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Sean R. Roberts

The Following lecture was given as the “Seventeenth Annual Nava’i Lecture in Central Asian Studies” at Georgetown University, November 30, 2006 Dangerous Clan Conflict or Muslim Civil Society: Towards an Alternative Understanding of Central Asia's Democratic Development Sean R. Roberts, Central Asian Affairs Fellow, Georgetown University In recent years, numerous manuscripts and papers have been produced that characterize the political development of the Central Asian countries as being dominated and hindered by the competition between “so-called” clans. Among the most prominent and influential of these works are Oliver Roy’s widely read introduction to the region, “The New Central Asia,” Kathleen Collins’ in-depth exploration of “clan politics” in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, Ed Schatz’s book on the role of tribal and clan affiliations in Kazakhstan, and a policy paper written by Fredrick Starr for the European Union on how best to implement democracy assistance in the region in the context of clan politics.1

For the most part, these different works base their analysis on a rather loose definition of the concept of clans in Central Asia. While Schatz is able to be more specific since he provides us with a case-study focused on two different forms of kin-based identities among Kazakhs, the other authors offer a confusing array of kin-related and regionally defined ties to illustrate the universality of clanism across ethnic and cultural lines in the region. This clanism in Central Asia, according to these authors, is qualitatively different

See Oliver Roy, The New Central Asia: The Creation of Nations (New York: New York University Press, 2000); Kathleen Collins, The Logic of Clan Politics in Central Asia : Its Impact on Regime Transformation (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Edward Schatz, Modern Clan Politics: The Power Of "Blood" In Kazakhstan and Beyond (Seattle, WA: Washington University Press, 2005); S. Fredrick Starr, Clans, Authoritarian Rulers, and Parliaments in Central Asia, (Washington, DC: Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, SAIS, Silk Road Paper, June 2006).



Sean R. Roberts

from the patron-client networks of elites in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. In Central Asia, they suggest, clans are a part of cultural identity, an aspect of the region’s primordial social ties.

The most descriptive of these works, which attempt to explain where these primordial ties come from, tell us that the clans of Central Asia are based in a variety of “solidarity groups,” to borrow the term of Oliver Roy, that emerge from “traditional” local social structures mostly in rural regions.2 According to the proponents of Central Asian clanism, these local “solidarity groups,” whether based on regionalism, kin-relations, or a mixture of both, are intimately linked to the patron-client networks among the elite, which in turn frame the competition for economic and political power in the region. They further argue that these primordial divisions in society, which reach from the grassroots to the elite, are a significant deterrent to the development of democracy in Central Asia. Some of the authors even suggest that the dangerous competition between clans may justify the autocratic policies of Central Asian presidents, who must prevent potential conflict between clan interests in order to ensure stability in the region.

On a basic level, one is tempted to dismiss these descriptions of clan relations in Central Asia as simply Eurocentric and “orientalist” analysis based on stereotypes concerning the assumed primordial ties inherent in “Asian” societies. To some extent such criticism would not be misplaced, but today I would like to examine this idea of “clan politics” in Central Asia at face value in the hopes that such an analysis will provide an alternative viewpoint of the interaction between cultural institutions and politics in the region.

See Roy pp. 85-124


In my opinion. To the contrary. I do not view these communities as inherently being related to anti-democratic patron-client networks. it is my assertion that the local social structures of Central Asia serve as a certain type of 3 Collins. p. While I recognize that patron-client networks are prevalent among the Central Asian elite and largely frame political competition in the region. I do not intend to fully replace the clan politics paradigm with a different model for understanding Central Asia.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. the most problematic aspect of the existing literature on “clan politics” in Central Asia is its attempt to link cultural traditions and social structure at the local level to elite political allegiances. While I also recognize that Central Asia is characterized by cohesive local social structures that form the basis for closely-knit local communities.S.S. a more stable identity underlies the clan network (in Central Asia). “in contrast to the fluidity of the weaker ties evident in Russia. however. It is this link that purportedly differentiates Central Asia’s “clan politics” from the merely corrupt patron-client networks of elites elsewhere in the former U.R. But. 43 -3- . Roberts Given the complexity of the subject.”3 My own research and experience in the region.R. As Kathleen Collins explains it. I at least hope today to problematize the concept of clan politics in the region and to challenge both scholars and policy implementers to re-evaluate the ways they presently think about “traditional” social structures and politics in Central Asia. suggests differently. I do not see these networks as being any different from those present in Russia or elsewhere in the former U.S.S.

