“In fact, like migration, the civil sector in Kyrgyzstan has become one of the strongest industries of the national economy – the industry of production of “social products,” which are often much more relevant to the society and citizens than to the government,”, said Alexey Krasin, Director of Strategic Projects of the NGO “Local Self-overnment Development Agency- LGDA,” in an article written exclusively for CABAR.
What is an “NGO”?
It would seem a strange question. People have heard this term during more than twenty years. However, a well-established concept of “non-governmental organization” (NGO) does not exist in the legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic.
It is important to divide NGOs into international NGOs and local NPOs [non-profit organizations]. Activities of international NGOs are governed by international law, while the activities of local NPOs are regulated by the applicable legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic.
In Kyrgyzstan today, there is a law “On Nonprofit Organizations,” 1999, which defined the concept of a “non-profit organization.” According to it, a non-profit organization (NPO) is a “voluntary self-governed organization established by individuals and (or) legal entities on the basis of common interests for implementing spiritual and other non-material needs in the interests of its members and (or) the whole of society, for whom profit is not the main purpose of its activities, and any resulting profits are not distributed among members, founders and officials.”
Thus, non-profit organizations in Kyrgyzstan can be created and recorded in a variety of legal forms. In this case, the above Law applies only to NPOs established in the form of public associations, foundations and institutions.
The Law does not apply to political parties, trade unions, religious organizations and cooperatives, nor homeowners’ associations. The status, procedure for creation and principles of their activities are regulated by other laws of the Kyrgyz Republic. However, they also fall under the definition of a non-profit organization and are organizations of “civil society.”
The Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic makes registration of NPOs on the basis of the Law “On State Registration of Legal Entities.”
In fact, the concept of NGOs may be applied to a big part of organizations that the media, expert discussions and speeches of politicians and public figures refer to NGOs.
It is obvious that we are dealing with different concepts of the national legal framework and social practice, which creates some confusion in the matter. Thus, international organizations and donors, when talking about the concept of NGOs, speak about non-profit and non-governmental organization which, in fact, corresponds to the linguistic content of the term “NGO.”
If taken literally, an NGO is an organization that is not included in the structure of the government, i.e., in accordance with the domestic legal thesaurus, almost all organizations “not associated with the government,” including business structures and local self-government bodies that are constitutionally separated from the “government,” including formal and informal public self-organizations of jamaat, neighborhood committees, women’s councils, neighborhood councils, courts of elders, youth committees and other forms of realization of citizens’ right to local self-government.
By the way, formally, such structures, such as City Hall and Bishkek City Council also fall under the term of “NGO.” The Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic, conceptually separated from the Government by the Constitution, can also fall under this term. This is, in general, a legal casuistry, which, nevertheless, has a direct relationship with the issue we are facing. We can state that the term is inaccurate, as it is widely used in a very different context which is determined by its linguistic structure.
Apparently, this terminological difference occurred at the beginning of the formation of civil society as a result of literal translation enshrined in international practice of using the term of NGO (non-governmental organization) – “non-governmental organization,” a form of organization of citizens. However, this term has not been well established in Kyrgyz law.
Because of this casus, an outside observer often does not understand, which organizations people are speaking about in public discussions. Therefore, in this article, we will use the term NGO familiar to us, in the context of a non-governmental, non-profit organization – NGPO. Why we need such a clarification will be shown below.
So, what is the situation with NGPO in Kyrgyzstan? As of September 2013, there were nearly 19,000 non-profit organizations in the Unified State Register of Legal Entities in Kyrgyzstan, including:
• Public associations – 5501;
• Public funds – 4563;
• Institutions – 7490;
• Religious organizations – 353;
• Political parties – 205;
• Housing cooperatives – 593.
According to the NISS of the Kyrgyz Republic, as of 2014, there have been about 20 thousand NPOs registered. Among them, about 800 organizations are actively operating. Undoubtedly, the most active NGOs are registered in Bishkek and Osh.
