How did the foreign and Russian mass media cover the events in Kyrgyzstan in January 2021 and what assessment were they given?
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Against the background of the current first foreign visit of the President of Kyrgyzstan to Russia, it seems relevant to consider how the Russian and foreign media covered the latest events in the country that attracted the attention of the world press. When shaping the agenda, the media significantly influence public opinion, and also act as a bridge in building interstate relations. There is no doubt that the mass media make a significant contribution to the creation and strengthening of the portrait and image of any state. Kyrgyzstan, which relies on the brand of an “island of democracy” in Central Asia, somehow needs to pay attention to the reflection of internal political processes by the international mass media.
How did the foreign and Russian mass media cover the events and how did they evaluate them? The CABAR.asia editors are trying to answer these and other questions using content analysis of publications in January 2021.
The purpose of the study is to conduct a comparative content analysis of foreign and Russian publications in January 2021 about events in Kyrgyzstan, as well as to identify specific assessments in post-election Kyrgyzstan. Among other things, content analysis of publications related to Kyrgyzstan can reveal images, trends, and the most important issues that external publications focus on. In general, the language of publications about the latest events in the country was distinguished by a rich and at the same time mixed vocabulary, starting from assessments in the form of such terms as “revolution”, “protests”, “riots”, “crisis”, “clashes”, to the entitlement of the words – “coup” and even “leapfrog”.
In order to carry out content analysis, we collected and analyzed 82 publications of Russian-language media and 50 publications of foreign media in English. The chronological framework for the publication of the texts: from the beginning of the new 2021 year until January 23 – the day of the announcement of the inauguration of the new president of Kyrgyzstan – Sadyr Japarov. By Russian media, we mean Russian-language Internet media aimed at an audience from the Russian Federation, by foreign media we mean – English-language resources from different countries (USA, Germany, France, Australia, Turkey, Japan), aimed at both internal and external readers. The larger number of Russian-language publications in the selection is explained by their smaller volume in comparison with foreign articles.
We took only the largest Russian media, the main content of which consists of news and reports. Among them are both completely state-owned media and media that depend on the Russian authorities through their trustees. In the selection of media, there is also a third type of ownership – private: for example, “Dozhd”, which operates on the basis of a paid user subscription.
Foreign media, just like Russian ones, were characterized by the type of ownership, but we also added and considered the country aspect – where the head office of a particular media works. It should be noted that, in comparison with Russian media, foreign media have abundant genre diversity: the selection contains many analytical articles and reviews. The publications of the Russian media consist mainly of news genres: mainly, notes. This factor is due to the nature of the media: the Russian selection consists of news resources, while the foreign selection contains a number of analytical ones (for example, The Diplomat). Based on this, we can conclude that in the global media field, the elections in Kyrgyzstan were mainly interested in specialized media (like Eurasianet), while in Russia most of the major news resources wrote about them. Nevertheless, an attempt at analytics was also made by the latter (for example, the publications of Kommersant or Izvestia). The content analysis of publications was carried out in the Python programming language: The Natural Language Toolkit (nltk) library was used for English-language publications and the Natasha library – for Russian-language publications.
Comparative analysis of content processing
After conducting a content analysis and identifying the most common words (nouns, adverbs, and adjectives), such subtopics were formed in publications as: characteristics and reflection of events in Kyrgyzstan, the image and attributes of the newly elected president of the country, the most important problems in the country, as well as the mention and designation of the country’s most important partners.
When describing the events in Kyrgyzstan, it is noteworthy that in all publications considerable attention is paid to the protests. At the same time, the word “revolution” in Russian publications occurs 36 times, and the word “coup” only 11 times, which can be associated with the special attention in Russia to the problems of “color revolutions”. In general, the description of events contains a wider representation of the words: “riots”, “rallies”, “discontent”, “dictatorship”, as well as the publicized phrase said by Putin in the form of the word “leapfrog”.
If we talk about the English-language press, then here a special emphasis is placed on the word “change”, and therefore on the description of the consequences of the protests. Speaking about the narrative part, the more neutral word “unrest” is used more often.