I will elaborate on these assertions by offering some clarification concerning what constitutes elite patron-client networks in the region. Today. Essentially. most notably by Kathleen Collins in her recently -4- . Roberts indigenous civil society that has bolstered stability in the region over the last fifteen years of uncertainly and that could eventually help to facilitate democratic developments. The combination of an economy of scarcity. I will not delve into specific examples of the ways in which such elite patron-client networks have been influential in the contemporary politics of Central Asia because this has been done quite well elsewhere. Let me begin with elite patron-client networks. a top-down system of governance. Elite patron-client networks in Central Asia and throughout the former U. and alliances of power. are a remnant of the political economy of the Soviet Union.S. and the groups below competing for influence over and recognition from those above them. and a general lack of rule of law in the Soviet Union facilitated a system of patron-client relations that continues to determine political and economic power alignments in the post-Soviet space.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. intrigue. what characterizes local Central Asian social structures. this system creates a pyramid of power with the top seeking ways to maintain undying loyalty from groups below.S.R. It is a system which lacks institutionalized and transparent rules of the game and favors the use of brute force. and what if anything is the relationship between these two phenomena.

thus re-casting this phenomenon as part of the Soviet experience as opposed to being emblematic of Central Asian “traditionalism. -5- . and nasiliye. kompromat. these three words all represent vehicles that politicians and businessmen in the former Soviet Union employ both to maintain loyalty within their own patron-client network and to undermine competition from rival networks.S.. 135-297 For a comprehensive study of the concept of Blat.R. however.S. discuss some of the characteristics of patron-client networks in Central Asia that emerge from the Soviet context. I want to briefly outline three Soviet era political and economic concepts that serve as the primary political vehicles that maintain the system of patron-client networks in the post-Soviet context of Central Asia. and nasiliye are the primary tools of power in the political and economic arena of the former U. and it became the common currency in the Soviet economy of scarcity when one needed to accomplish almost anything. Blat. is an abstract concept related to the extent of one’s patron-client network. 1998).5 Blat is accumulated by doing favors for others or through access to resources allowing for the performance of such favors.” In particular. Roberts published book on clan politics in the region. Essentially. one’s blat defines one’s relative position of power and one’s ability to attain loyalty from others. from the purchase of scarce products to finding employment. These three concepts are best explained by the Russian words blat.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. kompromat. For the anthropologist.4 I will. In the context of a patron-client network. the system of blat in the Soviet Union is 4 5 See Collins pp. Networking and Informal Exchange (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. blat. In other words. for which there is no English language equivalent. Central Asia included. see Alena Ledeneva. and blat is expended by attaining favors from others. Russia's Economy of Favours: Blat.

the system of blat is alive and well. however. “The Gift.”6 As the Soviet experience demonstrates. In the political economy of kompromat. 6 -6- . those politicians and businessmen who have the most access to kompromat about their friends and enemies are the strongest because they are able to maintain the largest network of loyal clients and are protected from the wrath of competing networks. or Dushanbe. Norton & Company. kompromat refers to a certain type of political blackmail where one withholds embarrassing or potentially illicit information about somebody in order to control him or her. Roberts reminiscent of the gift-giving described for “traditional cultures” by the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss in his seminal work from the 1920s. but this system’s origins owe at least as much to the Soviet context as they do to the cultural heritage of the region itself. The second term I mentioned above as critical to understanding elite patron-client networks in Central Asia and the entire former U. Bishkek. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies [W. Probably having its origins in the practices of the secret police. it is not surprising that whether we are talking about Moscow.” Rather.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. this system is not limited to those societies defined with the value-laden term “traditional. Tashkent. is Kompromat-. 2000 (1954)]. For this reason.S. W.R.S. it is typical of almost any society with a significant shadow economy that is not defined in strict monetary terms.a Sovietized abbreviation for “compromising material”. See Marcel Mauss. Astana. kompromat is its negative reinforcement that ensures unconditional loyalty to that network. If blat serves as positive reinforcement for bringing together patronclient networks. In Central Asia. Minsk.

