Bazaars Matter in Kyrgyzstan
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 21, 2014 03:02
The Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies held an event featuring Dr. Regine A. Spector, assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, entitled “Protecting Property without Rights: Bazaars and the Emergence of a Familial State in Kyrgyzstan” in Riggs Library on Thursday.
The lecture focused on the development of property rights and economic development through the eyes of the traders and owners of these various bazaars – or marketplaces – in Kyrgyzstan’s major cities including the capital city of Bishkek.
Spector began by dispelling the notion that the region’s major trading centers are still those that originated along the Silk Road in countries such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
“While the bazaars that thrived in cities such as Samarkand and Bukhara — bazaars that still exist today — the biggest bazaars in Central Asia are now located in Kyrgyzstan. After the first decade of independence Kyrgyzstan has earned a reputation as a trading state and as a country of traders,” Spector said.
Spector also examined the political and economic development of the nation since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and the country’s transition to an open parliamentary democratic system after the 2010 removal of authoritarian President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Spector analyzed these developments through the eyes of the owners of these many bazaars — who are often well-connected members of the Kyrgyz political elite — as a way to understand their role in the economic and social issues that plagued so-called “predatory” states that lack stable rule-of-law institutions.
“If you take the 10 richest people in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament in 2008, you will find that five of them are bazaar owners. The active engagement in politics is considered crucial to maintaining their positions of power in society,” Spector said.
In the question and answer session that followed, Spector addressed questions from the audience of around 30 people, mostly academics with a particular interest in the field of Central Asian studies.
Dr. Angela Stent, Director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, inquired about the current debate over Kyrgyzstan joining a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus led by Russia, a move that has sparked mass protests from many workers who say the agreement would result in higher tariffs.
“Over time, I would suggest that various political analysts and business interests have come to realize that Kyrgyz tariffs are very low, and that joining the customs union would in fact raise those tariffs. For a re-export sector, those tariffs are very damaging, and that re-export sector is the bazaars,” Spector said.
Anne Johnson (GRD ’15), a student in the Global Human Development Program, asked about the role of women in these bazaars, and how their involvement shapes their role in these new political systems.
“The folks that you mentioned in the management positions seem to be mostly men, but women are also very active in bazaar culture,” Johnson said, “What about their role in these property negotiations and political maneuverings?”
Spector maintained that while men do primarily occupy these ownership roles in the bazaar system, there is a trend towards women taking larger roles in the day-to-day business operations in some circumstances.
“It is true that most of the owners are men, however women do play important roles at that level because often times the women are formally the owners of businesses since the husband is often a member of parliament or is in a political position where he is not allowed to have a business,” Spector said.
According to Stent, the Nava’i-Nalle series is meant to foster academic interest in Central Asian affairs, especially to encourage the work of younger scholars entering this field of study.