Sheradil Baktygulov: New and old elites of Kyrgyzstan
“The time lag of 60 years is increasingly used to determine the change of generations in Kyrgyzstan. From this point of view, there has not been any change of elites in the country since the acquisition of sovereignty, and it will not happen until 2031 – the year of the 40th anniversary of sovereign Kyrgyzstan.
In post-Soviet countries, including Kyrgyzstan, the serious improvement in the quality of elites has not been observed. Fluent speaking in several languages, computer use, driving cars and other things from this associative array cannot be called the qualitative characteristics of the elite. They are more the evidence of proximity to the elite – political, economic, etc., thanks to which the person uses various tangible and intangible benefits”, said Sheradil Baktygulov, researcher of problems in Central Asia (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan), in an article written exclusively for CABAR.
On the eve of the upcoming parliamentary election, the popular and very trite topic of the personnel “refreshment” has been often raised, including the rejuvenation of the political body of Kyrgyzstan. It can be seen from campaign materials that a number of political parties are trying to diminish the old composition of their ranks bringing young people who had already showed themselves prominent in some fields instead of “old” people who had long been known in politics. The parties even let young party members work with the voters.
It must be acknowledged that over the years, the political elite of the country is aging, and the influential people are gradually leaving the political scene, and somehow the new elites will gradually replace the old ones. But there is one key question: is there a “new” generation of politicians ready to replace the “old”? If so, what is the process of changing the elite groups in power? What is the qualitative component of the “new” elite? However, before discussing the elites, we need to understand who or what we are actually talking about. Today, everyone gives his own interpretation of the term “elite” and what it should be, depending on their experience, knowledge and understanding.
However, the different theories that have circulated in the country agree that the elite is a minority that controls/manages the majority. Such an understanding is not different from the interpretations by Western theories, such as the Schumpeter theory of democracy, or, for example, Marxism (class struggle), pluralism (balanced sources of power) and others, which describe the essence of the various types of power and social structures.
Based on this understanding, we can say that the elite in Kyrgyzstan has been and will be a group of people who in different ways came to power. Its qualitative component and effectiveness raise many questions, however.
In this article, the “elites” are understood in the interpretation by Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) and Gaetano Mosca (1858-1941), who first put forward the theory of the power elites and determined the status of elitism as the implementation of state control by the people whose personal and /or group resources are disproportionate to those ones that are needed to control the state. It should be added – disproportionately small.
Let’s start with the age indicator. It is believed that the new elite comprises for sure young people. In some cases, it is so, but the review of various studies, articles and reports show a different picture. In the summer of 2015, the Institute of Youth Development (Bishkek), with the support from Friedrich Ebert Foundation, conducted a study showing that the average age of the members of parliament of our country has remained unchanged since 1990. (see Diagram 1 “The average age of deputies in the Parliament of the KR”).
Diagram 1. The average age of deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh (1990-2010)
Explanation: the top row of numbers is the upper age limit of parliament deputies in the beginning year of the work in the Jogorku Kenesh, the middle row is the average age of deputies of the convocation, the lower row shows the youngest members of the convocation
In a quantitative sense, people aged 40 to 50 years were and continue to be the majority of members of parliament and of ministers or heads of state bodies, regions or areas. As you can see, the change of groups who have grown up under the new conditions is somehow taking place, but does the stability of middle-age of a parliament deputy or other representative of the position of “control” (a Minister, head of the region, of the district, etc.) mean the effectiveness of their work?
The change of elites is already in progress in Kyrgyzstan, if we take a time lag of 20 years as the basis for determining the generation. This kind of determining is common in the West, i.e the generation of “boomers,” people born after the Second World War (1947-1969), generation “X” (1970-1989), generation «Y» (1990 – to the present).
However, generations in the West have more distinctive features between them than the generations born in the post-Soviet countries. The differences are explained by different dynamics of social relations. Therefore, in Kyrgyzstan, the time lag of 60 years is increasingly used to determine the change of generations. From this point of view, there has not been any change of elites in the country since the acquisition of sovereignty, and it will not happen until 2031 – the year of the 40th anniversary of sovereign Kyrgyzstan.
QUALITY OF ELITES
In post-Soviet countries, including Kyrgyzstan, the serious improvement in the quality of elites has not been observed. Fluent speaking in several languages, computer use, driving cars and other things from this associative array cannot be called the qualitative characteristics of the elite. They are more the evidence of proximity to the elite – political, economic, etc., thanks to which the person uses various tangible and intangible benefits. This circumstance explains the desire of young people to enter various family, clan or tribal groups controlling those or other resources (finances, seats, positions, etc.).