This is how Presidents maintain order and ensure service and loyalty from those below them. Furthermore. elite politics are defined by a patron-client pyramid of power maintained through political tools from the Soviet era. To different degrees in each of the former Soviet Central Asian states. assassinations. like kompromat. of course. Even more than blat. nasiliye. kompromat is a Soviet phenomenon that has little to do with Central Asian “traditions.S. literally means “violence” in Russian. Roberts the most important section of government to control in the post-Soviet political arena is the successor agencies to the Soviet KGB. whether through beatings. and it is also how politicians and businessmen improve -7- . therefore. because these have the greatest access to kompromat on everybody from local activists to ministers and oligarchs.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. While it is hardly unique to the Soviet experience. nasilye is a political tool best employed with the assistance of the successor agencies to the Soviet KGB. Stalin’s legacy ensured that it remained an important political tool for instilling public fear throughout the history of the U. or threats made on one’s family members.S. institutionalization in mental health facilities. arrests. This is the tool one uses in politics when the powers of blat and kompromat have failed to weaken enemies and maintain loyalties from friends. poisonings.R. therefore. It is. and it is a concept well known around the world. the ugliest manifestation of patronclient-based authoritarian politics. and into the present day in the Soviet successor states.” The last term I will address. but in the context of politics. it refers to the power to use violence and brute force in the political arena.

the establishment of transparent and democratic institutions of governance would likely undermine their present hold on power.R.S. but clientelist and power-based in content. for all elites and even for many citizens. While a skeleton of institutions of governance based on a democratic model exist in every country of Central Asia and in most of the former Soviet Union. For those at the top of this system’s pyramid of power. most post-Soviet political systems are -. Democracy is mostly an abstract concept that frames competition for power just as communism was before it. and nasiliye by patronclient networks in the political sphere. For those elites who operate in this system. Roberts their position within the elite and manage to get closer to the sources of power and wealth. such institutions are continually undermined by the employment of blat. which they often view as a potential source of instability. Finally. -8- . democratic institutions would limit their ability to utilize the political vehicles with which they are most accustomed. little has changed from the Soviet period in substance. Essentially.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. the prospect of a structural change in the way that political power is won and expressed represents an ominous unknown quantity. For other elites entangled in this paraphrase one of the great slogans of the Soviet era – democratic in form. It is obvious why this self-reinforcing system of power represents an obstacle to democratic development in Central Asia and elsewhere in the former U. kompromat.S.

R. due to Central Asia’s strong tradition of family cohesiveness. at the top of the patronclient networks of the Central Asian states. Thus. Similarly. however.S. does not differ substantially from Yeltsin’s government in Russia or qualitatively from Putin’s regime today. it is difficult to argue that these so-called regional clans differ qualitatively from the regional bases of political power one sees in Ukraine or Russia. for example. the personal nature of patron-client networks almost naturally lends itself everywhere to the formation of groups with common origins in a given locality. the bureaucratic system of appointments. It can be argued that this patron-client political system that is present to varying degrees throughout the former U. becomes expressed slightly differently in the context of Central Asian culture. this system is based in the common experiences of the economy of scarcity. it is inaccurate to suggest that this system is somehow qualitatively different in the Central Asian context.R. Rather.S. and the culture of fear of the Soviet Union. one usually finds other members of the president’s family.S.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. This -9- . but this is neither suggestive of the system’s origins or of its relative entrenchment in Central Asia in comparison with other former Soviet regions. may have a stronger familial dimension than in Russia and other European areas of the former U. it does not serve as the basis for this system. This. while the elite clans often referred to in political analysis of Central Asia frequently have a regional dimension.S. While one might find kinship to be a bonding force in the patron-client relationships of Central Asia. In fact. Roberts Founded in Soviet practices of power. however. Elite patron-client power groups in Central Asia.

