31.5.2010 | Old Auditorium, Parliament House, Helsinki
STETE organised Central Asian conference at the Finnish Parliament Old Auditorium. You can find the summary of the conference below.
FOCUS ON CENTRAL ASIA: KAZAKHSTAN, THE OSCE AND THE CRISIS IN KYRGYZTAN
at the Finnish Parliament Old Auditorium (Main Building, entrance from the left side of the main stairs, below the main entrance to the building) on Monday 31 May 2010 at 9.30-13.00 Coffee will be served at 9.00-9.30
Questions can be addressed to the speakers after their presentation
Welcome and introduction to the theme
MP, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Special Representative on Central Asia
Finland and Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan OSCE Chairmanship and expanding trade relations
Finnish Ambassador to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
Kazakhstan – concrete possibilities for business
Senior Consultant, Finpro
Central Asia – region of growing instability?
Finnish Roving Ambassador for Central Asia (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan)
Kyrgyzstan: from the Tulip revolution to today
Journalist, YLE (the Finnish Broadcasting Company)
- INTERACTIVE INFORMATION FLASH VIA INTERNET -
Kyrgyzstan's upheaval: citizens' viewpoint (The situation today and prospects for the future)
Country Director, Kyrgyz Republic & Deputy Regional Manager, Central Asia Internews Network
Today Central Asia comprises five independent republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. KIMMO KILJUNEN, Finnish MP, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Special Representative on Central Asia, outlined the region as a whole and each country in particular in his opening speech to the conference audience. Mr. KILJUNEN viewed improvement of the inter-regional cooperation as the biggest challenge for the region. More specifically, Mr. KILJUNEN noticed that the parliamentary cooperation should be advanced, as well as the economic cooperation inside the region. Mr. KILJUNEN noticed that the cooperation in the region was challenged initially, when the Soviet Union introduced the artificial state borders between the countries. The borders split ethnic entities, created minorities and heightened the risk of ethnic tensions in the region. Nevertheless, five states of Central Asia should not be taken as a whole entity as they are very different by its political environment and economic development.Mr. KILJUNEN outlined the profile of each country one-by-one. He said that historically Uzbekistan was the leading country in the region, but not any more. Now it is a double-landlocked country with a strongly isolated political regime. Kazakhstan has thus taken the leading role in the region. It has invested in international cooperation and trade of natural resources. It is also the first post-Soviet country that has assumed OSCE leadership and set an ambitious goal for its Chairmanship: calling for the OSCE to hold a summit in Astana this year, which would be the first such high-level meeting in 11 years. However, Mr. KILJUNEN pinpointed, that there is yet a lot to improve in regard to pluralistic democracy structures in Kazakhstan and that it is best to start with the development of opposition parties. In Kyrgyzstan the situation is unstable, but according to Mr. KILJUNEN a political figure such as Roza Otunbaeva inspires hope for a better future for the country. Kyrgyzstan is the only country, where two military bases – from Russia and the US , exist at the same time. Tadjikistan and Turkmenistan are countries with a Turkish historical background. Tadjikistan is more linked to Iran and Afghanistan. Its main challenge is drug trade. Turkmenistan is strongly influenced by the eternal president cult, which is recognized as the Turkmenbashi phenomenon. As Mr. KILJUNEN mentioned, the citizens of Turkmenistan seem to support this cult and the government system, which seems to provide for their basic needs (in the form of some free of charge goods and services).
MIKKO KINNUNEN , Finnish Ambassador to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, who took the floor second, emphasized the importance of cooperation between Finland and Central Asian states. In that regard, the Ambassador noted that the Embassy of Finland was opened in Kazakhstan in October 2009, while the Kazakhstani embassy would be opened in Helsinki next year. Mr. KINNUNEN expects that this will help increase knowledge of Kazakhstan in Finland, as well as facilitate visa issues between the two countries.
Mr. Kinnunen hailed the attractive economy of Kazakhstan with the remark that the oil reserves in the country were estimated as achieving the 5th place in the world in five years’ time, and also that the ever-growing GDP per capita had already doubled in 2000-2008. However, Ambassador Kinnunen mentioned also, that the prevalent clan structure in the country still plays an important role in economical policy and decision-making processes, which is somewhat hard to understand for Westerners.
