**** NEW 

LATEST PROJECT REVIEWS: http://iwpr.net/make-an-impact/project-reviews

VACANCIES: http://iwpr.net/what-we-do/vacancies


CENTRAL ASIA PROGRAMME HOME: http://www.iwpr.net/programme/central-asia

CENTRAL ASIA RADIO: http://iwpr.net/programme/central-asia/central-asia-radio



STORY BEHIND THE STORY: http://iwpr.net/report-news/the-story-behind-the-story



**** http://iwpr.net/ **********************************************************

DONATE TO IWPR: http://iwpr.net/donate

**** http://iwpr.net/ **********************************************************



By Saule Mukhametrakhimova

Public debate about how Kyrgyzstan should manage ethnic relations is
intensifying ahead of the anniversary of last year’s violence in the
south of the country. As IWPR Central Asia editor Saule
Mukhametrakhimova explains, the government’s vision of how to shape a
more harmonious future is being challenged by a rival document from
the Ata-Jurt party, which focuses more on a dominant Kyrgyz identity.


What’s the background to these ethnic policy strategies – why have one
in the first place?

The need for an ethnic strategy was identified as an urgent priority
as the authorities in Kyrgyzstan began facing pressure to address
underlying problems which had been left unresolved over many years,
and which culminated in a conflict between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz
communities in June 2010. That violence left over 400 people dead,
many more wounded and up to 400 000 people displaced.

In drafting a new strategy, the authorities were supported by the OSCE
High Commissioner on National Minorities, the OSCE Centre in Bishkek
and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights. The broad-based working group that produced the draft was
overseen by a new office in the presidential administration called the
Department for Ethnic and Religious Policy and Cooperation with Civil

The resulting official document, the “Draft Concept for Ethnic Policy
and Consolidation of Society in Kyrgyzstan”, was made public at the
end of March.


How does this strategy paper envisage tackling the roots of ethnic
tension and preventing further conflict?

As one Kyrgyz official has put it, an ethnic policy consists of a
whole series of actions designed to ensure that the interests of all
ethnic groups are represented in key areas of public life, through
civil and political participation and through language, education,
cultural and media policies. In the area of education, the official
strategy proposes transforming schools so that they can deliver
multilingual education. Media and cultural institutions will be
required to reflect multiculturalism in their coverage and activities.


What’s the difference between this document and the one produced by Ata-Jurt?

The fundamental difference is that Ata-Jurt’s vision of ethnic policy,
as set out in the “State Ethnic Policy in the Kyrgyz Republic”, made
public on April 27, is founded squarely on the notion of Kyrgyz
ethnicity as the central element of nationhood. Broader society is
seen as a union between the Kyrgyz and other ethnic groups, while
cultural and language policies would focus on Kyrgyz identity.

This contrasts sharply with the official draft, which sees the
foundation of national identity shifting from one’s ethnic origin to
one’s citizenship.

It’s an important distinction, since whichever document is supported
by parliament and gets passed into law will set the direction in which
Kyrgyzstan as a state will manage ethnic issues. Ultimately, this will
determine whether people from all ethnic groups enjoy equal access to
public life as long as they hold citizenship, or whether the interests
of ethnic Kyrgyz as the titular nation will be dealt with differently
from the rest.


Isn’t there a danger that suggesting different communities have
different rights could take the country further down a road that has
already led to serious bloodshed?

That’s exactly what critics of the Ata-Jurt proposal are warning.

One of the key factors in the 2010 conflict was that ethnic tensions
were highlighted to advance political interests. Since the violence,
ethnicity has again been exploited as a way of winning power, and an
overt streak of nationalism has emerged in politics.

Ata-Jurt, which won more seats than any other in the October
parliamentary election, describes itself as the voice of “national
patriots” rather than Kyrgyz nationalists. From its leading position
in the legislature, Ata-Jurt is attempting to play the lead role in
shaping future ethnic policy, and in doing so, it is effectively
undermining the authorities’ efforts to create a strategy based on
consensus rather than on one particular group in society.


How does Ata-Jurt explain its objections to the official concept, and
how does its own draft propose to treat ethnic minorities?

Nadira Narmatova, who was part of the team that drafted the Ata-Jurt
document, has said the party does not believe the official alternative
reflects the “mentality and interests of our people”.

As some critics of the Ata-Jurt strategy point out, the party has its
own views on the root causes of last year’s conflict, arguing that
these arose out of a lack of patriotism among part of the population.
Thus, the party’s interpretation of ethnic integration is less about
protecting minorities’ interests than about developing their sense of
patriotism. As Narmatova put it, along with rights, minorities have
duties such as working towards national unity.


What has been the reaction to Ata-Jurt’s concept paper?

Criticisms range from suspicions that Ata-Jurt is seeking to win
popular support ahead of the presidential election later this year, to
accusations from the likes of political analyst Pavel Dyatlenko that
the party is set on a “policy of assimilation”.

In official circles, Ata-Jurt’s move is been seen as an attempt to
attract attention by hijacking an important policy debate, while
improving the party’s image by demonstrating a commitment to human
rights and respect for cultural differences.

Some political analysts worry that if Ata-Jurt’s nationalist approach
goes unchallenged, it could widen the ethnic divide and lead to
discriminatory policies.


How can Kyrgyzstan move towards reconciliation and peace-building with
a vision of ethnic policy that’s built around one group?

This is a challenge the authorities seem be struggling to deal with.
What’s certain is that if they fail, the consequences will be
disastrous. Communities will be driven even further apart, some groups
will be marginalised and potentially radicalised, and the emergence of
aggressive nationalist rhetoric will jeopardise any nation-building
effort and threatening stability.

As the anniversary of last year’s violent clashes approaches, the
debate on ethnic issues is becoming increasingly politicised.
Depending on where they stand, various political groups will exploit
the issue in order to shore up support for their particular
presidential candidate. That can only stoke tensions in a country
which is still coming to terms with the recent conflict.

Saule Mukhametrakhimova is IWPR Central Asia editor in London.
Additional insights provided by Askar Aktalov, an IWPR-trained
journalist in Bishkek.

**** http://iwpr.net/ **********************************************************

REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a
unique insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local
journalists, the service publishes news and analysis from across
Central Asia on a weekly basis.

The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty,
Bishkek, Tashkent and London, which supports media development and
encourages better local and international understanding of the region.

IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund.
The service is published online in English and Russian.

The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the
authors and do not necessarily represent those of the publication or
of IWPR.

REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing
Editor: Yigal Chazan; Senior Editor and Acting Central Asia Director:
John MacLeod; Central Asia Editor: Saule Mukhametrakhimova.

Borden; Head of Programmes: Sam Compton.

**** http://iwpr.net/ **********************************************************

IWPR – Giving Voice, Driving Change

IWPR - Europe, 48 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, UK
Tel: +44 20 7831 1030

IWPR – United States, 1325 G Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC
20005, United States
Tel: +1 202 449 7717

1515 Broadway, 11th Floor, New York, New York 10036, United States
Tel: +1 212 520 3950

Stichting IWPR Nederland, Eisenhowerlaan 77 K, 2517 KK Den Haag, The Netherlands
Tel: +31 70 338 9016

For further details on this project and other information services and
media programmes, go to: http://iwpr.net/

ISSN: 1477-7924 Copyright © 2009 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting

**** http://iwpr.net/ **********************************************************

Reply via email to