however. Roberts regionalist aspect of such networks. it is important to note that “traditional” social structures in Central Asia are not everywhere apparent and vary significantly where they are present. As Collins herself admits.10 - . Central Asia’s many ethnic groups all tend to maintain different means of self-regulation in their local communities. I would argue the opposite -. I will now look more closely at Central Asia’s local communities. while the former may be a significant obstacle to the development of democratic institutions in the region. To elaborate on this argument. these “traditional” structures are more apparent in rural areas than they are in urban spaces. it is counter-intuitive to suggest that the regional character of elite patronclient relations in Central Asia is somehow inherently related to the ethnographic nature of the region’s local social structures. and the mechanisms that provide for their cohesiveness. First. Furthermore. while Collins downplays the regional and ethnic variations in these local community structures. In fact.that there is a significant gap between the patron-client political system of elites in Central Asia and the region’s local communities. The mahallas of the . In this context. their functionality in society. is a formal quality and does not really change the content and function of these relationships. the latter serves as a certain type of indigenous civil society that could potentially become an important grassroots check on authoritarian rule and help facilitate democratic governance. Furthermore.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R.

differ markedly from the structure of a Kazakh “aul” or a Tajik “avlod. Roberts Uzbeks and the Uyghurs. and urban Tadjiks. I neither have the data nor the time today to elaborate on all of these different forms of local social structure in Central Asia. the example I provide of a Uyghur mahalla on the outskirts of the city of Almaty is intended to be instructive of the operations of local communities among various peoples throughout the region. Drawing from her ethnographic research among Uzbeks in Afghanistan in the 1970s. for example. The Uyghurs refer to their local communities as mahallas. Traditionally. my experiences among other Central Asian peoples leads me to believe that local Uyghur social structure in Kazakhstan shares many features common throughout the region. In this sense. particularly among the Uyghurs. In the Central Asian context. Rather. such spaces were interconnected through construction. Audrey Shalinsky . Uzbeks.11 - . It is also a physical place with definite borders that define the space of the community. in many ways. a unique example in Central Asia since they are a minority in all states in which they live. I will draw from my own fieldwork in the later 1990s among the Uyghurs of Kazakhstan to provide a sketch of how local communities operate in the region. The term makhalla has its origins in the Arab world where it is usually used to describe urban enclaves in large cities. While the Uyghurs are.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R.” Unfortunately. it describes a certain type of local social structure that has evolved over time.

12 - . p. such as births. most of which mark life cycle rites of passage. or head male. weddings. Kazakhstan in 1997 was called Zarya Vostoka after the name of the collective farm to which it once belonged. the zhigit beshi of the neighborhood is 7 Audrey Shalinsky. that community assets such as its large cooking kazan and its samovar for tea are distributed to all who host such events. but it did have a very strong sense of community. In addition to organizing community events and mediating disputes. The mahalla in which I lived also had a fairly clear system of governance that. 33 . while similar to that for the communities of other Central Asian peoples. to be the primary decision makers of a mahalla. Roberts described this space as "a series of interlocked lanes (or) kocha" that are formed by joining the walls of household compounds”7. they also elect a middle-aged male to serve as the community organizer and dispute mediator. Long Years of Exile (University Press of America. is specific to the Uyghurs. The Uyghur mahalla in which I lived on the outskirts of Almaty. circumcisions.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. known as tois. etc. 1993). deaths. the borders of which were understood by every one of its residents. This man is known as the zhigit beshi. however. More generally. It did not have interconnected housing compounds as described by Shalinsky. the glue that held this mahalla together was largely created through ritual celebrations. Although Uyghurs draw upon their elders. or aq sakols. and that tois of different families do not have scheduling conflicts. As is true for most Central Asian communities. the zhigit beshi is responsible for coordinating and regulating the toi celebrations in the neighborhood by ensuring that neighborhood limits are placed on spending for such events.