Ambassador Kinnunen noticed that Kazakhstan maintains good relations with its key neighbours Russia and Chin, which helps the country’s growing economic and security cooperation. The United States has also praised Kazakhstan for its cooperation on U.S.-led non-proliferation, security, and counter-terrorism efforts, supporting a positive relationship with President Nazarbayev. At the same time, Western countries are quite critical about the domestic politics of Nazarbayev, especially when it comes to the issues of human rights, electoral violations, harassment of opposition and independent media, as well as endemic corruption. Now, when Kazakhstan holds the 2010 OSCE chairmanship, all those issues have got more international attention.
Mr. Kinnunen has mentioned that despite all criticism, Kazakhstan perceives its chairmanship in the OSCE as a big recognition and honour. The allocated budget for the chairmanship is 2.5 times bigger than the one which Finland had in 2008 while holding the same position. The Ambassador expressed his regret about what happened in early April 2010 in Kyrgyzstan and said that it also became a major challenge for Kazakhstan's presidency in the OSCE. However, according to the Ambassador, Kazakhstan took the optimal measures to ensure stability and helped through negotiating and getting Bakiyev out of the country. At the moment Kazakhstan has a practical goal within its chairmanship programme to arrange an OSCE Summit in Astana. The summit might be called a ”launching summit”, but its substance poses still questions. This summit had been compared to the 1975 Helsinki Summit, which marked the culmination of 60 years of discussions wrapped up in the Helsinki Charter.
Ambassador Kinnunen emphasized that President Nazarbayev recognises the dire need of Kazakhstan to diversify its economy and not to rely solely on oil and gas exports. In this regard, the Finland-Kazakhstan relations go to the front-burner, especially in the context of the recent Nazarbayev bid to ”learn from Finland”. This bid relates mostly to the fields of innovation and research and development, education, and gender equality. Mr. Kinnunen views the innovation sphere as the most promising for building cooperation between Finland and Kazakhstan, where the private Finnish actors should be actively involved.
During the Q&A session several points about Kazakhstan were discussed. The “Balashak” education programme was one of them. Ambassador Kinnunen informed that the programme covers the tuition fee for 3,000 students for studies abroad. The Ambassador considers that this programme demonstrates how eager Kazakhstan is to learn from abroad. At the moment Kazakhstan develops relations with Finnish think tanks, research institutions and universities.
Another question was made about the destiny of Kazakhstan after the end of Nazarbayev’s dynasty. Ambassador Kinnunen noted that Nazarbayev’s stance in Kazakhstan is similar to Kekkonen’s previously in Finland. People support him in power and are worried of what will come after he’s no longer available. The country is stable and organised, but the fact is that the stability is based on the personality of the leader and not on the institutions.
The audience also brought up the point about the role of civil society and NGOs' in Kazakhstan. Ambassador Kinnunen mentioned that the position of the civil society in Kazakhstan is undeniably weak referred to European standards. Mr. Kiljunen added that the question of civil society should be addressed in view of the country’s Russian past, recognising that NGOs in Kazakhstan operate more as part of the official structures, rather than as autonomous actors. Mr. Kiljunen also noticed that in this regard Kyrgyzstan is most advanced in the region with its active civic and social organizations, which have also represented the major forces behind the recent events in the country. The speakers were also asked how do they see the development towards democratic pluralism to advance. Kiljunen stated it will definitely still take time to develop in the country.
The point about EU instruments (EIDHR and ENPI) and their impact on the Central Asian region was also raised during the discussion. Some speakers argued that the use of sanctions in the region should be re-considered by the EU, because in a case before when the EU established strong sanctions against Uzbekistan, it proved inefficient and lead to more harm than good, especially affecting regular people.
ALEKSEJ LEPPÄNEN, Senior Consultant from Finpro, continued speaking about Kazakhstan, but from the perspective of business opportunities for Finland. Mr. LEPPÄNEN told that economical growth in the country is attributed to Kazakhstan’s profitable energy sector, economic reforms, good harvests, and increased foreign investment. It makes the country attractive for European businesses, including Finnish companies. The Kazakhstani companies seem to be open-minded and interested in international cooperation. In other words, Mr. LEPPÄNEN said, the window of cooperation is now wide open, and if Finland doesn’t take its chance to act, someone else will. Finpro especially recommends Kazakhstani market for those, who already have the experience of working in eg. the Russian market. Finpro offers a range of services for the Finnish businessmen including macro-economic consulting, product placement, as well as client, partner and distributor search. Currently there are already several business deals established with the participation of both major Finnish companies and small enterprises. Navisa Ltd is a successful example of the latter.
