On July 30, Kyrgyz State Secretary Adakhan Madumarov officially presented his national ideological project called “Development through Unity.” Creating and spreading national ideologies in Kyrgyzstan has been the state secretary’s main function since the early 1990s. However, after completing his task responsibly, Madumarov faced widespread criticism from virtually all mass media outlets and political experts in Kyrgyzstan. The critics raised a fundamental question: Does Kyrgyzstan still need a national ideology and a state secretary?
During his 14-year reign, Kyrgyzstan’s former president Askar Akayev promulgated three main ideological projects. These included the civic-based “Kyrgyzstan is Our Common Home” project and the more ethno-centric “Manas-1,000” and “2,200th Anniversary of Kyrgyz Statehood.” Akayev was able to present his ideas eloquently and persuasively. But his projects often served to mobilize the public before elections. He used national symbols in his campaign materials in 1995 and 1999 to persuade the country’s political forces and academic communities to reelect him. Following Akayev’s ouster in March 2005, a new government, led by Kurmanbek Bakiyev, abandoned all of Akayev’s projects but delayed the creation of new ones.
Bakiyev’s government had been in power for two years when it finally outlined its ideology. But the period of ideological void in Kyrgyzstan allowed various political forces, academics, and NGOs to participate in an open debate on what the national ideology should represent and who should be responsible for its production and promotion. Such thinking is new in Central Asia, given that all other governments of the region single-handedly dominate the production of ideologies.
Bakiyev often emphasizes how the competition among northern and southern political elites fosters corruption and labels it the cause of ineffective governance in Kyrgyzstan. The idea of a north-south divide in the country has almost become the main definition of the Kyrgyz nation today, as it is actively promulgated by interested politicians. Bakiyev, a native of southern Kyrgyzstan, has been seeking to legitimize his leadership by reminding the public that northern Kyrgyzstan long suppressed southern elites.
Most critics of Madumarov’s project point to his inconsistent language and awkward metaphors, such as “support of realization of genuine personal qualities of the human being” or “clean hand – clean conscience” (24.kg, August 3). In effect, Madumarov tried to play up the north-south divide in his ideology through a somewhat civic-based approach. But Kyrgyzstan’s regional divide is a problem among ethnic Kyrgyz and has little to do with ethnic minorities such as Russians, Uzbeks, Uighurs, and Dungans. Madumarov, in fact, mentioned that Kyrgyzstan is still the state of the Kyrgyz people (Moya stolitsa novosti, July 31).
In the late 1990s Madumarov was an ardent critic of Akayev’s “Kyrgyzstan is Our Common Home” campaign. Madumarov positioned himself as fundamental nationalist proclaiming that Kyrgyzstan is for ethnic Kyrgyz.
Other people actively proposing national ideologies include Dastan Sarygulov, former state secretary, who promoted Tengrism. Sarygulov’s project received great publicity in Kyrgyzstan due to his published books and frequent interviews. But these ideas had little chance to become official.
A number of prominent Kyrgyz academics have sought solid historical evidence of the ancient origins of the Kyrgyz as an ethnic group in order to create a foundation for the national ideology.
Importantly, more and more Kyrgyz experts today advocate abolishing the post of state secretary. This would mean officially getting rid of a state mechanism set to control efforts to define the course of ideological thinking among the masses. Ideas promoting civic rights, inter-ethnic integrity, and religious pluralism over ethno-nationalism are slowly permeating Kyrgyz society through local NGOs and international organizations such as the Soros Foundation and the United Nations. However, there is still a group of academics and politicians of the Soviet breed who still regard ethno-nationalism as the natural — and only — way to frame ideas about the state and the nation.
It is unlikely that Madumarov’s ideas will receive wide popularity in Kyrgyzstan even if he tries to disseminate them widely. Due to the comparatively open political climate in Kyrgyzstan citizens are used to mocking any ideological concept produced by the state. Kyrgyz citizens were also accustomed to having a national ideology produced by the state. But Sarygulov’s and Madumarov’s clumsy attempts to frame ideas for the nation have encouraged non-state actors to come up with alternative projects. Now political parties, NGOs, and a younger generation of scholars are ready to help identify a concept to unify Kyrgyzstan.
On August 9, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev signed a decree to create a national slogan for Kyrgyzstan to promote the country within the international community (Akipress.kg, August 9). This decree might potentially become more important and useful for the country than the national ideology.