Roberts the unofficial head of what is basically a form of local self-government outside the purview of the state. In the neighborhood where I lived. During my stay in the Zarya Vostoka mahalla. Even the election of the zhigit beshi takes place through a consensus building process. sometimes as a group. but it might also happen in a more formal manner through something akin to a town meeting if an urgent and/or controversial decision needed to be made. Furthermore. this system of governance is based on consensus rather than on majority-rule.13 - . This would usually happen daily on an informal basis at the local mosque between prayers.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. Interestingly. important issues would only be made with the input of the whole community. While decisions in Zarya Vostoka were usually ultimately made by the loosely organized council of aq sakols. community members. the zhigit beshi. the community had decided that it needed to select a “youth zhigit beshi” from the neighborhood men in their 30s. the local mullah. but I also do not dispute that such conflicts do occur from time to time. I did not witness in the six months that I lived in the mahalla of Zarya Vostoka any incidents where this consensus-means of decision making created conflict. and the aq sakols would frequently meet to discuss community affairs and to make decisions related to community concerns. both to help . In general. would frequently approach this loosely organized council with issues of general community concern. the zhigit beshi. and the mullah.

In order to placate others who had been interested in the position. In many ways.” While this election did not reflect the type of competitive electoral democracy with which we are acquainted in the United States. While this young man politely tried to decline the nomination. one of the middle-aged men in attendance nominated a young man who combined several of the qualities discussed previously. he eventually agreed to a vote. the neighborhood’s middle-aged zhigit beshi facilitated the process with the assistance of a middle-aged haji who was respected as a religious leader in the community.14 - . Roberts regulate youth activities and to eventually replace the middle-aged zhigit beshi once he stepped down. the meeting included virtually every young man in the neighborhood between the ages of 18 and 40. Following this quite orderly make-shift town meeting where various young men were able to speak. which he won unanimously. all of which would work in concert with the new “youth zhigit beshi.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. The meeting began with various representatives of the youth offering their opinions on the qualities needed to fulfill the position’s responsibilities. At the election. it did entail a certain community consensus building that was inclusive and that reinforced the cohesiveness of the community. As a result. these were thinly disguised campaign speeches by men who hoped to be elected to the position. In addition to these two men and a handful of their middle-aged colleagues. an election was organized that was held outdoors at the local soccer field one summer evening. Such . several other nominations were made for other positions.

but instead it was performed by a group of men in their 20s and 30s who were primarily businessmen of different types.. During my stay in Zarya Vostoka. Uyghur mahallas. When this entails construction. this mobilization is known as hashar in Uyghur and Uzbek and Asar in Kazakh and Kyrgyz. hashar is frequently undertaken by the community to assist in the rebuilding of homes when a neighbor’s house has been destroyed by fire or natural catastrophe.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. roads. The idea for the project began as a means for providing the local community with a recreational space for school children to prevent them from becoming involved in narcotics and other vices during their free time. or recreational facilities. Once this group of men in their 20s and 30s had formulated the idea. . they went to the zhigit beshi and the aqsakol elders to present it. If the mahalla within which I lived represented a certain type of consensus democracy in its decision making and governance. like most local Central Asian communities. it was the community’s mobilization in solving problems that reflected its role as a critical part of civil society. A Uyghur hashar involves shared community labor (and often shared money) in the construction of communal spaces such as schools. This informal council agreed that such a project was needed and suggested that a vacant lot nearby be utilized to build the field. I witnessed one such hashar which involved the building of a community soccer field. This process was not undertaken by the entire community. frequently mobilize to undertake activities for the social good. mosques.15 - . In addition. Roberts consensus building processes were common in the adoption of virtually all important local decisions in zarya vostoka.

