Archive for the 'BTI 2008' Category

The BTI Report on Kyrgyzstan – Some Critical Notes (III)

Hailing President Bakiev

The Bertelsmann Transformation Index follows most analytical reports when it comes to the parliamentary and presidential elections in the Kyrgyz Republic in 2005. It states:

„Yet up until the parliamentary elections of March 2005, the electoral process – including registration of candidates, access to the media and the ability to campaign freely in all parts of the country – was severely biased in favor of pro-regime candidates and drew criticism from international election observers for falling short of important standards for a free and fair vote. The first post-Akaev presidential elections in July 2005 marked a significant step forward to a fair electoral process. Given the extraordinary “post-revolutionary” atmosphere of that vote and the predictability of its outcome, however, it remains to be seen whether strongly contested elections will be conducted at the same standard in the future.“

[Page 6]

I am sure that the unfolding of the Tulip Revolution was caused by the manipulations that the Kyrgyz public witnessed prior, during and after the elections at the end of February 2005. However, I think it is justified to ask, if more manipulation of or more competition in the elections were triggering the public outcry. Whereas in previous elections the Akaev regime could much more effectively organize its manipulation machinery, this time it was struck by the fact, that most mandates were wanted by numerous candidates who were loyal to the president’s family.

In Karabalta (a town close to Bishkek, where I did most of my fieldwork) three main candidates actually were all on good terms with Akaev. Taalajbek Subanbekov had his big brother Bakirdin (nickname: Bakirdinbank) as minister of interior at his service, Vladimir Tolokoncev was a loyal Russian deputy of the legislative chamber of the Zhogorku Kenesh, and Valerij Dil‘ as the head of the German minority community (and member of the upper chamber of the Zhogorku Kenesh) served as a well established bridge to the German motherland. According to one informant, all three were on good relations with Alga Kyrgyzstan, the new and very soon-to-be-dead party of power, built and lead by Bermet Akaeva.

Well, all these big guys were fighting for one mandate in the same district. They all used dirty tricks. Subanbekov the police forces and his connections to the criminal authority of the region, Almaz; Tolokoncev his support by then head of town of Karabalta Tishchenko (mobilizing voters and local election commission members); and Dil‘ his good connections to German medical services, distributing medicine for free short before the elections. They all did, what actually anybody does in Kyrgyz elections. The difference this time was, that no one withdrew while the campaign unfolded. Usually the candidate with backup from the presidential administration has most resources on his disposal and makes sure, that competitors feel this decisive difference before the election day comes. In the end, everything looks more or less peaceful, and there is no real need to worry about the results since everybody knows who wins.

This time, with a lack of guidance from the presidential administration, candidates fought there way up to the day of the election. in Karabalta, Subanbekov won, probably because of his backing in the ministry of interior. But like in many other districts, people became publicly aware of all the dirty mechanisms that can be used in elections. It was corruption all over again, but caused by higher competition in the field of candidates. Not because Akaev was favoring one candidate over another (though that was the case in many southern districts!).

A total different picture is provided by the presidential elections of July 10, 2005. There was one candidate only, Kurmanbek Bakiev; well, and some puppets. There was no competition at all, but the campaign seemed to be running according to the markers of peace and stability. The OSCE was very happy!

In Karabalta the local newspaper of the rayon administration published one issue after next, full of allegedly politically concerned inhabitants of the region, advocating the campaign of the „Tandem“ (Bakiev and Kulov) and calling in on everybody to vote for Bakiev. Knowing something about the conditions of how this newspaper is produced it is difficult to believe that those articles had a real substantial base.

I am not saying, that Bakiev made them do it. I believe, they anticipated it, not being able not to anticipate it exactly this way. Reading all this articles, this calling-ins from some old babushka from a village in nowhere, asking her fellow babushki to vote for Bakiev, it became clear to me, that the presidential administration had not changed a bit and was all about creating an atmosphere of creative anticipation again. Didn’t the OSCE see it coming?

in summa, I can understand the author(s) of the BTI report when they choose to follow OSCE’s ratings. It’s just: it becomes boring reading the same stuff over and over again. There is no impulse for new thinking. It seems more like pressuring concentrated knowledge in form of supposed to be scientifically recognized opinions into the reader’s head; instead of posing new questions that can make us think. So, my advice for next time: bring up some material you can’t explain and try to develop some questions in regard to it. And then let others find the answer (yeah, why not creating interactive reports? … well, that sound like a whole new project … 🙂

The BTI 2008 on Kyrgyzstan – Some Critical Notes (II)

On Page 6 the report states:

Yet the proper functioning of administrative structures is hampered by low funding, corruption and the subversion of formal institutions by informal patronage networks at all levels of government, from the national level down to the local self-government layer of administration. In general terms, awareness among civil servants of the importance of good governance has been raised by a public debate over corruption. Administrations work more effectively in some areas than in others, some institutions are less corrupt than others, and some territories are better governed than others.“

Some short comments are in order:

First, it has been always clear to any observer of Kyrgyz Politics, that corruption is massively present in almost every state administration, starting with the ministry for emergency situations (МЧС) and ending in the National Agency of the Kyrgyz Republic for the Prevention of Corruption. When I interviewed one of the officials in this agency in Spring 2007 he explained, that of 25 investigations, conducted by the agency, only few of them actually were handed over to the Genprokuratura and only in one case proceedings were instituted.

