Analytical materials / Kyrgyzstan

Indira Aslanova: Challenges and Achievements in The Implementation of the Concept of State Policy in the Religion Sphere in Kyrgyzstan

06.12.2016

“Since the time of Independence, it is for the first time that a systematic work is being carried out to improve the quality of religious education; attempts are being made to reform religious studies; researches are being conducted on the religious situation in the country and the causes of radicalization of individuals”, – expert opinion of Indira Aslanova, specially for CABAR.asia, as to what questions on religious issues should be given priority.

aslanovaUp to date an attempt to introduce secular values ​​as opposed to radical ones resulted in the reverse effect and aggravated the situation. In recent years there has been a radicalization of youth, not only in religion but also in commitment to secular values. This is reflected in the rising rejection of a religious way of life and manifestations of all forms of religiosity on the part of “secular” citizens who are being “irritated by headscarves” or “bearded men” in “Pakistani pants” when any religious activity is seen as an attempt at proselytism. It is worth noting that the religious part of the population quite aggressively refers to the “alien influence of Western culture.” All this demonstrates the growing tension between the secular and religious youth, which also requires special attention to the implementation of the Concept of state policy on religion in Kyrgyzstan. Does the Concept work? How successful is the promotion of its implementation? What areas should be given attention on religious issues? This material is devoted to these and other related issues.

The main directions of the Concept

The policy-makers behind the Concept of state policy on religion outlined a wide range of potential threats to “public order and national security”, such as the record registration of religious organizations, the organization of Hajj, information security, religious education, manifestation of extremism, the burial of persons who changed their religion, practice of “theological and religious studies expertise”, the lack of systematic research on the religious situation, methodical work to clarify the principles of the secular state, consistency and continuity in the actions of public authorities.

The implementation of the action plan relies on the funds allocated from the state budget of the Kyrgyz Republic and comprises 22.4 million soms, as well as on the grants from international donors.

Activities of religious organizations, de jure and de facto

State regulation of the activities of religious organizations implied, first of all, improvement of the regulatory framework, bringing it into line with the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, as well as the elimination of collisions.

The Concept also notes the shortcomings of the existing registration practices of religious organizations, in particular the requirements of certification and approval by the local kenesh (councils) of the list of citizens, members of the Constituent Council, who are the initiators of a religious organizations and missions. On September 4, 2014, the Constitutional Chamber issued a ruling on the provision of the Law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations in the Kyrgyz Republic”, worded as “accorded with local kenesh …” is contrary to the Constitution.[1] Despite the fact that the ruling of the Constitutional Chamber was made two years ago and entered into force from “the moment of its proclamation” this rule is still valid. Thus, religious organizations continue to be denied registration due to lack of the list in question.[2]

To strengthen and develop the traditional moderate form of Sunni Islam, in 2014 a fund for the development of spiritual culture named Yiman (Faith) was opened. The Fund implements its activities in several areas, including projects to support writers and poets, such as Kalem zhana yiman (Pen and Faith),  Informatsionnoe prostranstvo (Information Space), aimed at creating an alternative to the extremist information field, Intellektualnye investitsii (Intellectual Investments), uniting talented young people and the project Capacity Building and Education Development of the Clergy.[3]

One should note the impressive quantitative results achieved by the Fund for the year 2016. Thus, according to reports, within the framework of Capacity Building and Education Development of the Clergy 2295 imams underwent a 12-day training program. Its Charity Scholarship covered 1200 imam khatibs and their deputies. However, regular imams and women leaders (atyncha) do not receive the scholarship who, in our opinion, meet the needs of society because they work directly with the population on the ground. Moreover, underway are publications of books, arrangement of a variety of meetings and events, production of social videos and films.[4] In terms of interaction with non-Islamic religious organizations, the Protestant ones note that upon the adoption of the Concept, relations with the state represented by public authorities have not changed significantly. If one considers the fact that many human rights reports noted the discriminatory policies and stigmatization and stereotypes in relation to the so-called “non-traditional” religious organizations, then it is irrelevant to talk about effective cooperation. This is also confirmed by the non-inclusion of Protestant organizations in the State-Confessional Council of the State Commission on Religious Affairs, created in July 2016. The Council includes representatives of the Religious Board of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (RBMK), Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan Eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), the Jewish religious community and a religious Buddhist Society Chamsen. It is noteworthy that the main objective of the State-Confessional Council is to promote the realization of the constitutional rights of citizens to freedom of religion, to achieve consistency of interests of the state and religious organizations, coordinate efforts of public authorities in the implementation of state policy in the religious sphere.[5]

Religious Education and Religious Studies: what is the difference?

