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Nation-Building in the Shadow of the Bear: The Dialectics of National Identity and Foreign Policy in the Kyrgyz Republic 1991–2012


Paul Christian Sander

Since 1991, Kyrgyzstan’s leaders have pursued a post-Soviet national identity. Their concepts failed to consolidate the country’s multi-ethnic society, and continuously antagonize civic values and ethnic myth. The author applies international relations theory to frame Kyrgyzstan’s identity crisis: The ruling elite has to manage tensions between their strong dependency on Russia as main donor and security provider and domestic challenges in their pursuit of a national identity. A legitimate national identity must represent both the foreign policy interests of the country and the demands of the Kyrgyz majority and ethnic minorities for representation. The Kyrgyz case unveils the complex dialectics of domestic pressure and external interests that have defined post-Soviet nation building in Russia’s near abroad.

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The present study has examined the causes of the constant variations between civic and ethnic concepts of national identity in the official rhetoric of the Kyrgyz leadership between 1991 and 2012. It has further shed light on the interrelationship between the country’s official identity discourse and the policies that were intended to regulate the country’s inter-ethnic relations. Although Kyrgyzstan’s pursuit of a national identity has been researched in the past, scholars have mainly emphasized domestic drivers when explaining the use of rhetoric and symbols by the country’s leadership and elites. This book, on the contrary, illuminated the international dimension of Kyrgyzstan’s identity formation. Kyrgyzstan’s leadership, according to this study’s first hypothesis, has to maintain a delicate balance of tensions created and conditioned by domestic and foreign policy challenges. In order to address these challenges simultaneously, Kyrgyz leaders have shifted between civic and ethnic defined concepts when offering visions of Kyrgyzstan’s national identity that would legitimize their policies in front of domestic and international audience. While ethnic concepts of national identity have been deployed strategically to appeal to the ethnic Kyrgyz population and rally them around the state, civic concepts of national identity have been used to appease minorities and international donors. This observation reaffirms the explanatory value of Aspirational Constructivism, through which one can conclude that Kyrgyz leaders define the national interest and identity inspired by common historical memories and current socio-political challenges in an attempt to integrate Kyrgyzstan’s international and domestic realms.

In the early...

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