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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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III. Theoretical Chapter – The Dialectics of Foreign Policy and National Identity


1. The Sociological Turn in International Relations

The end of the Cold War posed a significant challenge to the dominant rational choice theorists in the scholarship of international relations. This period was marked by the end of the ideological confrontation between communism and capitalism, and the dramatic developments in the international arena that followed such as the conflict in Yugoslavia. These events could not be adequately explained by existing analytical approaches (Katzenstein 1996: 3–17). As such, the failure of mainstream IR theory to provide correct predictions and to explain outcomes caused many scholars and policy makers to re-engage with the national, i.e. with domestic and non-material sources of foreign policy (Bukh 2010: 3). In the words of Lapid and Kratochwil (1996: 4), “the global eruption of separatist nationalism set in motion by the abrupt ending of the Cold War has directly and inescapably forced the IR scholarly community to rethink the theoretical status of culture and identity in world affairs.” At the same time, the conceptions of identity and culture have themselves gone through drastic revision (Bukh 2010: 3), and have become “emergent and constructed, contested and polymorphic, interactive and process-like” (Lapid & Kratochwil 1996: 6–8).

As opposed to the rationalist ontology of mainstream IR, constructivism, or what has been labeled as the “sociological turn” (Katzenstein et al. 1898: 675) in the scholarship of international relations, denies the existence of an objective given reality, within which states operate, but perceives this as...

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