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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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VII. The Third President: Roza Otunbaeva (2010–2011)


1. Another “Revolution”

1.1. The Pursuit of Stability

When on June 27, 2010, Roza Otunbaeva became confirmed by referendum as new interim president of the Kyrgyz Republic, she was the CIS’s first female head of state. In March 2010, the democratic opposition had already formed an alternative “Popular Assembly,” with Otunbaeva as head of its executive council. She had been foreign minister under Akaev, and had also served as the country’s UN envoy to Georgia during the 2003 Rose Revolution there.

But Otunbaeva broke with Akaev in 2004 to join an opposition movement made up of former high-ranking establishment figures and supported the democratic mobilization in the Tulip Revolution (RFE/RL 08/04/2010). Also Bakiev had initially appointed her foreign minister, but she parted ways with him and joined the opposition SDPK party. For the split-prone opposition, Otunbaeva was a “clean” compromise choice for leader, as she was someone who was known for putting her commitment to democracy above personal ambition (Collins 2011: 154–55). After consultation with Prime Minister Usenov, Otunbaeva declared on April 7 that she was heading a provisional government, which had plans to draft a democratic constitution and hold elections within six months (Nichol 2010: 4). The referendum confirmed Otunbaeva as interim president until the end of 2011 and approved the constitution by an overwhelming 91 percent, based on a turnout nearing three-quarters of eligible voters. A presidential election was scheduled for late 2011, with Otunbaeva banned from running.

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