However, this registry does not show how many those organizations are in the country, whose activities have led to a broad public discussion (both in Russia and Kyrgyzstan) about their classification as “foreign agents,” in order to protect national sovereignty and security. It is also very hard to select active NGPOs in the Registry; I mean those organizations that in reality form our “civil society.”
By the way, the term “civil society” and “civil sector” are not formalized in the legal field, and their use is rather vague and gives space to different interpretations and manipulations.
The government’s concern about the lack of a clear and complete picture of all that is connected with the NGPOs and their activities is quite understandable. The lack of understanding of the processes that take place in the space of “civil society,” which, it should be noted, is also imperfect, often declarative and decorative. Most importantly, there is no coherent and socially constructive policy of engagement between the “government” and the “non-government,” between the government and the society. But I’ll tell you more about that later.
So, the gaps in legislation and register have led to a complete disorientation of the government in relation to NGPOs. This happens because the registering and reporting system in the country does not meet the challenges and tasks posed by the rapid development of society, its resources and the transformation of government, social relations and forms of interaction with the citizens of the authorities, continuing for a quarter-century.
For example, at the level of registration of legal entities, the Law of the Kyrgyz Republic “On state registration of legal entities” does not provide for submitting the information to the Unified State Register of legal entities about the activities, with the exception of economic ones, and the information on funding sources is not submitted either. Statistics on NGPOs and their activities are again formed in studies made by the NGPOs themselves, including the studies commissioned and funded by international organizations and donors.
Unfortunately, in accordance with the best traditions of authoritarian governance, public interest in NGPOs is alerted only at the stages of either receiving some dividends (material, political or administrative), or on the background of panic in matters of “state security.”
A little about the history of NGOs formation of in Kyrgyzstan
How did it develop that today, the country which once had chosen the path of “democratic reforms” and abandoned the “authoritarian methods of governance,” survived after two not peaceful collapses of the government, having had the most politicized population in the post-Soviet space (Ukraine, for several reasons, does not count!), had tried to build a parliamentary system of governance, suddenly is facing “the issue of NGOs’” in the context of national security?
To answer this, you need to remember the history of the issue.
The entire period of the modern statehood of Kyrgyzstan happened (and is still happening!) under the sign of redistribution of powers and responsibilities. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the “fathers of the Kyrgyz statehood” had to answer a question earlier of how to deal with the most important tasks of the ideological, social, cultural, educational and other upbringing of the citizens of the new country. They had to answer the questions of: How to use enormous civic activity, which originated in the wake of perestroika? How to feed and employ hundreds of thousands, millions of citizens during the era of widespread disorder and economic stagnation?
Some people believe that in addition to the democratization of society, one of the main reasons for the establishment of NGOs was the failure of the national economy to feed all its citizens. Then the problem was solved at the expense of international organizations and foreign donors – they created jobs, solved social and economic issues. Private daycares, schools, health centers, a lot of non-governmental organizations emerged in huge quantities to fill these gaps in governance.
Today, it is obvious that the government, having chosen the way of “democratization” and “capitalist restructuring of the economy,” could not take responsibility “for all,” as it had no skills, no desire and no powerful resource provision like during the Soviet Union. In the euphoria of independence and sovereignty, the then leaders freed themselves from the most of the responsibility, reassigning it to the then emerging civil sector and private business.
What has Kyrgyzstan received, as a result? So far, there is no good solid state ideological platform for key unresolved issues of the multinational state and conflict-free coexistence of national cultures and languages. International donors and non-governmental organizations funded by them have succeeded most of all in working with the future of the nation and with the education of new generations of citizens.
The first wave of mass creation of NPOs was around the time of an active civil society and democratization during the rule of President Askar Akayev in the 1990s. At that time, more than 10 thousand NGOs had been created. The second wave of increasing the number of non-profit organizations took place after the events of 2010. Back in late 2013, 12,720 non-profit organizations were registered the country, including the four most common forms: associations (5720), public funds (4745), institutions (1445) and associations (810). In 2014 compared with 2010, the total number of NPOs has doubled.
