Central Asia: Police State Lite


April 10, 2007: When you think of modern police states that work, you tend to think of Cuba and North Korea. But in Central Asia, there are a bunch of them, all formerly parts of the Soviet Union, and only independent since 1991. Despite pro-democracy movements, Islamic radicals and anti-corruption groups, the dictators survive and prosper. That's because the Central Asian dictators spread the money around, and strive to have real, or usually paid, friends in every village. That way, anti-government activity is detected, and usually pounced on, immediately. Thus when Islamic conservatives try to pass out leaflets about their cause, they, and their leaflets, quickly disappear into the local police building. But the police state has its limits, as the government of Kyrgyzstan is discovering. There, reform groups have organized, peacefully, throughout the country, and put enormous pressure on the politicians. The political climate is different in Uzbekistan, where Islamic radicals have been more successful, which triggered a more violent government reaction.

April 5, 2007: Despite the demand (by Islamic radicals, criminals and anti-government groups in general), there has not been a large increase in gunrunning. During 70 years of Soviet rule, the population was disarmed, and there has been no move to acquire firearms. Poverty has a lot to do with it, as well as the effective police state the former Soviet era politicians have established.

April 2, 2007: Work has resumed on lifting thousands of mines planted along the Afghan Tajik borders. Some three dozen people a year are killed or wounded by these mines, originally emplaced to hinder drug smugglers. The mines have become more of a menace to innocent civilians crossing, than to more deliberate drug smugglers. So last year, the government began clearing the mines along the 1,300 kilometer long border.

March 29, 2007: While no one in Kyrgyzstan trusts politicians all that much, many elected officials profess support for clean government, and these reformers have forced president Bakiyev to appoint a reform minded prime minister. In Central Asia, reforms are often cosmetic, but the governments have not been able to stamp out large scale political organizing. Proliferation of telephones and Internet access have broken the long-time government lock on the new media.

March 25, 2007: Tajikistan is going back to its Iranian roots, as the government orders that endings on family names be changed to reflect their original Iranian form. Thus the president of Tajikistan changed his name from Rahmonov to Rahmon. The Slavic "ov" or "ev" was added to family names in the past century or so, to make them sound more Russian. That was because Russia has dominated the region since the 19th century. No more. Many of the people in Central Asia are Indo-European, ethnic cousins to Europeans and Indians. Legend, and some archeological evidence, indicates that the origins of the Indo-Europeans were to be found in "Iranian" tribes wandering the great plains of Central Asia after the last Ice Age ended 12,000 years ago. Some of the tribes are still out there, intermixed with Turkic tribes, who originally came from further east. These gestures are not aimed at linking up with Iran, but are more concerned with diminishing remaining Russian influence.


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