Similar processes had gone into the building of the mahalla’s mosque and the maintenance of its Uyghur language school. the community helped local authorities in organizing the schedule for the construction and ensuring that people were present at all homes when their gas lines were connected. After having lobbied the local government to ensure that these lines were to be built. utilizing available resources. the young men continued to organize soccer games for the youth of the neighborhood and worked together to ensure maintenance of the field with the assistance of the local youth who used it. however. Due . a concert by local musicians. including the rental of a bulldozer and the purchase of goal posts. its residents took the initiative to engage the state on building gas lines for all of the homes in the mahalla. Rather. Such activity was typical for this community. It did not rely on the state or foreign organizations for assistance in such projects. for example. Roberts With approval from the elders. the young men then organized a celebratory toi which involved a community feast. was not only reserved for local self-implemented development projects. of course. While I lived in the community. Several years later when I returned to the neighborhood to visit. Following this celebration. With the completion of the field. Such consensual activism. a soccer game. and. the young men went about doing the work needed to turn this lot into a functional soccer field. the costs of which they absorbed themselves. they were undertaken by the community itself.16 - .NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. the field was still in use and was well kept.

As a result. Furthermore. it was decided to work with other Uyghur neighborhoods in the city and with Uyghur political groups in Kazakhstan to coordinate protests and press conferences in Almaty.17 - . all of these activities suggest that the Uyghur mahalla in which I lived represented a certain type of indigenous civil society. They also helped to gather information from contacts in China and to distribute this information to other parts of the world through the network of Uyghur political organizations in Turkey and Europe. According to an often cited definition of civil society from the London School of Economics’ Centre for the Study of Civil Society. the community gathered to hold a meeting about its response to the event. At the meeting. gas lines were established in all homes over a two week period when such work undertaken by the local government alone usually took much longer. Roberts to this coordinated effort. the various Uyghur mahallas in the city were able to collectively use their resources to engage a significant number of international journalists who had come to Almaty after not gaining entry to Xinjiang. I encountered at least one instance where the community even coordinated a political advocacy campaign with other Uyghur mahallas around Almaty to address the repression of fellow Uyghurs in China. In theory. “ Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests. After the 1997 riots in the city of Kuldja in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China during which many young Uyghurs were killed and others later imprisoned. In my opinion. its institutional forms are distinct from . purposes and values.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R.

18 - . I have suggested that such local communities in Central Asia might be considered as a certain form of Muslim civil society. Most importantly. This term is not meant to infer that similar structures are found throughout the Muslim world or that their political perspective is defined by Islam. In the title of this talk. In effect.lse. civil society. family and market. it can play a similar role in society to that which is envisioned for such NGOs. family and market are often complex. I would suggest that they are consistent with the London School of Economics definition in that they represent “uncoerced collective action around shared interests.htm .”8 While this mahalla and other local Central Asian communities appear to be quite different from the deToqueville-esque voluntary civic organizations usually associated with civil society in the west. the local communities that make up this indigenous civil society are well organized and cohesive units that in certain contexts already represent the special interests of citizens vis a vis the While such a civil society differs markedly from the type of NGOs that receive funding in Central Asia from international organizations. the boundaries between state. Rather. blurred and negotiated. and values. http://www.” albeit organized along localized boundaries. Roberts those of the state. though in practice.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. it is communal society at least partially built on Islamic values and kept together through ritual practices related to the Muslim religion. 8 LSE Centre for the Study of Civil Society.