When analyzing the image of the newly elected president in all publications, there is a frequent use of neutral designations in the form of the word “candidate”, “politician”. However, foreign publications clearly reveal a trend towards such characteristics regarding Japarov as “nationalist” and “populist”, which indicates some concern about the president’s ideological orientation and his populist promises. It was also revealed that in foreign publications, associative assessments of Japarov were quite often carried out with the mention of his phenomenon as “Kyrgyz Trump”. At the same time, in the Russian mass media, Japarov is more often called as a “politician” in a neutral manner. Nevertheless, both Russian and foreign articles revealed some concern about Japarov’s biography, in particular, the word “prison” is very often found in all publications (more than 60 times in the foreign press and more than 30 times in the Russian one), and the word “hostage” also has been used more than 10 times.
The approaches of foreign and Russian publications in emphasizing the problems of Kyrgyzstan differ. If the foreign mass media more often wrote about the constitution, the referendum, and the constitutional reform in general, then the Russian media are more concerned about the problems of corruption, after which the problems of constitutional reform are mentioned.
Taking into account the norms and principles of a legal and democratic state promoted by Western countries, it seems quite predictable that in foreign publications a rather frequent mention of such problems as “the rule of law” (29 times), “vote buying” (21), “intimidation” (13). Economic and other problems remain quite important in English-language publications: “economics” (53), “investments” (16), “coronavirus” (23), “turnout” (20), “migrants” (20). For Russian-speaking sources, it is noteworthy that the emphasis is also made on the problems of security and drug trafficking; from the economic problems, the issue of the budget of Kyrgyzstan is especially mentioned.
Despite the fact that Kyrgyzstan still remains an “island of democracy” in foreign publications (the frequency of using the words “Democracy / Democratic regime” is 52 times), the content analysis also revealed an alarming trend for the frequent use of words such as “authoritarianism / authoritarian regime” and also “dictatorship” (Authoritarianism / Authoritarian regime – 28, Dictatorship – 10).
Another important point for understanding the current trends of Kyrgyzstan in online publications is the mention of foreign policy partners. If in English-speaking sources quite frequent mentions of Kazakhstan, Russia and especially China were clearly revealed, then in Russian-speaking, in addition to Russia itself, it is written about Kazakhstan, the United States, and almost rarely about China (5) and Uzbekistan (3).
In general, both in foreign and Russian publications, there is a high frequency of mentions of the word “protests” (this word occurs 75 and 64 times, respectively), which indicates instability and concern about the further development of the situation in post-election Kyrgyzstan. Regarding the image of the new president of Kyrgyzstan, it is worth noting the rich palette of his description in the foreign English-language press and the almost unified perception of him as a “nationalist” and “populist”.
In this aspect, the new authorities will have to demonstrate a focus on integration, not fragmentation of society, and also work to maintain interethnic harmony in multinational Kyrgyzstan. In addition, we will have to deal with the implementation of election promises in practice, and not in theory, so that “populism” does not become a constant companion of the image of S. Japarov.
In Russian publications, a special level of cooperation between countries is clearly traced, where their characteristics are indicated in the form of the phrase “strategic and allied relations” (used 33 times). Another interesting point is the traceability of a certain interest in Russian publications in the regional division of Kyrgyzstan. For example, the Issyk-Kul region of Kyrgyzstan was mentioned 11 times in the aspect of the fact that this region is the birthplace of the new president of the country, as well as due to the location of Kumtor there. In foreign publications, there is an alarming trend towards a rather frequent mention of terms associated with an authoritarian regime, which indicates the need to work in terms of strengthening the democratic transformations of Kyrgyzstan, and hence its image.
A common trend for all publications is concern about the biography of the new president and the frequent use of the word “prison”. A more neutral position in the Russian-speaking mass media of the image of S. Japarov does not mean the absence of alarmism since the problem of corruption in Kyrgyzstan is mentioned quite often. In this connection, it can be assumed that, both abroad and in Russia, they will closely monitor how the fight against corruption in Kyrgyzstan is being conducted: on the basis of a consistent formal approach – “declaratively” and selectively, or with a long-term focus – uncompromisingly and effectively.
An understanding of the trends and problems that are reflected in the Russian-speaking and foreign English-speaking mass media demonstrate the importance of further research on the phenomenon of populism and nationalism in the country. Content analysis also showed a difference in approaches in media resources, regarding interest in certain foreign policy partners of Kyrgyzstan. In addition, the study and work on such problems in Kyrgyzstan as corruption, investment climate, constitutional reforms and others are being updated.
This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or the donor.