Think of Turkmen as Asian

Democracy in the Third World

Beate Eschment

To person

Dr. phil., born 1960; research assistant at the Central Asia Seminar at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Address: Central Asia Seminar, Humboldt University Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin.

Publications including: The "Khanate Nazarbaevs" - Domestic Political Developments 1995 in Kazakhstan, in: Eastern Europe, 46 (1996) 9; Does Kazakhstan have a "Russian problem"? Revision of a disaster picture, special publication by the Federal Institute for Eastern and International Studies, Cologne 1998.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West hoped that the Central Asian republics would also follow the path to democracy. These include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.


When the Soviet Union collapsed more than nine years ago, democratization euphoria was widespread in the West. Not only for the states of Central Europe and the European Soviet Union, but also for the five new states in Central Asia Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, a system change towards democracy was expected and was ready to support this with considerable financial resources. By joining the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), it was believed that they could politically commit these countries to a course in democracy.

Today, however, disillusionment has set in. Even based on a minimal definition of democracy [1], the most liberal Central Asian state - Kyrgyzstan - is far from a democracy in the western sense. The Central Asian states are ruled by presidents who took power in the wake of perestroika and have since then done everything to avoid relinquishing it again. They were confirmed to the population by overwhelming electoral victories, but at the expense of democratic freedoms. In 1998/99 the five states of Central Asia bring up the rear among 28 (south) east European countries and the CIS states in the assessment of the well-known US organization Freedom House [2]: Kyrgyzstan (together with Azerbaijan) ranks among them with the Grade 5, followed by Kazakhstan with 5.5, Tajikistan 6 (together with Serbia and Belarus) and Uzbekistan 6.5. Turkmenistan comes in last with a 7, the worst possible grade. On a world scale, only Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Vietnam performed so badly [3].

In the following, the questions will be investigated how this development came about, how the current presidential regimes are to be characterized and what prognosis the Central Asian states have with regard to future democratization as well as internal stability.