As Kyrgyzstan constructs a modern national identity, a social institution long considered to be a vestige of the past – lineage identity – continues to exert significant influence over the process. This fact needs to be recognized and addressed.
Lineage affiliations have gained new relevance in Kyrgyz society in the post-Soviet era. Most ethnic Kyrgyz people can trace their lineage to one of 40 lineage groupings, each with a common geographic origin and unique history and genealogy. Some have now chosen to affirm these ties by creating informal lineage associations that exert behind-the-scenes influence over daily life, as well as in national politics.
The fact that lineage identities survived the Soviet period is testament to their deep historic roots. For much of the 20th century, Soviet authorities sought to wipe out kinship networks in Kyrgyzstan, considering them backward and a hindrance to progress. This effort failed in part because kinship politics quickly permeated the Soviet apparatus, in party organizations and on collective farms.
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Aksana Ismailbekova is lead researcher for Kyrgyzstan in the project “Informal Governance and Corruption –Transcending the Principal Agent and Collective Action Paradigms”, funded by the British Academy (BA) – DFID Anti-Corruption Evidence Programme (ACE) and led by the Basel Institute on Governance (2016-2017).