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Kyrgyzstan: Activist Says Young People Alienated From Government

Parents around the world have always wanted their children to have a better life than they've had themselves. But in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, this dream doesn't seem to be coming true. Kyrgyz youth are faced with poorer education resources and fewer economic opportunities than the country's older generations. The result, says one Kyrgyz rights activist who spoke in Washington this week, is an apathetic generation that feels increasingly isolated from its government. RFE/RL correspondents Annie Bang and Michelle Townsend report.

Washington, 16 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Maria Lisitsina says people in Kyrgyzstan have little interest in building a democratic future in their country.

The director of the Youth Human Rights Group (YHRG) says that is because Kyrgyz citizens -- especially the younger generations -- feel alienated from their government.

"They have no relationship," she says simply.

Lisitsina, who is Russian but works in Bishkek, discussed the current challenges facing Kyrgyzstan's human rights movement and education system during a discussion held at RFE/RL's office in Washington.

"[For the] last four years, we have had such a huge decline in the human rights situation. [There has been] so much more visible and invisible repression and control from the government, that all the NGOs -- including young people -- are getting a little bit depressed," Lisitsina says.

Lisitsina's group focuses on the lack of juvenile legal protection and arbitrary law enforcement.

She says young Kyrgyz are less educated than the older population because nothing has yet replaced the old Soviet school systems. Although the vast majority of young people still attend university in Kyrgyzstan, students often pay bribes in return for good grades, and the quality of education is poor.

YHRG was founded in 1995 and has monitored human rights abuses and conducted rights-awareness campaigns throughout Kyrgyzstan. It aims to increase the participation of youth in human rights activism in Central Asia.

Lisitsina says NGOs receive little support from either the state or the citizenry. She attributes this to what she calls the country's lingering "Soviet mentality" and says people are simply not interested in working for rights groups and other non-profit organizations.

"The movement is not dying, but it's not renovating," she says.

Lisitsina says many more young people are getting involved with NGOs than before. But she says there need to be more opportunities for youth to be politically active.

A recent YHRG survey of 80 youths working in NGOs around the country found that only two of them believed the government needed to change, and just three belonged to a political party.

"If you want to come to the Soviet Union, come to Kyrgyzstan," she says.

In these interviews, Lisitsina found that many young people in Kyrgyzstan do not appear to have plans for their future, or even the sense that they are in control of their own destinies. She says they usually rely on direction from their parents or other authority figures.

Other former Soviet republics like Georgia and Azerbaijan have recently seen a rise in public protests and activism.

But despite events like the 2002 demonstrations in Aksy -- in which hundreds of Kyrgyz protesters clashed with police in a violent standoff -- Lisitsina says she does not expect political activism to rise in Kyrgyzstan.

"We never had a history of mass movement," she says.

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