Chinara Jakypova is a former Minister of Education, Science and Culture of Kyrgyzstan, former Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Politics, and former Chairperson of the Soros-Kyrgyzstan Foundation. She currently leads the Bishkek office of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, a British-based organization that supports peace, democracy, and development in societies undergoing crisis and change.

Jakypova began her presentation by stressing the interdependence between the five Central Asian states-- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Events taking place in one country resonate throughout the region. The territorial disputes with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, especially regarding the national enclaves, remain a problem for Kyrgyzstan. In addition, Kazakhstan, which Kyrgyzstan had always considered a "big brother" rather than just a neighboring state, has recently began to enforce stricter border control to prevent the inflow of Kyrgyz workers into the country. The Kyrgyz people see Kazakhstan as a stable and prosperous region, and about 100,000 of them work on the Kazakhstan tobacco plantations. To control the Kyrgyz border, Kazakhstan introduced immigration cards and changed customs regulations. Although Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest among the five Central Asian countries, it possesses the largest number of small businesses, and Jakypova sees much potential for the economic development of her country, especially if more large enterprises are founded.

Jakypova also discussed the "grey economy," and, in particular, the Kyrgyzstan textile industry, currently under investigation by Moscow officials. Apparently, several thousand Kyrgyz families work in an underground "garment empire" that supplies high quality suits and other clothing to Russia, where it is sold as Western designer clothing. Using this example, Jakypova argued that Kyrgyzstan might not be as poor as the official indicators showed when the underground economy was taken into consideration. In addition, she said the development of tourism and the travel industry had been strengthening the country's economic growth.

Kyrgyz economic growth will become a more relevant topic in the presidential elections of 2005. Kyrgyzstan has forty-five political parties registered, but at this point no single party is strong enough to provide a real presidential candidate. Today political opposition does not pose a serious threat to power holders. Its influence is constrained by poor finances, lack of adequate access to mass media, and lack of unity among the leaders. Therefore, Jakypova does not believe that the opposition would be able to change the political situation in the country in the nearest future. She noted that the opposition has to make many changes in order to become a powerful political force.

Jakypova proposed three possible outcomes of the 2005 elections in Kyrgyzstan. First, President Askar Akayev, an experienced politician and a trained scientist with a doctorate in physics who has been in power since 1990, could be reelected for another presidential term or be elected as a speaker to the Parliament. The second outcome could be similar to the Russian scenario where the incumbent president would not run again but rather would introduce his hand-picked successor. There has been speculation about the close relatives of President Akayev running in the next election, but Jakypova is rather skeptical about this. Finally, some experts argue that the superpowers might choose the next president. For example, since Russia still wields substantial influence and popularity in Kyrgyzstan, Moscow could bring in the next president. Jakypova underlined that one of the obstacles for any presidential candidate would be passing the test on the Kyrgyz language, which is a requirement for the office. This test will create barriers for those candidates who grew up in the urban areas and do not speak Kyrgyz very well.

While the results of the 2005 presidential election are unpredictable at this point, Jakypova stressed that regardless of the outcome, fighting corruption in all spheres is necessary in order to implement future reforms in Kyrgyzstan. Jakypova also argued that in the last few years there has been growing indirect state control over some major NGOs. She added that recently free mass media in Kyrgyzstan faced the threat of extinction and authorities started censorship of the online press.

Jakypova described the training programs facilitated through the NGOs and the resources that the United States invested in the Kyrgyz younger generation over the last decade. Due to American financial help currently about ten percent of the population has access to the Internet, and the Soros Foundation contributed 20 million dollars to the educational system. Students have opportunities to obtain scholarships to attend the American University (AUCA) in Kyrgyzstan. There was also a discussion of the influence of clans in Kyrgyzstan. Jakypova commented that unlike other Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan did not have clan-based politics, instead people with real money were in power, while the rest constituted the opposition.

Dr. Anders Åslund noted the paradox of striking pluralism in Kyrgyz public life and the contrasting lack of independent media and structured government opposition. He mentioned two main reasons for corruption in the country. First, there is a lack of the state authority in the regions where local officials have unlimited power. Second, unlike many other former Soviet Republics, Kyrgyzstan has very few large enterprises, and that slows down economic development and the privatization process. Jakypova added that eliminating corruption in the education system, both at the university level and in the secondary schools, was critical for the economic development of the nation.

Furthermore, Jakypova said that the population of the country was divided into pro-Russian, pro-Western, and pro-Chinese. Pensioners, nomenklatura and the majority of government officials support the Russian factions. Those in NGOs and college students, including those who attend the American University -Central Asia, tended to be pro-Western. Chinese influence grows stronger with each year as China pumps more and more cash into Kyrgyzstan, and many local businessmen have started joint ventures with China. The presence of China-dominated antiterrorist center of the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation, a Russian military base, and an American military base clearly reflects the influence of these superpowers in Kyrgyzstan. According to Jakypova, another factor that leads to ever-growing influence of these external powers is that there are 2,000 functioning NGOs, mainly created and funded by the West, 2,000 schools built in the Soviet times, which use books received from Russia, and 2,000 mosques and religious organizations mainly constructed with financial support from the Muslim countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, while virtually all consumer goods are provided by Chinese producers. Although these numbers are rather changeable, this ratio reflects the balance of different groups within the country.

In conclusion, Chinara Jakypova pointed out that President Akayev recently made a promise to step down in 2005 and meanwhile to support anticorruption efforts. She hopes that the President's promise will go beyond the round table discussions to bring these much needed changes to Kyrgyzstan.

Summary prepared by Kate Vlachtchenko, Junior Fellow with the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace