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Backsliding in Central Asia and the Caucasus


(Washington, DC--February 21, 2003) If the governments of the post-communist states of Central Asia and the Caucasus are unable establish a peaceful dialogue with their populations, these countries' future development is in peril. This was the message of an expert on the region who recently spoke to a RFE/RL audience.

As Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan enter their second decade of independence, the populations of these countries are increasingly "polarized with no elasticity," said Eric Rudenshiold. Rudenshiold, the head of the Democratization Section of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, explained that the governments of these states are "viewed by their populations with hostility, mistrust, and little patience."

Reviewing the situation in these eight countries, Rudenshiold said that in Kazakhstan [where there has been less violence] the opposition is not yet radicalized as in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. "There is little middle ground in Kyrgyzstan," for example, "and moderates are rare," said Rudenshiold. Just in the last year, he said, "most people have moved to the extremes" and the opposition has unified, while the government is incapable of engaging on such a broad spectrum.

In Georgia and Azerbaijan, the gulf between government and civil society is compounded by the question of presidential succession, which appears more imminent in these two countries than elsewhere in the region because of the age of their leaders.

The region also continues to suffer from the malaise and disengagement of the civil society that existed in the Soviet era. Pandemic corruption threatens future development in these countries at a fundamental level. Rudenshiold said that at the time of independence, these countries were unprepared to develop civil society. They will require continued outside assistance to develop the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are the essential building blocs of any free nation.

Rudenshiold's OSCE office currently funds more than 100 "strategic" projects in 20 countries of the former Soviet bloc. He acknowledges that it is difficult to measure the impact of these efforts on post-communist development. His hope is that, by maintaining these projects and continuing to work with the next generation of leaders, the involvement of the OSCE in democratization will help prevent the use of violence in the resolution of societal disputes.
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