I have to admit, that in the last time, the fight against corruption gained momentum. However, headlines like „Начальник отдела Управления ГКНС подозревается в вымогательстве взятки“ ( are only proof of a new tendency to put more effort into the simulation of reform and state action. In fact, not one of the guys, recently mentioned in the list of the hundred richest people in Kyrgyzstan in the newspaper De-Fakto have been brought before court. Former state ministers like Bakirdin Subanbekov (served as minister of interior under Akaev from 2002 – 2005) or Zhanysh Rustenbekov (former minister for emergency situations, today ambassador to the Republic of Kazakhstan) could be questioned. How actually did they manage to get included in the mentioned list, when they spend all their years of profession as state officials in numerous state agencies?

Summarizing this discussion up, i want to make the conclusion, that the awareness among civil servants of the importance of good governance has not been raised by the public debate. It just led to a reformulation of strategies of manipulation to deceive the public; certainly it leads not to attempts to engage into a „real“ fight against corruption (and how would that b e possible taking into consideration the structure of the political system. It is build upon rent-seeking mechanisms and corruption is its main income generator).

A last comment is necessary regarding the sentence about differences in the performance of different state agencies. My question to the author(s) is: could you give us examples? And if you can, could you give us please some references? It would be interesting to find out, which territory actually is better governed than others (or worse). And if one is able to clearly mark differences in the performance of different administrations it would be great to find out more about the reasons for such differences. Perhaps the BTI Report 2010 will provide us with some answers to these questions!

The BTI 2008 on Kyrgyzstan – Some Critical Notes (I)


The first point I would like to discuss is concerned with the agent- centered approach taken by the author(s). The report states:

The country has the opportunity to consolidate its path toward democratization; it has already taken significant steps with the re-introduction of free speech, equal political rights and political competition in the spring of 2005. However, Kyrgyzstan may fall back to a more authoritarian type of political order if the country’s elites prove unable to forge a consensus on the future “rules of the game.”

[Page 2]

and some pages later:

It will largely depend on the choices of a few political leaders whether these latest developments mark the beginning of a new period of cooperation between government and parliament, or whether they herald the end of a temporary truce of political forces that will now give way to power struggles and renewed instability.

[Page 4, my emphasis]

I feel uncomfortable with these statements. It gives the impression that the fate of Kyrgyzstan is in the hands of some elite representatives leaving the „masses“ aside. It is a typical political-science approach which usually forgets about the „others“ (non-elite representatives) and prefers to concentrate on some few „factors“ (read: elite actors) instead.

Elite pacts have become a very popular concept to explain transition outcomes and regime developments. However, they all share the problem of rendering society meaningless while misconceptualizing and thus overrating the political system. One short look at the current political elite of Kyrgyzstan tells any observer that no democratic progress will be made … at least if one binds the fate of democracy to the decisions of some elite representatives and their wisdom for patriotic negotiations.

Society needs to be included into the analysis and its structures (i.e. expectations) need to be explored. The November rebellion (almost not mentioned in the BTI 2008) should be better understood as the last attempt of oppositional elite representatives to change (hier: ändern) the political systemic logic by connecting their demands to society’s expectation for change (hier: Wandel) after experiencing the change (hier: Wechsel) of leadership in March 2005.

Taking such a perspective we are able to differentiate between the November events and those of April 2007 (not referred to in the BTI report, because it covers events only till February 2007). At that time society’s hope for change was already gone (to get an impression of what I mean compare comments on Internet sites like or for example). And former Prime Minister Kulov had long lost its credentials, when he refused to join the protesters in the November rebellion some six months earlier.

Now it is interesting to see, if Kyrgyzstan opens once more the doors this spring for a season of mitingi. If we want to find out, th first thing we should is to dedicate more time and energy for an observation of the structures within Kyrgyz society. The society sets the limits, constructs the frame, within which an elite might take some actions (or might refuse to do so because the support from the society is perceived as unstable or even missing). Solely concentrating on elite means overemphasizing its role and usually leads to distorted perceptions of the political system within a given society.

The New Bertelsmann Transformation Index (2008). A First Review On The Kyrgyz Republic Report

The Bertelsmann Transformation Index 2008 has been published recently. 125 countries from the non – OSCE world were analyzed in accordance to some specified topics such as stateness, rule of law, welfare regime or resource efficiency. Each country is broadly discussed in a country report, which can be downloaded on the website. I downloaded the report for the Kyrgyz Republic and I read it and I wanna discuss it.

