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Kyrgyzstan's Young Civil Society Dealing With Political, Social Isolation

(Washington, DC--July 19, 2004) Conditions in Kyrgyzstan present significant barriers to the involvement of youth in the country's civil society and non-governmental organizations, a young civic leader told an RFE/RL audience on July 14.

Maria Lisitsyna, the director of the Youth Human Rights Group (YHRG) in the Kyrgyz Republic, is currently in the United States as a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. The YHRG has worked on projects as varied as documenting lack of patient services in Kyrgyzstan's psychiatric hospitals to preparing an alternate report for the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

With more than fifty percent of its population under thirty, Lisitsyna said, Kyrgyzstan needs to involve its young people in developing solutions for the country's many problems. Yet, the "political establishment alienates them" and society in general, "including parents," discourages active involvement with NGOs, according to Lisitsyna, which has led to "no progress since 1996" in renewing the ranks of human rights and other advocacy NGOs. Many young people with higher levels of education want to leave Kyrgyzstan in search of greater economic opportunities, Lisitsyna said.

Those young people, however, who do participate in NGOs, appear satisfied to be making a contribution, according to a survey conducted by Lisitsyna's organization last year. Lisitsyna said that two-thirds of those volunteering were happy to be working at the NGOs. "NGOs propose something [for them] to do--some alternative. It is something they can do today and many feel they are doing something good," she said. At the same time, the survey reveals that those same young people don't believe their efforts will lead to change in their society.

Lisitsyna believes that the alienation of youth in Kyrgyzstan is a result of widespread corruption in society and government. "It suits everybody," she said, and encourages political apathy. Even young civil society activists "don't feel an obligation to change it [the government]," according to Lisitsyna.

The 2005 elections are of particular importance in Kyrgyzstan, because current president Askar Akaev--facing criticism for his authoritarian tactics--has announced that he will not run for reelection. With the possibility of new leadership taking power in their country, the involvement of an active civil society could help end the "isolation" that the Kyrgyz people, particularly the young, feel "since the countries of Eastern Europe joined the EU," Lisitsyna said.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service broadcasts 5 hours of programming a day to the Kyrgyz Republic, produced in Prague and in the service's Bishkek bureau and transmitted to listeners via satellite and shortwave signals and AM, FM and UKV frequencies provided by local affiliate stations. Kyrgyz Service programming is also available via the Internet, at and at the service's website

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