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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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VI. The Second President: Kurmanbek Bakiev (2005–2010)


1. The Tulip Revolution

1.1. Kurmanbek Bakiev – A “Southerner” for President

The delegitimizing parliamentary elections of February and March 2005, taken together with a deepening economic crisis and a collapse of support for Akaev in particular in the southern half of the country, led to the overthrow of the Akaev regime and the installation of a consociational order: A president from the south, Kurmanbek Bakiev, assumed power in tandem with Felix Kulov as prime minister, who had been a northern opposition leader during Akaev’s presidency (Huskey 2008: 12). This alliance enabled Bakiev to receive an overwhelming majority of roughly 90 percent of the vote in the July 2005 presidential elections. The forces that had driven the Tulip Revolution – independent business interests, informal networks and patronage ties – had developed under Akaev’s 15-year rule and remained strong after his exit (Radnitz 2006: 132). Bakiev’s decision to recognize the new, dubiously elected, and mostly pro-Akaev parliament on March 28, had almost surely prevented greater escalation (ibid. 140).

When President Bakiev settled into office in 2005, he developed a political system increasingly synonymous not only with him, but with his family, whose members he placed in charge of corporations and high posts within the state administration. In that sense, “The Bakiev regime developed a system which, in exchange for unquestioning loyalties, allowed key players near total impunity, and thus boundless opportunities for corruption” (ICG 2010: 5).

The new political power born of the “Tulip...

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