The civil sector has created a global market for employment of our citizens that has brought to the country enormous resources in comparison with local standards. It helped us gain such an experience and ability to form social interaction, which our nearest neighbors could not gain. In fact, like the migration, the civil sector has become one of the strongest industries of the national economy – the industry of production of “social products” that are often much more relevant to the society and citizens than to the government.
The whole country remembers well the textbooks for schools and universities published by various international and foreign organizations, desks, computers and other school equipment procured for their money, numerous local and international projects to develop infrastructure, water supply and local labor markets.
We can make a very long list of all the undoubted benefits that such situation has brought to the country and for the people. But let us remember one thing: it would have been extremely difficult without the civil sector during the quarter century, after the “fall of the empire.” To date, the civil sector of Kyrgyzstan is perhaps the most advanced, extensive and promising among the ones in the post-Soviet states.
Extensive in the sense of the quantitative participation of citizens in relation to GDP and the number of population. Promising because the project dynamics of the civil sector is much higher than that one of the public sector. Perhaps, only the business sector in this matter can be its rival, both in the number of participants, in the “production volume” and in the contribution to the economy.
And here, the statistics is that the contribution of civil society in the country’s economy is uncertain and very difficult to assess. Until recently, the contribution to the development of the country, including the economy, from non-governmental organizations did not stand out, and, therefore, it was not possible to evaluate the real role of non-profit, public and voluntary organizations in the development of the country and to carry out a comparison of the contribution of NGPOs in Kyrgyzstan and other countries.
Thanks to the introduction by the NSC KR of the satellite accounts system for NGPOs, within the framework of the project in 2011 on the application of “The UN Manual of Nonprofit Organizations in the System of National Accounts” in Kyrgyzstan, it was possible for the first time to say that the contribution of the NGPO sector in GDP was comparable to the contribution of the construction industry; with the contribution of companies engaged in brokering activities, exchanges, etc. That is, NGPOs now have irrefutable evidence that the sector is developing quite actively and often even more dynamically than other sectors.
The estimated stability of the NGPO-sector of Kyrgyzstan for 2013, held annually by USAID, has shown that “in general, the overall stability of the civil society organizations (CSOs) remained unchanged in 2013. As in previous years, the key issues of non-governmental organizations are financial vulnerability, declining access to capacity-building programs, as well as weak organizational development. Local non-profit organizations are still dependent on financial assistance and support for capacity-building from international donors, while the capacity of local organizations to generate financial resources and provide quality training remains weak.”
25-years of coexistence with the Government and Society in the paradigm of “a sovereign independent state” has given rise to a culture and formats of relations between them, economic and political ways of interaction, division of activities and even formed a new, specialized language of communication” – “grants” and “grant competitions,” “beneficiaries,” “volunteers,” and “logical matrix”.
Today, more or less quality strategic documents of the country are written only with the help of experts from civil society and again with the support of international donors. None of the strategic documents at the level of Concepts, Strategies, Programs, Doctrines and the like, is created without the participation of the civil sector. Moreover, today, the requirements of interactions between the government and community resources are directly spelled out in domestic legislation – public discussions and public hearings, public control, inclusion of NGPOs in the Supervisory Boards under the Ministries and departments of the Kyrgyz Republic, and other forms.
The country’s leadership also pays attention and evaluates NGPOs’ activities. For instance, in May of this year, during one of the meetings of the coordination of law enforcement agencies, government agencies and local authorities on anti-corruption activities in Kyrgyzstan, NGPOs were highly appreciated by the Prime Minister, Joomart Otorbaev. He noted that the support of non-governmental organizations and representatives of civil society allow authorities to effectively formulate and implement ambitious national programs to combat corruption and deliver quality public services. “We are at a very interesting stage of development of our society. If we look at and analyze the spectrum of activities of NGOs and civil society in our country, we note the presence of respected members of society at almost all discussions of topical issues and activities of the government. This is a very important event for our country. We see that it is public support that allows us to effectively formulate and implement ambitious programs,” said the head of the government.
