Working Title: Bishkek after or before the Revolution? Integration, Conflict, and Identification among Youth in a post-Soviet Urban Context
The Kyrgyz “Tulip Revolution” of March 2005 ended the fifteen years’ presidency of Askar Akaev and initially brought the tandem of Kurmanbek Bakiev and Feliks Kulov atop the political administration. High expectations were attached to this move – to reconcile the North-South divide being a major one of them –, but as we approach its second anniversary, the “revolution” obviously did not bring about significant improvements for the majority of the Kyrgyz. The overall performance of the state structures still is weak and the severe challenges in the political, economic, cultural and social domains remain insufficiently addressed. Furthermore, the continuous struggles on the national political level – about a new constitution and concerning the recent resignation of Kulov as Prime Minister – so far leave little hope for a serious turnaround in the near future.
So currently, at least from a macro-level perspective, Kyrgyzstan finds itself in a “liminal” situation (Turner 1969). After the – also highly ritualistic – breach with a first post-Soviet period full of privations, it seems that now is the time of anti-structure, a concomitance of contingent potentiality and temporary disorder.
Especially in critical situations as the one just described, the youth is perceived to be at once a virtual and decisive but also a vulnerable and “instrumentalizable” part of the society. Again, the case of the “Tulip Revolution” exemplifies this. Undisputedly, youths played a vital role in the recent political upheavals and thereby generally proved their capacity to impact on social change. In the meantime however, confidence in the new leadership is declining; many of its young supporters have grown disappointed, and some political actives also started to join the ranks of a growing opposition. This development constitutes only the latest of the post-Soviet frustrations, ultimately adding up to a more general disillusionment and societal perception of moral and legal “chaos” (Nazpary 2002) – a feeling which not only arises from the so far little advancements in politics and economy, but also from structural experiences of corruption, nepotism, and arbitrariness.
Against this background I want to examine the everyday social processes of integration, exclusion, conflict and identification among youths in Bishkek.
Choosing Bishkek as the site of my fieldwork allows me to relate my findings to other anthropological studies focusing either on urbanity and youth in post-Soviet times or on patterns of social organization in rural areas. In addition, Bishkek is a highly “dynamic” setting and the locus of major NGOs, media outlets, universities, migration movements and cash flows. It therefore can be considered the main “arena” for intensive situational, symbolic and ritual interaction and the articulation of identities.