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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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V. Askar Akaev (1991–2005) – Building a “Common Home” for Kyrgyzstan’s Multi-Ethnic Society?


1. First Term: 1991–1995

1.2. A Scientist’s Vision

As established in Chapter III, the construction of nations and identity in Central Asia has been first and foremost a state-generated project (Suny 2000: 166). Moreover, this book is framed by the theoretical assumption, that human agency and elite perceptions are essential to the construction of national identity. The ruling elite introduces competing national-self images into the political discourse, derived from historical memories and current socio-political challenges (Clunan 2009: 28). These national self-images are sets of ideas about the country’s political purpose and international status (Tajfel 1978: 33). This notion invites to take a closer look at the personal background of independent Kyrgyzstan’s first and main identity strategist, Askar Akaev, as well as at the socio-political challenges that influenced his early definitions of national identity.

When in October 1991, Akaev became the first president, the people of Kyrgyzstan, unlike their former Soviet neighbors, had voted for a relatively unknown scientist. President Akaev, born in 1944, had previously been the president of the Academy of Science of Soviet Kyrgyzstan and, although he became a member of the Central Committee of Kyrgyzstan’s Communist Party in 1981, had never been a typical apparatchik (Spector 2004: 5). Akaev hails from a Kyrgyz village in the northern district of Kemin, and he spent about 15 years in young adulthood as a researcher of optics and computer science in Leningrad (1962–1977). In 1977, he returned to his home...

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