however. they have been instrumental in maintaining stability in many Central Asian countries by undertaking numerous social functions that should be the domain of the state.19 - . such communities represent consensually based socio-political organizations that differ markedly from the top-down patron-client networks of elites in the region. I would argue. In this sense. While these actions have been undertaken by the Uzbek state in the name of developing . and the maintenance of potable water systems. including the secruity agencies. Instead. for example. Roberts however. these traditional communities have yet to play a proactive role in Central Asian politics.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. These include such neglected areas as the maintenance of schools. the Karimov regime in Uzbekistan has actively sought to control the mahalla social structure throughout the country. the construction of roads. It has made the position of mahalla leader a state-financed position that must be approved by the local government and is required to report to government organs. and it has been reinforced by state attempts to varying degrees throughout the region to control these communities and their political expressions. Since the later 1990s. that these local communities’ compliance with autocratic regimes to date has been mostly a survival strategy in the context of Central Asia’s transition from communism. If they are a certain type of civil society. these communities have to a certain degree facilitated the ineffective governance of autocratic regimes by filling in where the state is absent.

the local communities have to date rarely resisted such “requests” from the state. they have essentially removed the mahalla from the domain of the grassroots. or even more subversive.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. and Tajikistan. In Kazakhstan. I heard several anecdotal accounts of rural communities refusing to vote. making it beholden to a top-down system of power. During the 2004 parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan. for example. Roberts grassroots democracy. Over the last several years. While this represents a subtle and silent form of resistance like those described by political scientist James Scott in his discussion of “the weapons of the weak” in Indonesia. a much more violatile lapse in state control over local communities was seen .20 - . refusing to vote for the ruling party. Acquainted with similar control mechanisms being employed during the Soviet era. for example. This is done through local governmental organs that are able to implicitly or explicitly threaten communities with the withdrawl of what meager resources they receive from the state. we are beginning to see cracks in the armor of this system of control over local communities in Central Asia. less overt devices have been used by other states in the region. however. local communities are often forced to join the ruling political party and/or “deliver” certain election results. Kyrgyzstan. While Karimov’s co-optation of the mahalla structure provides an extreme example of state attempts to control local communities.

See Sarah Stuteville. it is also likely that state officials understood that they were gradually losing control of the city’s local communities. and it is likely that many of the people who came out to protest the arrests of Akramiya members in the days prior to the May 13 massacre were not adherents to the sect. 16 June Similarly. When the Almaty city government chose to evict the residents of two squatter communities in Shanirak and Bakay.9 While much remains unclear about the events that took place last year in Andijan.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. http://www. 1987). 24 August 2005). most objective observers would agree that the Akramiya religious community in the city had gained significant influence in local neighborhoods through their support for social activities and small business development. this small religious group was preaching many of the same values as the mahalla community structure itself. but merely sympathizers with the Akramiya’s social programs. including the burning to death of a police officer who was trying to evict the residents.forum18. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press. they were met with fierce and organized resistance. For a fairly neutral description of the Akramiya sect in Uzbekistan and its involvement in the May protests.21 - .11 While the city eventually was able to bulldoz both villages.10 Given the force used by the Uzbek state to repress the popular protest in the city square. 9 See James Scott. Trouble in the Suburbs: The Dark Side of Post-Soviet Development in Kazakhstan (Common Language Project. see Igor Rotar. Kazakhstan has also been witnessing the resistance power of local communities in Almaty this past year. 11 10 .php?article_id=586). UZBEKISTAN: What is known about Akramia and the uprising? (Forum 18 News Service. the resistance it encountered suggested that similar evictions elsewhere could provoke destablilizing violence. In effect. Roberts in the infamous Andijan events of May 2005 in Uzbekistan.

22 - . they have not yet been extensively successful. Dariga Nazarbayeva’s Asar party was in many ways founded with the ambition of gaining the support of local communities around the country. In Kazakhstan. such self-interested acts hardly suggest that there exists a cohesive and primordial clan system that is universally operative in the politics of Central Asia. Such incidents suggest that most local communities in the region. especially in rural areas. What is happening in Central Asia today. using significant resources for local community development projects around the country. It is for this reason that she likely chose the name Asar. While they may occassionally support the political careers of local elites who promise to deliver their communities more resources. I would argue that such resistance is further indicative of the myth of cohesive grassrootsto-elite clans in Central Asia. The ruling Otan party in Kazakhstan. . both peaceful and violent.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. do not feel included in the political machinations of the elite. is that political elites are beginning to court local communities more vigorously. have taken place throughout the region. which appeals to the sensibilities of traditional Kazakh communities. Roberts And these are only those events that have been widely reported. she made community development projects in rural villages a cornerstone of her party’s strategy for gaining support. however. particularly in a closed state like Turkmenistan. which has now subsumed Asar. Given these politicians’ Soviet background. particularly in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore. We have no idea of how many similar examples of resistance. has also followed suit.