Today’s reality is that the quality of governance and the prospects for the development of society are directly dependent on the nature of the involvement of civil society in public administration, the desire to build an open and transparent governance, the desire to work and make decisions in the format of public policy, policy harmonization of interests of different groups.
A bit of comparison – what do our neighbors have in this respect?
For example, the average number of NGOs and NPOs in Russia in 2005 was 555,730, in 2012 – more than 770 thousand non-governmental organizations; different in structure and occupation. About a million employees and about two and a half million volunteers are engaged in this sector in Russia.
Russian non-governmental sector successfully flourished and could continue to thrive, but the Law of the Russian Federation, passed in July 2012, obliged any NGO receiving funding from abroad and engaging in “political” activities to register as a “foreign agent” and denote this in all published materials. According to representatives of international organizations, these rules do not comply with Russia’s international obligations in the field of the guarantees of freedom of association and expression, and the definition of “political activities” is worded so broadly that any organized social activities can be called political.
However, in April 2014, the Constitutional Court of Russia, in connection with appeals of a number of non-governmental organizations, recognized that the “law on foreign agents” in general is not unconstitutional. The Court pointed out the lack of constitutional and legal basis for attempts to “discover negative contexts in the term “foreign agent,” relying on stereotypes of the Soviet era.” Accordingly, “the contested rules do not suggest any negative assessment of an organization on the part of the government, and these rules are not intended to discredit its activities.” The Court had also found that the legislative labeling of NGOs – “foreign agents” – is “consistent with the constitutional provision of significant public interests and the protection of state sovereignty.”
It should be noted that this government position is justified, given the whole texture of the “orange,” “tulip,” and other “banana revolutions” of the last decade. It would be strange to assume that the governments would not protect themselves from such technologies. It is also important to note that the character of responding demonstrates its inability to manage risks and threats, as well as their very belated response to them. Given the international experience of 2014, it can be argued that any technologies in the work with the “civil sector” can be played out by either “side of the fence” and be successfully used against their authors.
In Uzbekistan, despite a small number of non-profit non-governmental organizations (NPGOs) compared to the Kyrgyzstan, there is a tendency for their numbers to grow. All this, oddly enough, happened thanks to the reform conducted in this area, which has simplified the registration procedure. Compared to last year, the number of registered NPGOs in Uzbekistan has increased by 1100 organizations and amounted to 8100, i.e. increased by 16 percent in the previous year compared to more than 20 percent over the past four years.
In Uzbekistan, there are more than 220 NGOs operating in the health sector, more than 150 – in education, more than 280 – in the field of women support, more than 640 – youth support, more than 550 – persons with disabilities support, more than 1,800 – entrepreneurship support, 1000 – the development of sports, 570 – democratic institutions, thereby making a worthy contribution to the development of relevant spheres.
In December last year, in Uzbekistan, they adopted a resolution “On measures to assist civil society institutions” – a decision of the Parliament of Uzbekistan about a serious increase in public funding of NPGOs through grants, tenders and direct infusions.
In 2014, NGOs in Uzbekistan received nearly 17 percent more money than in the previous year. Total funding amounted to nearly US $ 1.5 million ($ 3.4 billion Uzbek Soums). More than half of the funds were distributed through government grants. In 2013, 300 projects were funded, and the main directions of grants were the environmental protection support, development of civil society, education and entrepreneurship. According to their plans, governmental funding will affect about 2,500 different NPGOs this year.
If we approach the assessment of the reasons for the rapid development of civil society in Uzbekistan from pragmatic and economic positions, we can suggest that this situation is due, on the one hand, to the reorientation of international donors from Kyrgyzstan to its “neighbor,” and on the other hand, to our political lag in solving the cooperation issues between the authorities and civil society, as well as doing too much in following the “Russian model” of “foreign agents.”