TUULA YRJÖLÄ, Finnish Roving Ambassador for Central Asia (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) outlined the challenges faced by the countries in the Central Asian region (please find the presentation of TUULA YRJÖLÄ here). The biggest are economical, democratic and geopolitical. A key problem related to good governance (corruption, lack of transparency and accountability) remains a major obstacle to development. Ambassador YRJÖLÄ also pinpointed that Afghanistan’s neighbourhood to the region facilitates the spread of drugs and arms, human trafficking and Islamic extremism. Undoubtedly, all those factors represent the symptoms of growing instability. In addition, Ambassador YRJÖLÄ continued, the weak economics, poverty and unemployment lead people, and especially young men, to disillusionment, which can strengthen extremism in the region. Other challenges outlined by the Ambassador relate to deteriorating infrastructure as well as to the artificially created state borders and to issues of shared water and energy resources. The Ambassador considers that those issues can cause ethnic and neighbour tensions.
The way how the political regimes are changed in the region also gives rise to a lot of concerns. The case of Kyrgyzstan is a vivid example. However, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have aging presidents, which means that the regime change in those two countries is coming soon. However, although in Turkmenistan the regime was changed in the “father-to-son” format after the president's death, it proved a stable, non-violent way of power change in the region.
Ambassador YRJÖLÄ considers that in order to meet the challenges, certain issues will have to be tackled. One of the major issues is the almost non-existent cooperation between local and state governments inside the region. This remains a question of political will of the governments, and European countries can only provide strong support towards such developments. Ambassador YRJÖLÄ stated that the Finland and the EU have invested a lot of money in the region via the Wider Europe Initiative and Central Asia Strategy. EU’s actions now cover fields such as education, water projects and border management. Finland has also taken a significant step towards strenghtening its development cooperation in this region. According to YRJÖLÄ Finland has a good reputation in the region and starting from 2009 has allocated around 70 million € in the region’s development.
In the Q&A session the issue of collaboration of water resources was brought up. The audience called for these questions to be tackled in the WEI framework, using e.g. Finland’s good experiences with Water Commissions with Russia used as models. Ambassador Yrjölä stated that Finland supports the ENVSEC (The Environment and Security Initiative) programmes in Central Asia, South Caucasus and East Europe, which relate to cooperation on water issues. Finland has devoted 5 million € to support Suomen Ympäristökeskus (SYKE)’s water programme there. However, the problem in the region is the lack of will to cooperate. Some of the countries need gas, others water, but they cannot agree on mutually beneficial exchange. What the EU can do in this case is to facilitate negotiations and problem-solving between the countries and offer their expertise, for example, in clean water technology.
KERSTIN KRONVALL, journalist from YLE (the Finnish Broadcasting Company), focused on the situation in Kyrgyzstan, outlining the events having happened in the country during the period from the so-called “Tulip Revolution” of 2005 to the violent events of April 2010. Ms. KRONVALL noticed that it would be wrong to say that all “colour” revolutions (in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan) were the same kind. The Georgian and Ukrainian revolutions were non-violent by nature, supported by the Soros Foundation and carried out by young educated people. At the same time, the revolution of 2005 in Kyrgyzstan was driven mostly by young unemployed men, who used children in front of the protesting revolutionaries to avoid shooting to occur. In April 2010 the people's unrest in Kyrgyzstan turned into an even more violent event: 86 people were killed by Bakiyev’s snipers from the roof of the Parliament building. Ms. KRONVALL underlined the roots of the April unrest in Kyrgyzstan. She mentioned that the government’s thorough corruption as well as the recent huge rises in electricity prices eventually drove people to public protests. Another reason emphasized by Ms. KRONVALL was the underlying controversy between the Russian and Kyrgyz governments, which started when President Bakiev broke his word to Putin to break the U.S. Manas military base’s lease in Kyrgyzstan. Russia’s leaders were infuriated by what they viewed as Bakiyev's betrayal over a pledge made while on a visit to Russia in 2008 to shut the base. That has completely changed the attitude of the Russian leaders to the Kyrgyz president and caused a lot of suspicions on the role of “Kremlin's hand” in the April unrest.