The need to improve the quality of religious education, as well as the need to introduce a course on the study of religions in secondary schools has been discussed for more than 10 years. At one time a working group was set up under the Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic to develop a Concept for teaching of a program on the course called History of Religious Culture. However, due to a number of objective and subjective reasons, the work could not be completed. In September 2015, all at the same Ministry of Education, yet another working group was set up whose responsibilities included broader tasks of developing a Concept of reforming religious education and religious studies in the Kyrgyz Republic. Public discussions of the concept took place in April 2016 in Bishkek and Osh, with the financial support of an international organization working in the field of peace-building – The Search for Common Interests. Further, on 17 May 2016 the State Commission on Religious Affairs (SCRA) sat to discuss the draft resolution of the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic “On approval of the Concept of reforming religious studies and religious education in the Kyrgyz Republic”. At the moment, the draft Concept has been referred for approval to the ministries and departments of the Kyrgyz Republic.[6]

The Concept defines religious studies as a scientific, non-denominational and theological (religious, confessional) study of religion. The development of religious studies includes the introduction of the course History of Religious Culture in grade 9 of high school, then a general education course in the first year of university studies, and a separate program of religious studies (Bachelor, Master, PhD). In addition, embedded in the concept is the development of a system in professional development for the teaching staff, as well as the staff of relevant government agencies and civil society institutions.

 Religious Education Reform primarily includes the adjustment of the system of religious education and the introduction of secular subjects in the curricula of religious educational institutions. At the same time, the Concept states that the authorities do not interfere in the content of religious education, except in cases of extremist propaganda activities, and regulates only the secular component of it. In collaboration with the Ministry of Education a list of potential secular subjects was compiled, including the history of religions, history of Kyrgyzstan, foreign languages ​​and other general subjects. The main purpose of the introduction – to promote the socialization of students, foster civic responsibility, broaden their outlook, prevent radicalization and increase access to secular education.

It is being planned for the new academic year to pilot the History of Religious Culture course in grade 10 of secondary schools of the republic. In this connection, a working group under the Ministry of Education compiled a relevant textbook, which includes history of religions, ethical principles and foundations of tolerance as laid down in the various creeds.

 Many questions raise demands before the teachers of these courses: Are teachers of the humanities qualified for the job, or should theologians be perhaps invited? The concept defines theological education as religious and emphasizes the non-denominational, religious studies teaching of the course History of Religious Culture. Several public universities are engaged in the preparation of religious studies specialists, which does not meet the country’s needs. Therefore, at the initial stage it is assumed that teachers of history or of other humanities disciplines can assume these functions, after undergoing appropriate preparation. For the pilot schools, on 16-18 August 2016 there was a three-day teacher training course held, where, along with the analysis of the textbook, participants considered various methods of teaching, the development of students’ skills in critical and analytical thinking, and became acquainted with the experience of teaching the subject of religion in Norway. As the result of the piloting, plans are underway for further refinement of the textbook and composition of guidelines for teacher training courses.

Also, in order to enhance familiarity with religious education, various workshops are being actively conducted for government and law enforcement agencies. In the spring of 2015 the officers of the regional structures of the public security of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the officers of the 10th division of the Interior Ministry and the State Committee of National Security (SCNS) of the Kyrgyz Republic, as well as plenipotentiaries of the Kyrgyz Government in the oblasts were provided with workshops on the subject of “Enhancement of theological literacy and awareness on issues of religion of the law enforcement officers and representatives of state structures”. [7] Furthermore, in May of 2015, the Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, in collaboration with the SCRA, held short-term courses for neighborhood police inspectors in Bishkek on the theme of “Religious extremism. Basic concepts. An analysis of the religious situation in Bishkek”.[8] In terms of improving the quality of religious education, work is being undertaken mainly with the Islamic educational institutions. In the spring of 2015 a monitoring of religious schools was carried out in 4 oblasts. The monitoring found discrepancies in the technical standards, inadequacy of the curriculum to the adopted RBMK standards[9], as well as the “incompetence of religious figures”[10]. To address these issues, the State Commission for Religious Affairs has developed a number of educational projects, including the integration of secular and religious education and training for RBMK management[11]. The first one intended the creation of a theological college providing both religious and general secular education. The establishment of such a college is noted in the terms of implementation of the concept. The presentation was held on July 6, 2016, with the founders being the Ministry of Education and Science, the State Commission for Religious Affairs, RBMK  and the Arabaev University[12]. The graduates of the College will receive a diploma of “the state standard, which will ensure their eligibility for an application to any secular institution of the country”; apparently, it means a high school certificate. And on the other hand, its graduates have “a certificate or diploma in religious education, and can work as imams at the local level”[13]. Inevitably, it begs the question of whether young graduates will be competent and prepared enough to work and serve as imams. Moreover, does it not contradict the principle of state policy in the sphere of education as set out in the law “On Education”, Article 4 – “the secular nature of education in public and municipal educational institutions”[14]. The next educational project – preparation of RBMK managerial staff – also, in our opinion, violates the secular nature of education in public educational institutions and the “neutrality” of the state in relation to religious organizations, since “under state control, based on the University of Arabaev there was established the Institute of training and retraining of RBMK managerial staff”. [15]  Taking into account the timeliness and relevance of the existence of such an institution, it would have been appropriate to establish it within a religious educational institution, particularly in the Islamic University.