As for Kazakhstan, today there are more than 27 thousand NGOs in Kazakhstan. The most active are human rights, environmental, youth, children, women and charitable organizations, as well as associations of disabled persons. And if 10 years ago, as experts in Kazakhstan noted, “the government was not simply indifferent to the issues of building a civil society, but pursued an aggressive policy aimed at the legal limit and economic repression, discredit and destabilization of the third sector“, today the authorities do not consider NGOs as a potential threat and have taken a number of measures to provide financial support for NGOs within the budget.
In Kazakhstan, they created an alliance of NGOs, as the Government developed and adopted development programs for the third sector. NGOs in Kazakhstan are actively involved in the preparation of the public contract, as the laws are getting more favorable for the activities of civil society, etc. NGOs in Kazakhstan will be able to receive grant funds from the state budget, in addition to funding from international organizations and foreign states. A new draft law also provides for a mechanism of developing NGOs – “Premium for NGOs,” according to which public funds will be allocated to NGOs free of charge for further institutional support. According to the authors of the bill, such premia are designed to help both the development of NGOs and the realization of projects at the initial stages, when it is hard financially. This will undoubtedly lead to a subsequent increase in the number of NGOs in the country.
Despite the fact that the NGO sector in Kyrgyzstan is considered the most advanced in comparison with the neighboring republics, only 40 percent of the population is aware of their activities. More than 60 percent of the population has no idea about non-profit organizations, and what they do in the country.
Only 19 per cent of NGOs in Kyrgyzstan operate throughout the country. According to the Association of Civil Society Support Centers (ACSSC), every other NGO in the country carries out its activities at the local/regional level (46 percent), 35 percent of NGOs have regional coverage, 19 percent are operating throughout the country (National coverage).
Almost half of all active NGOs are engaged in human rights activities (41.6%). Other areas with the most popular activities of NGOs in the republic are health (24.9%), civic education (21.9%), gender (17.1%) and the environment (14.5). One in ten public organizations has been supporting NGOs (10.8%).
According to research by ACSSC, most NGOs (62 percent) have no more than 5 people in personnel, on average, and on average the permanent staff is 2-3 people, due to the lack of appropriateness of spending money on maintaining a permanent paid staff. As a rule, people are recruited as needed for specific projects. In general, independent experts and consultants are involved in the implementation of projects on a contract basis.
At the same time, 6 percent of the organizations working in this sector have the staff of 20 people. In general, active NGOs in the republic employ 3,600 people, accounting for 0.1-0.2 percent of the total economically active population.
According to the Johns Hopkins Institute, 82% of sources of NPOs financing in Kyrgyzstan consist of donations and grants by individuals, 65% of whom are foreign. In total, the share of funding of NGOs of Kyrgyzstan has government contribution of only 2%, and the economic activity brings only 8% in the budget of non-profit organizations. In international practice, 53.4% of the money comes from economic activity, 34.1% are government grants, and 12.5% are donations and grants from individuals and legal entities.
The volume of the attracted funding is directly dependent on the activity of one or another kind of NGPOs and are an indication of their success. They can greatly exceed the funding of a single public body.
According to a study made by ACSSC, more than half of all NPOs have an annual turnover of no more than 5,000 US dollars (52 percent). 18 percent of NPOs have the annual funding from 5 to 20 thousand dollars; and 10 percent – from 20 to 50 thousand dollars. Every tenth NGPO annually receives more than 50 000 US dollars.
NGPOs in Kyrgyzstan receive funds from outside, because inside the country, there is not “enough” means for it; the system of financing non-profit organizations is not developed, and the system of public contract, grant funding, bonuses and promotion of NGPOs from the state budget, for example, like in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are not developed either. The government has no “habit” to spend money for the “civil sector,” which is mentally alien for it and located outside the “direct government administration.” At the same time, NGPOs contribute to the development of civil society, invest in the social sector and indirectly – in the economy by creating jobs.
Normal interaction of the government and the society is a prerequisite for political stability and prosperity of the state, since, as we have seen, there are issues that the government cannot solve without the support and in isolation from the society, and the society cannot solve them without the support of the government. Only their joint efforts, support and cooperation are successful.