Ms. KRONVALL noted that concerning Kyrgystan’s future, a lot depends on the interim government. She mentioned that though Roza Otunbayeva is politically wise, she might not be strong enough to keep the power – the clans working beside official structures having already seized some of the powers. The interim government has already repeated some of the mistakes of the previous government: for example, they have refused dialogue with Bakiyev and his people, which means closing out the opposition again. The interim government has also taken the main TV station under their command and control, adopting the same practice as Bakiev’s regime. However, as Ms. KRONVALL says, the unstable situation in the South, which is close to and easily affected by extreme Islamists, is the most worrisome issue. Ms. KRONVALL concluded however with a more upbeat note, mentioning that on 27 June 2010 a new constitution text should be adopted, leading towards the establishment of a parliamentary republic – a very positive plan indeed.
MARIYA RASNER, Country Director in Kyrgyz Republic’s & Deputy Regional Manager in Central Asia’s Internews Network, continued on the topic and gave a detailed presentation on the current situation in Kyrgyzstan from inside the country through an internet discussion (please find the presentation of MARIYA RASNER here). Ms. RASNER outlined the differences between the “Tulip Revolution” of 2005 and the April unrest of 2010. She explained how the events were unfolding in early April 2010 in Kyrgyzstan and how it was covered by the local and international media. Ms. RASNER mentioned several factors that served as preconditions for public unrest. Among them was the appointment of Maxim Bakiev (son of the president) as head of the Central Agency for Development, Investment and Innovation. That made him responsible for allocation and management of all foreign investments coming to Kyrgyzstan. People believed that Maxim Bakiev abused his position and enriched himself. Another reason was introduction of mobile connection fees and rises in utility prices. The pressure against Radio Azattyk (Liberty), attacks against journalists and blocking of the key web-sites also sparked anger.
Ms. RASNER’s presentation demonstrated how Russia and Kazakhstan impacted the recent situation in Kyrgyzstan. Ms. RASNER placed the focus on Russia’s media reporting, which prior to April 2010 took the form of an anti-Bakiev campaign, and after the April events provoked the ethnic tensions in Kyrgyzstan and a new wave of immigration to Russia. Ms. RASNER gave an overview of the main challenges, which the interim government faces at the moment. They include the semi-legitimacy of the interim government, its decisions and decrees, and also its inability to stabilise the situation and decrease the tension in the regions. The situation may however change after two important events expected in Kyrgyzstan: the referendum (June 27, 2010) and parliamentary elections (October 10, 2010). Ms. RASNER pleaded strongly for the Western people’s support in her country’s efforts to build the parliamentary system, since Kyrgyzstan has limited resources and know-how: at the moment not even the necessary funds to arrange the June Referendum.
Mr. Kiljunen concluded the seminar by noting, that the main challenge in Kyrgyzstan now is trying to change the system into a parliamentary system with a guaranteed role for the opposition, which differs from the other presidential systems of the region. Ms.Yrjölä continued, that other challenges the provisional government face are, whether they can satisfy the demands of all the clans from north to south, to fight the continued corruption and to stir up the necessary political will to promote the new system - also avoiding parliamentary deadlock.
During the Q&A session the audience brought up the question why the two neighbouring countries to Kyrgyzstan - Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan – closed their Kyrgyz borders after 7 April 2010. Mr. Kiljunen explained that in this way the Uzbek government tried to avoid the spreading of “revolutionary moods” coming from the neighbouring country, but that the reason might also be related to the problems behind a hydro-power station located in the area. Ambassador Yrjölä added that the danger of Islamic radicalism along with the hydro-power and water issues played a role behind the decision of the Uzbek government to close the border. However, Ms. Yrjölä mentioned that she still finds it difficult to understand why Kazakhstan also decided to close their borders with Kyrgyzstan.
The actual role of Russia in the April events in Kyrgyzstan was questioned, and the question was also raised about the future of the U.S. military base in Manas airport on many occasions during the discussions. It seems unclear, though, whether or not Moscow played a part in pushing the events and encouraging the opposition in Kyrgyzstan. However, Acting President Otunbayeva and the other leaders of the interim government tempered their pro-Russia rhetoric. They said that the U.S. could continue operating its military base for now, and pledged to hold elections in six months, although not before having been able to rewrite their constitution.