Andrea Schmitz, Alexander Wolters

Political Protest in Central Asia

Potentials and Dynamics

SWP Research Paper 2012/RP 07, April 2012, 28 Pages

This research paper explores whether social upheavals on the lines of the Arab Spring could occur in the foreseeable future in Central Asia. Like in the Arab world, authoritarian systems, social deficits, corruption and elite self-enrichment create great frustration in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. At the same time electronic media are spreading rapidly, with the popularity of online social networks growing apace. Expanding possibilities of individual articulation make protest increasingly unpredictable, actor configurations more complex and impenetrable, and the relationship of politics and society as a whole more contingent.

In five case studies the authors identify factors containing the potential to spark political protests, stir revolt or even erupt into revolution. As elsewhere, the extent and dynamics of future protests in Central Asia will depend increasingly on the use of new media, whose dynamising potential is still kept in check by state censorship. But in the long run the Central Asian states are bound to witness the emergence of a new public sphere shifting its focus more flexibly and demanding solutions sooner rather than later.

Germany and Europe, whose policies are based on expectations of stability, are inadequately prepared for the upcoming transitions in Central Asia. In the long term they will inevitably have to rethink their policies towards the authoritarian regimes in the region, reweight their priorities and work for a policy that permits these civil societies to join the global experience.

SWP Comment

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