and those tools—as I have already noted— rely more on intrigue and force than on ideals. the events of the last twenty months in Kyrgyzstan have demonstrated that local communities are a powerful force that can be politically mobilized for a variety of political agendas. Many observers. both share the same shortcoming. however.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. Both during and since the March events of 2005 that deposed president Akayev. suggest that these efforts have been mostly accomplished by doling out cash to village residents in return for their participation in protests. Kyrgyz politicians of all stripes have sought the support of villagers for mass protest actions. capitalism. That being said. of course. the attempts to reach out to local communities have been quite different. whether communism. People in Central Asia’s rural communities have been continually disappointed by the promises of political ideologies. is difficult for several reasons. Roberts In Kyrgyzstan. however. Addressing such abstract concepts with local communities. These attempts by Kyrgyz and Kazakh politicians to reach out to local communities. or democracy. most politicians in the region remain beholden to the political tools that frame their competition for power.23 - . Regardless of motivations. They are based in efforts to merely provide materially for these local communities rather than in sincere attempts to engage rural populations on political issues or a vision for the future of their respective countries. Furthermore. Once a political movement in Central . but they have also played a much more critcal role in politics than in Kazakhstan. there is also evidence that villagers have participated in protests in return for promises of state resources once the organizing politician is in a position of power.

I just want to reiterate the main points of my argument and what they tell us about political development in Central Asia. Without access to a variety of sources of information. while important to understanding politics in the region.24 - . are less a phenomenon of Central Asian traditions than they are a remnant of Soviet political culture. have little interaction with the ruthless political world of elites. institutions that can facilitate meaningful citizen input into governmental decision making. The question that remains in the political development of Central Asia is how the political power of these local communities will be expressed. they reflect a certain type of indigenous Muslim-influenced civil society that is potentially a powerful political force that can represent the interests of a large rural population. or political processes that encourage politicians to reach out to such local communities. leading to more representative and accountable governance in the region. By contrast. Instead. In conclusion. I have pointed out that elite patron-client networks. I have tried today to deconstruct the myth of a cohesive primordial politics of clans in Central Asia by showing the wide gaps between the political characteristics of local communities and those of elite patron-client networks.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. . One would like to hope that such local communities could serve as a potent mediating force between citizens and the state in Central Asia. the local community structures in the region. however. these local “solidarity groups” may not fulfill such a role in the near future. Roberts Asia can successfully appeal to the region’s large rural population with a vision for the future. however. that movement could be very powerful indeed. In doing so. which are based in indigenous cultural traditions.

The same could be said of international development organizations. they generally do not have the capacity to engage them. . it is somewhat ominous that they are one of the few political players in Central Asia right now that truly understands the power of local communities. While I do not want to overstate the danger or power of such religious groups. While politicians in some Central Asian states are beginning to understand the power of local rural communities. those wishing to employ them as tools must find effective and meaningful means for engaging these communities. In contrast. in the short term. They are evidently not fooled by the myth of traditional clanism in Central Asia and can appreciate local rural communities for their role as an indigenous Muslim civil society. Roberts Rather. but only for short periods of time. religious groups such as Hizb-ut-tahrir have likely been the most successful in reaching out to such communities in Central Asia. In order for that to happen. local communities are more likely to become another political tool in Central Asia as elite politicians begin to understand their power.25 - . however.NOT FOR CITATION Sean R. which have occasionally been successful in engaging such communities.