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Guest lecturer discusses Central Asia

Maureen Mullen | Thursday, September 28, 2006

Anna Matveeva, associate fellow at the Crisis State Research Centre of the London School of Economics, spoke Wednesday at the Hesburgh Center on Central Asia’s present potential for political and civil instability.

In her lecture, entitled “Politics and Security in Central Asia: Opportunities for Peacebuilding,” Matveeva identified poor governance and drug trade as the main factors of instability in Central Asia. She also examined the roles the international community has played and will continue to play in the region.

To begin her talk, Matveeva defined the countries that compose Central Asia as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. She also cited a debate concerning whether or not Afghanistan may be included as a Central Asian country.

“[Afghanistan’s] people ethnically, culturally, historically are related to some of the countries of what is now Central Asia,” she said.

Matveeva said Central Asian countries are “Third World countries but not with Third World populations” and “nations which are in urgent need of development.” Most of the countries are afflicted with “low living standards, growing infant mortality, growing problems of poverty and deprivation,” she said.

Matveeva took care to distinguish the realities of Central Asia from those in Third World post-colonial Africa.

“The deprivation is quite different,” Mateeva said. “The degree of education among people is also different.”

Because many of the Central Asian countries were once part of the United Soviet Socialist Republic, oppression is often used as a “problem-solving tool,” she said. Matveeva emphasized the vulnerability of governments there, and explained that it is not uncommon for governments to present themselves as the only alternative to anarchy – as “the last bastion of order.” Thus, such governments are able to frighten people into upholding them out of fear of the alternative.

“And that,” Matveeva said, “is a kind of propaganda that has some definite mileage.”

For some of these countries, succession and power change has the potential to turn out badly, she said. Matveeva cited the regional challenge of the drug trade as a possible corrupting factor to present and future government.

“Afghanistan is emerging as a place of drug production, drug trafficking … Russia is a booming market for drugs,” she said.

As to what extent drug money might affect the politics of Central Asia, Matveeva had no answer.

“We cannot really say that current elites are drug lords,” she said.

However, Matveeva alluded to a precarious future for Central Asian politics in light of the drug trade.

As for the role the international community plays in Central Asia, Matveeva said little attention was paid to the problems of the area throughout the 1990s. Moreover, Matveeva explained that there exists for Western culture a great difficulty in addressing the problems of Central Asia, because the democracy so integral to Western society is not a form of government that seems sustainable in Central Asia.

“Sept. 11 brought Central Asia into viewpoint along with the complexities of democratization … If we allow democratic structures to take root, whole societies may unravel,” Matveeva said. “Democratization is seen by many as a covert weapon of Western influence.”

What must be done in Central Asia and what the international community must come to understand, Matveeva said, is an emphasis on “problem solving techniques conducive to very gradual solutions … an emphasis on state building needs to happen along with police reform and an end to corruption.”

The long-term goal that may be able to effect change and connect the area with the developed world is for “people of Central Asia to interact with the outside world,” she said.