First impression: not too bad at all. On 23 pages the (unnamed) author(s) present(s) analyses of various political and economic fields, highlight(s) recent trends in the overall development of Kyrgyz society and risk(s) some prognosis for the future. In addition I must say, that I am very happy to see, that the report does not follow the general argument on the Tulip Revolution, which accounts the ouster of President Akaev a mere change of power and reproduction of an authoritarian system. I agree with the report, when it states:

The change in power that occurred in 2005 has opened up new opportunities for Kyrgyzstan. At the same time, events since then have demonstrated that there is no easy way forward for a country that is relatively poor in resources, whose political and economic elite seems united only in the effort to secure access to those resources, and that is located in a difficult region as far as governance and economic policies are concerned.

[Page 22]

When it turns on the international donor community I have to give my plazet as well:

While continued support for advocates of democratization and civil society activities is certainly a good idea, bilateral donor governments, as well as international financial institutions, have a built-in preference for assisting a fragile incumbent government in delivering badly needed services, thus inadvertently strengthening the position of the ruling elite. Although this is undoubtedly an important task given Kyrgyzstan’s poor record in sectors such as education, health or employment, it will be of vital importance for the future of Kyrgyz democratization to give this support without simultaneously weakening the political opposition and giving indirect incentives for the incumbent government to back down on earlier commitments to competition.

[Page 23]

Indeed, too often money just flows down the executive branch without ever causing some change in infrastructure or administrative efficiency. I remember one guy from some bilateral donor organization, brought to Kyrgyzstan for assistance to the ministry of finance in regulating its tax reform. He received a day salary of 600 USD and was working 100 days in a year. He didn’t speak Russian, no Kyrgyz, had no idea of Kyrgyzstan whatsoever and was obviously more interested in getting acquainted with local females than thinking of improving the Kyrgyz tax code. But, ok, I missing the point here: there are often structural problems in development aid. Most aid, lets take for example aid to the educational system, strengthens the executive branch in its chairs without causing anything good to political pluralism. In the case of educational help, the idea is to transform poor educational facilities into production sites for future independent citizens. It doesn’t work, cause the effect is too big on the wrong side and much too small on the right one. The AUCA could be a good counter example. Although the university sucks many brilliant students out of the country it still produces a mass of highly qualified young people, who demand their share in the process of shaping the country’s future. However, this is only possible, because Soros and the State department came in with big money and big plans. The losses of brilliant brains is compensated for by many others who stay and put pressure on the ruling elite.

Back to the BTI report on Kyrgyzstan. Everybody who is interested in getting an idea of what actually is going in Kyrgyzstan and especially those who are interested in economic performance are recommended to have a look at the report. No argue here.

However, there are some points I would like to criticize. In general these are concerned with the constant reproduction of views on the development of independent Kyrgyzstan. The report starts with the story of a freedom loving, democracy promoting regime around a liberal minded president called Akaev in a new-born country called Kyrgyzstan. After some years, the story goes, Akaev turned illiberal and put pressure on free media and started to amass wealth for himself and his close family members. In the end, a colored revolution had to end an emerging authoritarianism.

In fact, the country achieved some remarkable successes in bringing about political transformation. Civil rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly were effectively introduced. Freedom of religion and freedom of conscience were also guaranteed. Citizens gained new opportunities to express their interests openly and legally, make their grievances known and suggest alternatives. Legislative and presidential elections were mostly free and fair.

By the mid-1990s, however, there was a backlash against liberalization, marked by legal changes intended to increase the authority of the president, sideline the opposition and manipulate elections. Parliament was deprived of power. Its responsibilities were limited, its legislative rights curtailed and its oversight functions reduced to a minimum. It was excluded from the government-building process. With the persecution of some independent journalists as early as 1997, the freedoms of speech and of the press were gradually restricted. Increasingly, positions of political authority and economic power came under the control of the president’s “family,” a euphemism for the narrow elite affiliated with Akaev either through kinship or personal loyalty.

[Page 3]

This is a story, I have heard too often; and the more I hear it, the less I can agree with it. The mechanisms of rule didn’t change that much between the early 90ies and the late 90ies. Just read the brilliant (because exceptionally detailed) book from Kasym Isaev or once again carefully examine reports about the gold scandal in 93/94 or remember how president candidates were illegally excluded from the presidential election in 95. It was not that different from what happened later.

I think other factors are responsible for our different perceptions. The early nineties were accompanied with hope, having Akaev as the only non-party apparachik at the top of an independent -Istan. The state administration did not have full control of what is happened in the country. That was compensated for by an underdeveloped media system, which was not able to cover on all the dirty details of Akaev’s manipulations (just remember the selling out of Kumtor to Cameco) in that period. Later unfulfilled hope turned into disappointment. What once looked like a starting point for progress was now considered the beginning of regress.

So, my advice would be to reflect on our conditions for observation and not to attribute every change to the object of our study. Neither Akaev miraculously transformed from the liberal to the illiberal nor were his power practices subject to radical change in the course of his15 years rulership. Much of the story, which repeatedly is told about independent Kyrgyzstan, depends on our starting point for observation. Perhaps next time, the author(s) of the BTI can just ignore this call for repetition and spend more space and analytical skills on current events. It is here, where the reader (probably) awaits interesting interpretations and conclusions. And it is here, where I would like to ask some additional questions regarding some of the statements made by the BTI report. But more on that later ….


Juni 2017
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