EurasiaChat: Sanctions bind, tourism tensions, and naming struggles
Kyrgyz officials complain that they are unable to quickly pivot away from reliance on economic ties with Russia, no matter what Western governments demand.
The West’s campaign of trade sanctions against Russia has put Kyrgyzstan in a bind.
Last week, the U.S. Treasury announced it had slapped sanctions on four companies in the country for enabling the circumvention of export bans of dual-use material to Russia.
As Alisher Khamidov, a Eurasianet contributor based in Bishkek, notes in the latest edition of our EurasiaChat podcast, this may be the price for Kyrgyz officials failing to properly take heed of months of warnings from their Western partners.
“The Kyrgyz government generally feels that the U.S. and EU are being unfair in their approach. Kyrgyz officials believe that without Russia they will not survive. They've been trying to explain it to western diplomats who came [here]. They were basically telling them: ‘Hey, look, you cannot sanction us for closer trade with Russia. Russia is our main trading partner,’” Alisher said.
Fellow EurasiaChat presenter Aigerim Toleukhanova brought in the Kazakhstan perspective. Officials there have tried to lend the impression that they are taking a more concerted approach to stemming the sanctions-busting channel of trade.
On a more summery note, Alisher and Aigerim turned their attention to the state of affairs at Kyrgyzstan’s wildly popular Issyk-Kul Lake – a tourist magnet not just for locals but also visitors from Kazakhstan and Russia.
The story is as old as tourism itself. Visitors complain that they are being ripped off by greedy locals. The locals complain that the outsiders come, make a mess, cause trouble and generally place an unbearable burden on the environment.
With numbers showing no sign of abating, tensions are mounting, which is hardly doing much to burnish Issyk-Kul’s reputation as a desirable tourism destination.
As Aigerim points out, it doesn’t help the fortunes of other well-trodden domestic tourism destinations in the region, such as seaside resorts on the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan, that the option of going to places like Egypt, Turkey or the Emirates is often more appealing and economic.
Uzbekistan, meanwhile, seems to be doing better with its own tourism market by pitching its historic appeal to foreign (and monied) visitors. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan could in theory piggyback on that boom, but they are struggling to broaden knowledge of their brand.
There was some surprise in Kyrgyzstan when the Constitutional Court ruled last month to allow citizens to be permitted, once they reach the age of 18, to adopt their mother’s name to form a matronymic. The custom now is the one originally adopted from Russia, wherein children are given a patronymic – the name of their father – as a second name.
As Alisher remarks, this looked like a blow to the patriarchal order. Nothing quite like that is happening in Kazakhstan, although there is a rejection of patronymics in some quarters, Aigerim said. Not because it is sexist, but because the whole custom is a wholesale import and the leftover of the Russian imperial legacy.
Not so fast, though. The conservatives are fighting back. In Kyrgyzstan, President Sadyr Japarov has signaled that he will push for changes that allow him to overrule the Constitutional Court, whose decisions are meant to be binding. The way things are in Kyrgyz politics at the moment, he is likely to get his way.
A small victory against patriarchal values may end up setting the stage for a renewed dilution of democratic standards across the board.
Aigerim Toleukhanova is a journalist and researcher from Kazakhstan.
Alisher Khamidov is a writer based in Bishkek.