Worthy of particular note is the current practice of amalgamation of Religions Studies (secular) and Theological (religious) education that exists in the post-Soviet space. The attempt made in the Concept to distinguish between these two types of education has not yet led to success, which is evident from the above practices. Moreover, the Ministry of Education of the Kyrgyz Republic approved an educational standard for theology. For reference, theology (from Greek theos – God and logos – word, teaching) – speculative doctrine of God that is based on Revelation, i.e. the divine Word, etched in the sacred texts of theistic religions (in Judaism – the Torah, in Christianity – the Bible in Islam – the Qur’an).[16]  Thus, theology cannot be generic, it is always denominational, and is a religious doctrine.

The fight against radicalization and extremism prevention issues

This course of action, for the most part, is taken through preventive work among the population, in creating an alternative to extremist information field and building the capacity of government officials dealing with the issues of extremism and terrorism.  Inter-agency cooperation has intensified as part of the plan set out to prevent the spread of extremism among young people, jointly with the SCRA, the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Youth of the Kyrgyz Republic, as well as the four-sided plan for the prevention of religious extremism in conjunction with the SCRA, GKNB (SCNS), MIA, GAMSUMO (State Agency on Local Governance and Interethnic Relations). [17]

On August 4 2016, President Almazbek Atambayev endorsed the Law of the Kyrgyz Republic “On Amendments to various Legislative Acts of the Kyrgyz Republic in countering terrorism and extremism”. The law was adopted by Parliament on June 30, during the last plenary session. The purpose behind the Act is upgrading of penalties for crimes of international terrorism and extremism. This law’s amendments are aimed at tightening penalties and conditions of serving prison sentences, as well as taking measures for the deprival of citizenship against persons convicted of terrorist and extremist activities.[18]

Of particular concern to experts as well as journalists are the changes made relating to “public approval of terrorist or extremist activities through public appearances, the use of mass media, or the Internet …”. [19] It is noted that in “considering cases related to publications on the Internet it should be understood that marking in social networks in itself (Like, a mark on the pictures) cannot be regarded as a crime. With regard to publications on the Internet by means of repost, one must take into account the motives of it, because one can repost in support, as well as with the aim of criticism. Repost, in fact, is a form of citation … “. The hope is that in issuing this law the people’s representatives took these factors into account.[20] The analysis of amendments in the legal acts regulating the sphere of religion, as well as countering extremist activity shows an increasing trend of a stringent legislation. Meanwhile, one of the key conclusions reached by the Bulgarian researcher Tatiana Dronzina in 2015, during her research on “Kyrgyz militants in foreign terrorist organizations”, says that the lower level of radicalization of citizens in Kyrgyzstan compared to other Central Asian countries is associated primarily with a higher level of maintenance of religious freedom.

Outstanding issues

Still unresolved remains the issue of burial of religious citizens, in particular the Kyrgyz-proselytes, which is the main conflict factor between Muslims and Protestants. Despite the fact that the development of an optimal model for the burial of residents of the area in accordance with their religious affiliations was identified in the action plan of the Concept’s implementation, the issue still remains unaddressed. Besides, the work with the socially vulnerable segment of the population, particularly women, as it turns out, was not covered. Given the ever-increasing participation of women in extremist organizations, it does not seem to be sensible to decide on the annulment of the female department. Thus, unclear remain mechanisms for implementation of the requirements of the law concerning the imposition of liability for the public approval of extremist activity.

Conclusions

The undoubted advantage of the current policy in the religious sphere is the very fact of its implementation; no provision of the previous Concept of 2006 was implemented. Since the time of Independence, it is for the first time that a systematic work is being carried out to improve the quality of religious education; attempts are being made to reform religious studies; researches are being conducted on the religious situation in the country and the causes of radicalization of individuals. Of more than 60 events of the action plan to implement the Concept to date, 28 are in the active stage of implementation, which is a good quantitative indicator for two years of work. It is fitting to pay tribute to civil society institutions (research and educational centers, religious organizations and other NGOs), as well as public authorities thanks to whom this development has become possible. However, questions still arise about the quality of the activities and future sustainability of the results. There is a degree of complexity in maintaining the balance between cooperation of religious organizations and the state in overcoming various challenges, and the intervention of the latter in their activities. At the moment, a significant role in the improvement of state policy in the religious sphere plays the development of indicators for assessing and monitoring of measures taken in the implementation of the Concept.

