19.04.2015 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

Foreign Informational-Humanitarian Presence in Central Asia

quinn dambrowskiRecently, the interest of the USA, EU (especially France and Britain), China and Turkey in the information-humanitarian presence in Central Asia (CA) and displacement of Russia from this sphere in the mentioned region has increased considerably. One of the main reasons for such scrutiny from various international participants in the informational-humanitarian presence in CA is that this region is fairly young, with unfinished establishment processes of institutional structures, an unfinished international organization system as well as search for cultural-political identity. The region is characterized by domestic inconsistencies, a drastic variety of cultural practices and identities, as well as a wide range of historical heritage interpretations. It should be noted that CA is developing against the backdrop of various, in some cases, contradictory projects that are promoted by powerful geopolitical forces. The situation is dramatized by the competition of foreign forces and a lack of effective cooperation among CA states themselves.

That is why activities in the cultural-humanitarian sphere are devoted to introduction of stable mechanisms of influence on CA societies, the policies of their authorities in terms of their re-orientation from the Russian cultural-historical values to Western and also sinological and Pan-Turkic.

All the above countries operate by their own schemes differing from those of the others.

For instance, China puts the emphasis on the economics, on the basis of which it then builds the cultural-political superstructure. In particular, in order to run a successful business in China, the obligatory or at least preferable knowledge of the Chinese language, history and culture is clearly implied. In this sphere, the Confucius Institute appears to be a powerful tool; in recent years, it has considerably increased productivity in CA, opening multiple new branches there (in particular, Uzbekistan has seen such intensified work in recent months).

Turkey applies several different strategies in Central Asia. In particular, Ankara actively demonstrates to CA countries the example of a successful functioning secular political system with elements of a Western type democracy that succeeded in introducing market reforms under the conditions of Islamic supporters’ domination. However, Ankara’s presence in the region is limited due to low investment potential. None the less, by refraining from linking itself to CA through large-scale projects, Turkey prefers to promote commercial, cultural and education programs, using the so-called soft force tactics. In this context, it relies on officially non-state structures that are actively supported by the Turkish government. For example, the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic Speaking Countries, the Council of Elders and the World Assembly of Turkic Peoples studying common historical roots of the Turkic culture operate in Central Asia. The International Organization for Mutual Development of Turkic Culture and Art, established in Almaty in 1993, however, does not limit itself to cultural and educational spheres alone, studying simultaneously the issues of political and trade-economic relations among the Turkic-speaking countries of CA, interfering not only with the economic and cultural life of CA but with the ideological sphere as well. Such activities raise concerns since they are associated with the threat of expansion of Islamic and Pan-Turkic ideas, which challenges the secular paradigm established in all CA states. Given the criticism of Ankara by Uzbekistani authorities for the active circulation of Pan-Turkic ideas in the past, Turkey operates in Uzbekistan through other CA countries (Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan), promoting its cultural and humanitarian ambitions.

The United States and the EU project their cultural expansion in the first place through the political prism. The UK, for example, actively involves the British Council.

In the so called humanitarian aspect, the USA formulated its interests very attractively – “to expand the continuous support for democratic institutes, local non-governmental organizations and independent mass media.” To reach those goals, Washington tries to implement respective grant programs and projects, propagating the American way of life and values based on the personal freedom, leaving marks on any even modest public event held in this field in CA. They pay special attention to work with the media, holding media-forums on the subject of “the increase of role and function of the media in the system of civil society institutes” etc.

As a very important aspect of fixing its informational-humanitarian presence in CA, Washington extremely carefully selects the heads of US diplomatic missions in CA countries who can actively carry out tasks set by White House. A distinctive confirmation to this may be seen in repeated visits to the region by Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State, engaged in establishing unofficial ties with CA local media and opposition representatives, as well as  by those who gained a reputation in the White House in creating the so-called colored revolution architecture and ideology in the post-Soviet territory, among whom is diplomat Richard Miles, and US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Sheila Gwaltney.

Last November, a new regional USAID project in CA, known as The Support for Access to Information was launched by Internews Networks in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. This 3-year project will cost $3.8 mln and is implemented by two Kyrgyz organizations – the Media Policy Institute and the Kloop Media Foundation. The Project’s budget is respectively divided as follows: Kyrgyzstan – 35%, Kazakhstan – 30%, Tajikistan – 20%, regional events – 15%.

However, in addition to the mentioned countries, the informational-humanitarian presence build-up by Iran is expected to occur in CA in the context of isolation on behalf of the West. In addition to its participation in energy projects, Tehran may try to influence some CA countries (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan).

As opposed to China’s positions and the growing exports of radical Islam from Afghanistan and Pakistan, there will be an increase in activities from India which already tries to institutionally strengthen its presence in the region, not excluding the military field (for example, in Tajikistan).

It is quite clear that a build-up of the informational-humanitarian presence by the mentioned CA countries is backed by other, more practical interests. The foremost of which are production and transportation control of oil from the Caspian Sea basin, and control over fields of uranium and other mineral resources. At the same time, the West, especially the United States, in an attempt to become the so called guarantor of security for CA countries, gets the opportunity to pressure China, Iran and India, not to mention creating definite inconveniences for Russia which considers CA a sphere of its traditional influence.

Vladimir Odintsov, political commentator, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.