POLITICAL PROCESSES IN CENTRAL ASIA: PECULIARITIES, PROBLEMS, PROSPECTS
Sergey Zhiltsov, D.Sc. (Political Science), Professor at the Department of Political Science, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (Moscow, Russian Federation)
The political processes in the Central Asian countries have similar features determined by the history of their development and the social relations that have emerged. Their history as part of the Soviet Union has had a great impact on the political development of the Central Asian republics. Their formation as Union republics did not come to fruition until the 1920s-1930s.
Being part of the Soviet Union made it possible for the Central Asian republics to form state structures and achieve an economic breakthrough by creating an industrial sector in the economy. The republics became acquainted with contemporary management techniques and state-building took immense strides. At the same time, a particular management technique formed, in which the traditional (regional-clan) principles characteristic of the Central Asian republics existed alongside the generally accepted party-state approaches. While paying lip service to the communist ideology, the leaders of the Central Asian republics carried out their policy keeping the inter-clan balance of power in mind.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, five new independent states emerged in Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Their state-building and the establishment of their political systems emerged amid dramatic changes in the geopolitical situation, increasing economic problems, and aggravation of the political struggle among the elites of the Central Asian republics.
Regional division, which has a long history, had a great effect on the political processes in the Central Asian countries—division into zhuzes in Kazakhstan, into north and south in Kyrgyzstan, and into regional clans in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
The political processes in the Central Asian countries were subjugated to the geopolitical competition that became widespread in the region after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Spurred on by their geopolitical and economic interests, Russia, the U.S., the EU, and China began paying greater attention to the region. These interests were mainly realized by boosting political and diplomatic cooperation and rendering financial assistance. China used economic levers to achieve a gradual increase in its presence in Central Asia.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian countries took steps to establish political and economic relations, keeping the new conditions in mind. Introduction of the term “Tsentral’naia Azia” (“Central Asia”) in 1993 (in Soviet times, the region was called “Sredniaia Azia” [Middle Asia] in Russian), which was meant to emphasize the geopolitical and geographic-political unity of the regional countries, showed the increase in the region’s role in international relations in the post-Soviet expanse. However, not one of the regional integration projects was ever implemented.
The Central Asian countries were equally unprepared to form political systems in compliance with Western standards. During Soviet times, state administration in Central Asia combined party-state approaches with regional-clan pursuits. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian countries strove to meet the demands of democratic states by holding parliamentary and presidential elections, introducing pluralism, and complying with the principles of separation of powers. In practice, the political elites of the region’s countries were oriented toward traditional administration methods, whereby compromise was attained among the unofficial influence groups.
In recent years, the political processes in the Central Asian countries have been contradictory. Power institutions are being formed, a party system developed, and the role and place of the opposition parties defined in a situation where tribal and regional-clan interests predominate. The existence of strong traditional self-administration structures in the local communities in the form of regional, tribal, kinship, clan, and other traditional communal relations impacts on the conditions in which domestic and foreign policy is formed.
Keywords: Central Asia, political processes, parliament, president.