Recommendations

  1. Make an analysis of the proportionality of the rules adopted in the laws that restrict the activities of religious organizations to the threats they are designed to prevent; an analysis on the conflict-sensitivity amendments adopted.
  2. Review the practice of promoting secular values, taking into account the provisions of the Concept – “The State shall pursue its policy regarding religion, based on the harmonious coexistence and mutual respect between the secular and religious value systems.”
  3. Commence work on the development of an optimal model of burial of citizens according to their religious affiliations. Make relevant amendments to the Normative Legal Acts (NLA), regulating burial processes. Conduct broad public information campaigns in cooperation with religious leaders among the population.
  4. Actively involve in the work of promoting tolerance and interfaith dialogue, countering extremist activities religious minorities, operating under the legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic.
  5. Carry out awareness-raising campaigns to promote a constructive discourse on religion, involving all denominations legally operating on the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic.
  6. Conduct a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of the intermediate results of implementation of the Concept; optimize the implementation of the plan according to the results.

References:

[1] Decree of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Kyrgyz Republic in the case concerning the constitutionality of Parts 2 and 3 of Article 8 and Clause 3 of Part 2 of Article 10 of the Law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations in the Kyrgyz Republic” in connection with the application of the religious center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Kyrgyz Republic – http://constpalata.kg/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/reshenie-iegov.pdf

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] A seven-month report of the Yiman Fund for 2016 – http://ru.iyman.kg/main/520-otchet-fonda-yyman-za-7-mesyacev-2016-goda.html

[5]On the creation of state-confessional Council under State Commission on Religious Affairs – http://www.religion.gov.kg/ru/sovet160616.html

[6] Press release on the discussion of the draft resolution of the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic “On approval of the Concept of reforming Religious Studies and Religious Education of the Kyrgyz Republic – http://religion.gov.kg/ru/obsugdenie170516.html

[7] http://www.religion.gov.kg/ru/lekcii26_270215.html

[8] Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Kyrgyz Republic (APAPKR) conducts courses for neighborhood police inspectors of Bishkek to prevent religious extremism – http://agupkr.blogspot.com/2015/05/blog-post_46.html

[9] The future of religious education in Kyrgyzstan – http://knews.kg/235656/budushhee-religioznogo-obrazovaniya-v-kyrgyzstane/

[10] In Kyrgyzstan, 60% of religious figures are incompetent – http://knews.kg/228947/v-kyrgyzstane-60-religioznyh-deyatelej-nekompetentny-ekspert/

[11]The future of religious education in Kyrgyzstan – http://knews.kg/235656/budushhee-religioznogo-obrazovaniya-v-kyrgyzstane/

[12] Press release on the presentation of the Theological College under the Kyrgyz State University named after I. Arabaev – http://www.religion.gov.kg/ru/koledg010716.html

[13] The future of religious education in Kyrgyzstan – http://knews.kg/235656/budushhee-religioznogo-obrazovaniya-v-kyrgyzstane/

[14] The Law of the Kyrgyz Republic “On Education” – http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/1216?cl=ru-ru

[15] The future of religious education in Kyrgyzstan – http://knews.kg/235656/budushhee-religioznogo-obrazovaniya-v-kyrgyzstane/

[16]Philosophy: Encyclopedic Dictionary—М.: Gardariki. Edited by А.А. Ivina. 2004. – http://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enc_philosophy/1212/ТЕОЛОГИЯ

[17] Vice Prime Minister gave a hearing to the Report of the State Commission on Religious Affairs about the Action Plan Implementation for 2015-2020 – http://eurasnews.ru/kirgiziya/%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%86%D0%B5-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%BC%D1%8C%D0%B5%D1%80-%D0%B7%D0%B0%D1%81%D0%BB%D1%83%D1%88%D0%B0%D0%BB-%D0%BE%D1%82%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%82-%D0%B3%D0%BE%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BC%D0%B8%D1%81/

[18] Amendments are made in various legal acts of the Kyrgyz Republic in countering terrorism and extremism – http://www.president.kg/ru/news/zakony/8230_vnesenyi_izmeneniya_v_nekotoryie_zakonodatelnyie_aktyi_kyirgyizskoy_respubliki_v_sfere_protivodeystviya_terrorizmu_i_ekstremizmu/

[19] http://www.president.kg/files/docs/Laws/v_sfere_protiv-ya_terr-u_i_eks-u_2_08_16.PDF

[20] Eshenalieva A. Liability for public “approval” or “justification” of extremist and terroristic activity in Mass Media and the Internet – http://www.media.kg/news/prezident-podpisal-zakon-predusmatrivayushhij-otvetstvennost-za-publichnoe-odobrenie-ekstremistskoj-i-terroristicheskoj-deyatelnosti-v-smi-i-seti-internet/

Author: Indira Aslanova, an expert on religious studies (Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek)

The position of the author does not necessarily reflect the position of the CABAR.asia editorial board.

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