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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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II. Literature Review – Nation-building in Central Asia


1. The New Central Asia – Building National Identity from Scratch

There seems to be consensus among the leading writers on nationalism, such as Ernest Gellner (1983), Eric Hobsbawm (1991), Anthony Smith (1996) and Miroslav Hroch (2007), that, while nationalist movements may create states, it is the states themselves, which create nations, as much nationalists everywhere may claim that the reverse is true. Central Asia clearly is one of the most compelling early twentieth-century examples of how political structures were created first, and a national consciousness underpinning these new political entities was developed afterwards (van Schendel & Zürcher 2001: 1).

The Central Asian nations had inherited statehood as a result of the collapse of the Soviet system in late 1991. Their political leaders quickly realized that the new states had to develop a national idea that would solidify the people’s recognition of independent post-Soviet statehood and the new political leadership. Such an idea had to reflect upon the complex Soviet past, accommodate the identities of majority and minority ethnic groups, and rationalize the collapse of the Soviet Union (Marat 2008a: 12). The discourse about ideology became the focus of the elites’ ideas about the available means for communicating with the population. It serves as mechanism for linking social groups from top to bottom and for mediating relations between society and state (Murzakulova & Schoeberlein: 1235). For this reason, nation making in Central Asia has been a top-down, state-generated project, rather than a “natural” evolution...

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