An evaluation of the work of the Concept was carried out with support of the Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the OSCE. While the overall assessment was positive, the High Commissioner found that the government’s work on access to justice and minority representation in the country was insufficient (OSCE 2016). Already in 2018, on the part of GAMSUMO, a draft of the new “Concept of general integration of Kyrgyz Jarany in the Kyrgyz Republic for 2019-2023” was developed and discussed, which is currently under consideration by the Office of the President.
As the above analysis of the activities of international organizations and the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic has shown, the main peacebuilding and conflict prevention activities on the community level remained in the framework of cultural events. Despite their achievements, these efforts were limited by their short-termist and unsustainable nature. Furthermore, in the course of project implementation at the community level a lack of understanding of the ideas and goals of the events themselves often became visible; the messages they put forward were often quickly forgotten. Therefore, I would argue that these cultural events are insufficient to achieve effective conflict prevention and a long-lasting peace.
In the current period,the government and international donors need to work on a more long-term solution, in particular on building a “new” civic nation (nation-building). Even though “Kyrgyz Jarany” was adopted in 2013 as part of the Concept, no work has been done in communities to explain measures to implement this civic concept. Due to the lack of public information and interpretation guidelines on the measures to implement the Concept and the idea of “Kyrgyz Jarany”, the implementation steps taken by the Kyrgyz government have not been (and still are not) met with understanding and support from the communities and even from local government. Indeed, the lack of understanding about the importance of the civil idea of “Kyrgyz Jarany” precludes the solution of important socio-economic and political issues by the state, such as the lack of economic opportunities and of access to justice, challenges to the rule of law, and insufficient representation of minorities. Thus, in order to achieve a sustainable peace, it is necessary to build a new nation through the idea of “Kyrgyz Jarany”, which the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic and international organizations need to explain and promote among the population. Unless the nation realizes that all ethnic groups living in Kyrgyzstan are part of a bigger entity and have one common future, the risk of interethnic distrust and tension will remain.
Assambleia Naroda Kyrgyzstan [Assembly of the People of Kyrgyzstan] (2018) Report on the activities of the Assembly of the People of Kyrgyzstan for the period from April 30, 2016 to December 31, accessed May 25, 2020, https://assembly-kg.news/отчёт-о-деятельности-ассамблеи-народ/
Davidi, Charlotte (ed.) (2019) Participatory video in peacebuilding: lessons learnt from occupied Palestinian territories and Kyrgyzstan,accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.gppac.net/files/2019-11/Participatory%20Video%20in%20Peacebuilding-Lessons%20Learnt_0.pdf (Accessed 25 May 2020).
IREX. (no date) Drama for Conflict Transformation Toolkit. Youth Theater for Peace. IREX. accessed May 25, 2020, https://www.irex.org/sites/default/files/node/resource/drama-for-conflict-transformation-toolkit.pdf
Jantzi, Terrence, Faria, Fernande and Anara Alymkulova (2017) Evaluation of the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) Project Portfolio In Kyrgyzstan (Evaluation Report), The Konterra Group & United Nations Peacebuilding, accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.un.org/peacebuilding/sites/www.un.org.peacebuilding/files/documents/kyrgyzstan_august_2017_-_evaluation_of_priority_plan.pdf
Megoran, Nick, Satybaldieva, Elmira, Lewis, David and John Heathershaw (2014) Evaluating peacebuilding interventions in southern Kyrgyzstan. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/nick.megoran//pdf/reconciliation%20SIPRI.pdf
OSCE (2015) OSCE concludes Community Security Initiative project in Kyrgyzstanaccessed 25 May 2020, https://www.osce.org/bishkek/209331
REACH (no date) REACH -Informing more effective humanitarian action, accessed 25 May 2020, https://reach1.cern.ch/reach/kgz/kgz_2014/home/
Sheranova, Arzuu (2020) Kyrgyzstan’s ‘uneasy’ diversity after 2010: Community analysis of post-conflict policy, The Journal on Ethnopolitcs and Minority Issues in Europe, 19(1): 58-81.
USAID. (2013) Kyrgyz Republic Transition Initiative. Case Studies, accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1861/KRTI%20Case%20Studies%20-%20FINAL.pdf
USAID. (2014a) Kyrgyz Republic Transition Initiative. Final Report, USAID, accessed 15 May 2020, https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1861/KRTI_Final%20Report_2014%2004%20EXCERPTS.pdf
USAID (2014b) Youth Theater for Peace, accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.usaid.gov/kyrgyz-republic/fact-sheets/youth-theater-peace
USAID (2015a) Women’s Peace Banks, accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.usaid.gov/kyrgyz-republic/fact-sheets/womens-peace-banks
USAID (2015b)Good Governance & Public Administration Strengthening Project (GGPAS), Accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.usaid.gov/kyrgyz-republic/fact-sheets/good-governance-public-administration-strengthening-project-ggpas
Winner, Victor (2012) “Messengers of peace prevent conflicts in southern Kyrgyzstan” in The Times of Central Asia, accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.timesca.com/index.php/news/11447-messengers-of-peace-prevent-conflicts-in-southern-kyrgyzstan
[i] “Kyrgyz citizen”, as defined in 2013 in the Concept.
[ii] The Concept (2013), all links accessed 25 May 2020, http://www.president.kg/files/docs/kontseptsiya_ukrepleniya_edinstva_naroda_i_mejetnicheskih_otnosheniy_v_kr.pdf
[iii] Decree of the Kyrgyz Republic dated 30 October 2013 No 430-p on approving Concept Implementation Plan for 2013-2017 for realization of the Concept (2013), http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/210041?cl=ru-ru#p1
[iv] Inter-Ethnic Relations, GAMSUMO (2020), http://www.gamsumo.gov.kg/ru/interethnic