It is important to note that this article intentionally did not touch upon the “ideological integrity and morality” of some NGPOs working against the integrity and security of the state, social development, stability and prosperity, which to some extent was the cause for tightening the state (policy) in respect of civil society and initiation of appropriate laws.
However, not lost is the fact that we urgently need to improve the legal and regulatory framework which govers the activities of non-governmental sector, and develop joint programs of development of civil society in addressing matters of public interests. Governments need to pay attention to the effective application of resources of the non-governmental sector in addressing social, cultural, housing, legal issues and other areas of life, creating effective models and mechanisms for cooperation, coordination of purposes, the establishment of thematic platforms for cooperation, coordination of actions and a clear outline of the areas of activity and cooperation for NPOs.
Of course, the problems of conflict-free coexistence or constructive interaction between the government and civil society cannot be fully addressed in one article; the format of which is too small for this type of work.
Extensive research is necessary, within which many factors should be examined and evaluated; the factors that determine the possibilities and prospects for continued existence and activity of NGPOs in Kyrgyzstan in particular and “civil society” as a whole. This research should also suggest for the government and society the options for constructive and conflict free interaction for the benefit of Kyrgyzstan.
However, in view of the above circumstances, we can already make a number of important conclusions:
1. In Kyrgyzstan, a formal conceptual apparatus of the activities described in this article, established by normative legal acts, is significantly different from the conceptual apparatus adopted in the social and political practice. This leads to inaccuracies in the determination of issues, their incorrect formulation and false conclusions in discussions. Accordingly, the proposed solutions to problems are also inaccurate in goal-setting as they are too broad in impact and bring no less harm than good; thus “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”
2. In fact, when discussing the bias problems of “civil society” subjects and the interests of external players, and, due to the need to protect the interests of Kyrgyzstan, the problem of attributing NGOs to the category of “foreign agents,” we can speak only of a small cluster of NGPOs who are active and even aggressive in the political space. They put their goals and suggests their ways to achieve them; which go far beyond the laws in respect of non-profit organizations.
3. The problem of bias in this case, of course, exists. It would be strange if the official authorities would suggest other consequences of almost complete indifference of the government in the issues of development of “civil society” in Kyrgyzstan.
4. An important contribution to this issue was made by international donors themselves, whose foundations and affiliations in Kyrgyzstan are largely a reflection of all the problems of our state bodies.
5. The ideas of our politicians about total “corruption” of our “civil society activists” are even stranger. This term (“civil activist”) implies not only the meaning of an active, energetic and initiative citizen, but also his/her pronounced civic attitude; a kind of patriotism and active setting to address problems of his native village, city and country. In this sense, “civil society activists” of whom “civil society” consists is a very thankful material for the use in the production and implementation of development projects, a potential resource of favorable changes in the country.
6. Despite a fairly long period of coexistence of the government and “civil society,” none of them have learned how to properly use each other. The have not become equal partners in jointly addressing the problems of the state. The former prefers to ban the unbannable, tries to control the uncontrollable, and thereby misses the chance to synergize various efforts to develop the country. Willingly or unwillingly, they narrow the resource base of development. The latter, being accustomed to living in a “grant space,” do not want to see a long-term partner in the subject; not wanting to spend budget for the needs of CSOs.
7. The prospects for global cooperation (in Kyrgyzstan) are hampered, on the one hand, by the inability of the authorities to deal with unusual resources and the consequent fear that “things can get out of control,” and, on the other hand, by the physiological habit of NGPOs to focus on those “who feed.”
Nevertheless, given the specificity of modern Kyrgyzstan and the originality of the domestic socio-political space, it is still possible to talk about the prospects of extensive and constructive interaction between the official authorities and “civil society.”
The success in this matter depends on all participants in the process.
Alexey Krasin, Director of Strategic Projects of the NGO “Local Self-government Development Agency-LGDA” and Rano Razamatova, an independent expert