The quality of the elites is determined by the efficiency of resource management in the country. The example of Kyrgyzstan shows that the system that exists in the new conditions (market economy, semi-parliamentary government, etc.) continues to use the old principles and mechanisms of work (temporary coalitions, agreements, etc.) that do not produce any exit from the situation when one or two interest groups in power control everything in the country.
As a result, people of different ages, life experiences and prosperity revive such phenomena as regionalism, regionalism and tribalism, which were half-forgotten in Soviet times. This leads to blurring of responsibility for the decisions taken. Political parties of leaderist (Soviet) type start to use political and economic resources as their own. The aim of the competition of elites in such circumstances is the redistribution of resources among themselves. Therefore, the quality of the elites is very doubtful.
Another criterion of elites is a willingness to use armed violence or coercion. The post-Soviet elites of Central Asian countries are ready for that. Here is a partial list of the major events: 2005 – the Andijan events, 2010 – Osh events, 2011 – Jana Ozen, 2012 – Khorog, 2015 – Dushanbe, etc. Also, the elites must be able to manipulate the subordinate masses. The main challenge lies in the fact that the masses should believe that the rule of the elites serves the interests of the masses. But, as history shows, the ruling elite can maintain its required quality for only a limited period of time, gradually losing these qualities.
ASSIGNMENT IN POWER
The ruling elites have two options of strategy. Either the ruling elite invites into their ranks the most talented people from other sectors of society (social elevator), or they will not allow that.
If the social elevator is working, the composition of such elites is gradually upgraded, but they retain the political power. If the ruling elite is closed and does not allow representatives of other social classes to become its members, the degradation of the elite is inevitable. At the same time, in other sectors of society, the number of people who have the qualities necessary to manage the state and society will increase.
In modern science, there are gaining popularity the theories saying that the essence of every revolution is the rapid violent change of the composition of a ruling elite (highlighted by the author. – Ed.), but the place of the old elite is immediately taken by the new one. This thesis is relevant for understanding the origins and consequences of the events in Kyrgyzstan that led to the fact that two of its Presidents hastily left the country in 2005 and 2010.
Attempts to update the ruling elites have been made many times. In 2004, Mr. Akayev has made an attempt to bring into the power his children and relatives, which was the reason for the expression of mass discontent of the population, accumulated since 2000 – the year of the beginning of the redistribution of property in favor of the Akaev clan. In the wake of the revolutionary expectations, gender, ethnicity and age quotas were added to the electoral law in 2007 – at least 15% of those included in the party lists were supposed to be not be older than 35 years.
However, these quotas had not brought the desired effect. New managers were quickly built into corruption schemes (fuel and jet fuel supply, energy, investment projects, etc.).
The danger of the current situation in Kyrgyzstan lies in the fact that the elites “hold” the country in the worst stage of development – the stage of transition of the masses from the state of peasants to the state of the petty bourgeoisie. It is worth noting that neighbors of Kyrgyzstan have not yet come to this stage of development. This stage is terrible, because fascism in European societies was born at this stage.
The petty bourgeois is not educated enough to understand the ideas of humanism and the value of human life, he is still cruel but already learned the concept of catch-up development – “Everybody hurt us, now we will avenge”. The category of “all” comprises neighbors, city residents, foreign citizens or the government. This list could be expanded, but in this case, we are interested in the fact that this will inevitably be transformed into a mixture of nationalism. Will this nationalism be healthy or destructive? So far, the trend is in favor of the latter.
Responsible elites at this stage of development must make every effort to open the country to the world, raising the level of education of citizens and maximizing their integration into the global culture, not the one that represents the glamorous world, but the one that includes Stravinsky, Goethe and Irving. However, the elites have another option – it is possible to try to manage the wave of popular hatred, i.e. protest mood. Relationships of competing elites, both between each other and with the population, have shown that, having the masses of the population prone to destructive actions, the elites feed the revanchist tendencies instead of curbing them.
It is possible that interest groups in power or the groups aspiring to power sacrificed the future of Kyrgyzstan for the sake of some impulse comprehensible only to them. This behavior is excusable for ordinary people, but not for the elites of the state, whose main tool is intelligence and planning, rather than emotions.
The elites must know the strengths and weaknesses of their own people and understand their interests well enough to ensure a responsible and long-term policy. The opposite behavior is called populism, and the modern elites of Kyrgyzstan are engaged in populism. To paraphrase a famous phrase, one can state with regret that the elite in Kyrgyzstan seems to be there, but, at the same time, it is no longer there.
Sheradil Baktygulov, researcher of problems in Central Asia
The author’s opinion does not reflect the editorial position of CABAR.asia