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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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Kyrgyzstan was once something akin to an unknown star in a distant galaxy. For while Central Asia was terra icognita for most citizens of European Russia, it barely, if at all, featured on the cognitive world map of most Western Europeans. Today, after 25 years of independence, that same star has come closer to our orbit, and those who visit it are usually fascinated. Some rave about its beautiful landscapes, picturesque yurts, and welcoming inhabitants; others staunchly hold to their hopes for democratic development in the young post-Soviet Republic, despite the problematic occurrences of the recent past. But it is not only mountaineers, nature enthusiasts, politicians, and journalists who are interested in the small Central Asian mountain republic – increasingly scientists and scholars have been turning their attention to Kyrgyzstan. Anthropologists, for example, are drawn to traditions which have been preserved during the Soviet period; the country’s eventful political development makes it an exciting area for political scientists to do their research; and comparatively favorable conditions do the rest. In this way, our knowledge of Kyrgyzstan has gradually increased, though there are some aspects of political life that still pose puzzles - puzzles whose resolution is more than simply a scientific exercise. An improved understanding of the background of Kyrgyz politics can be of great practical importance, especially in light of the major significance ascribed to the country as the region’s most liberal state by Western policy makers. For with the position of “key partner of the EU in...

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