In the words of Central Asian expert, Arne Seifert, “Authoritarian regimes, “clan-bureaucratic” capitalism, high levels of socio-economic inequality and social exclusion, precarious living conditions for large proportions of the population, the coexistence of traditional and modern socialization and value systems, the rapidly increasing influence of religion, above all Islam – this is how one could sketch an outline of the key socio-political characteristics that have taken shape in the Central Asian states in the twenty years since independence”.
Central Asian states had a difficult time in their early years of their independence to become stable states in the international system.
The above statement though very crisp and precise, says volumes about the kind of politics and society the Central Asian region has even today to some extent. Central Asian states had a difficult time in their early years of their independence to become stable states in the international system. These states were acting as a periphery for past many decades since their integration in USSR. They were in a habit of taking ‘orders’ that came from Moscow and were acting as demand suppliers to the mainland Russia.
Suddenly, when these states got independence, the entire political, bureaucratic and economic system was in an extreme turmoil. “Though the Soviet Union was dismantled, decades of Communist rule in Central Asia had produced a relatively well-developed state bureaucratic machinery and a well-entrenched party elite, many of whom have been neither willing to accept democratic political competition from the newly-emerging social forces, nor supportive of meaningful reforms to facilitate the institutionalization of a democratic framework of governance” .
Because of this, people had to face extreme difficulties in their day to day lives. The sudden removal of the strong support-system provided by the Soviet Russia was taken away and therefore the masses had to bore the brunt of it and many say that they did it silently without much protest. This is because the masses didn’t have the ‘culture of dissent’ within them. Their society was no so opinionated and argumentative in nature. The reason being, that they were trained to follow what was asked from them.
Freedom is not a static entity; it evolves gradually and has different layers of its manifestation. This is represented in the form of the kind of ‘information flow’ that is going on in the public domain without any intervention…
Central Asian states now didn’t have the ‘luxury’ to work in peripheral mode. They had to become autonomous functioning entities in their own right and had to develop a political system to govern their own states. But this Soviet legacy had its own role in the development of Central Asia in years to come. These states couldn’t do away with the impact Soviet system had left on the day to day lives of their masses. In a way, these states couldn’t cherish their newly acquired freedomas sovereign nation-states.
Freedom is not a static entity; it evolves gradually and has different layers of its manifestation. This is represented in the form of the kind of ‘information flow’ that is going on in the public domain without any intervention or opposition from the authorities in power. This ‘information flow’ need not be huge because in many cases one can find huge information flows but that wouldn’t mean freedom of expression, simply because that information flow follows just ‘top-down’ approach, which means state is controlling as well as disseminating information. On the other hand, a free information flow is a ‘two-way’ flow i.e. both from top to bottom and vice-versa.
Only mature democracies allow this kind of discourse in the society. This is because people in these societies are more aware about their basic rights and their rights as ‘citizens’ of the country. Another important factor is that these societies are politically stable in nature and therefore conditions are such that the state can ‘afford’ harsh critiques on itself by media and civil society.
The point is that secure and stable democracies, when in turmoil use exceptions to take extraordinary power in their own hands for a limited time and lift it away as soon as situation becomes normal. This is because foreign actors are always looking for opportunities of imbalance, instabilities and turmoil in other states to exploit those situations for their own vested interests. Freedom of press is a great parameter to judge a society as well the political system of the state.
The job of media is to put ‘checks’ and ‘balances’ to the authorities in power and to act like a constructive opposition.
Media and Politics act as complementary and supplementary to each other and it goes hand in hand together for the betterment of the society. The job of media is to put ‘checks’ and ‘balances’ to the authorities in power and to act like a constructive opposition. Where these things don’t happen, one can conclude that firstly, freedom of press has been curtailed and secondly those societies are not mature democracies and democratic political structures has not been evolved yet.
Central Asia as a region fairs quite poorly in terms of Freedom to the masses in general, especially with respect to the heavy restrictions on the information flow and the kind of information that is flowing. This is clearly evident with the rankings provided by Freedom House, where two Central Asian countries i.e, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan feature among the ten worst performing countries in terms of freedom of press in the country. This is in itself a kind of revelation that the region is suffering from authoritarianism and absolutism.
Though, Central Asian diplomats, few scholars and academicians refute the data provided by western agencies, think-tanks and scholars by saying that all that is a big western propaganda to malign the image of the region.
The reason being that western countries want to get access to the regions resources and that’s why they went to make deep inroads into the region by giving false information to the world about the poor condition of civil liberties and human rights there. This would make their case strong in their old time game (lies) of promoting democracies in these states by any means possible.
These post-soviet states carried a ‘Soviet legacy’ in terms of their functioning and the way the political class behaved with its citizens.
All these states, even after independence from USSR did not shed away the political structures that were laid deep inside these states in the 70 years when they were the part of Soviet Union.
These post-soviet states carried a ‘Soviet legacy’ in terms of their functioning and the way the political class behaved with its citizens. Since, the leaders of these ‘new states’ were the part of communist party which had a distinct political structure in erstwhile USSR, they continued their way in which they dealt with the people.
Central Asian region’s politics, political system and political structures in each of the states have evolved in the same historical context at its start. All of them were a part of USSR and that is why these structures are the reflectors of the context in which they evolved, developed and finally got entrenched. Though, to counter the arguments of west on the freedom of press in Central Asia, nothing concrete explanation has been given by Central Asian social elites or political leaders.
Merely refuting the accusations supported by data would not do justice to their own arguments which would sound hollow without a proper justification supported by facts. No situation can be presented in complete white or black. There is some truth to both sides of the story but the side manages to convey its message and convince the larger audience by showing concrete proofs is the one which gains more credibility.