EPDF and EPUB available Open Access under CC-BY-NC-ND licence.
Drawing on decolonial perspectives on peace, statehood and development, this illuminating book examines post-liberal statebuilding in Central Asia. It argues that, despite its emancipatory appearance, post-liberal statebuilding is best understood as a set of social ordering mechanisms that lead to new forms of exclusion, marginalization and violence.
Using ethnographic fieldwork in Southern Kyrgyzstan, the volume offers a detailed examination of community security and peacebuilding discourses and practices. Through its analysis, the book highlights the problem with assumptions about liberal democracy, modern statehood and capitalist development as the standard template for post-conflict countries, which is widespread and rarely reflected upon.
This chapter introduces the reader to the context of Kyrgyzstan, where the 2020 government coup has served to exhibit the discontents of the country’s political trajectory. Against this background, the chapter sets out the proposal of post-liberalism as an alternative to currently prevalent critiques of ‘illiberal’ and ‘authoritarian’ politics across post-Socialist Eurasia and globally. A post-liberal approach rejects the orientalizing and Western-centric premises of both mainstream and critical research, as it seeks to unpack and reflect on the hierarchy, exclusion and violence innate to political ordering both in the West and globally. This contribution is situated in debates on societal and political ordering in an age of fading Western dominance, and is substantiated in discussing the conceptual and methodological contributions and decolonial grounding of the study. By adopting a practice-based and dialogical approach to research and by inquiring the imaginaries, discourses and practices foregrounding peace and security in Kyrgyzstan, this work offers a perspective embedded in people’s experiences, lifeworlds and historical legacies. While these are, at times, acquiescent to hierarchical and exclusionary ways of ordering, they also present resistance to modern-colonial power formations which is of decisive importance for understanding post-liberal socio-political order and its modern-colonial foundations.
The chapter presents the theoretical contribution of the monograph. First, it provides a reading of post-liberal thought in historical perspectives on imperial liberal thought, in political theory and philosophy and in critical (and historical) security studies perspectives. These reveal the violent and coercive nature of liberal political thought and practice and point to a post-liberal approach to studying contemporary governance and ordering. The next section shows how the failures and transmutations of liberalism since the end of the Cold War have been apparent in both the non-West and the West. Thus, the violent, coercive and identitarian tendencies within political systems and wider social forces point to the need to rethink the application and scope of ‘illiberal’ and ‘authoritarian’ framings in social inquiry. The fourth section sets out the post-liberal approach of the book by developing the governmentality-focused conception proposed by David Chandler into a lens that seeks to inquire, make visible and possibly transform violent forms of peace and order through a decolonial angle. The fifth and final section traces the paradox of liberal ordering and corresponding need for a post-liberal approach in the field of community security, which rounds up the theoretical terrain covered by the monograph.
This chapter develops the analytical approach through which the study realizes its decolonial, dialogical and practice-based endeavour. It does so by developing the Russian philosopher and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of heteroglossia in the context of social ordering, where it can help to capture and analyse the multiplicity of meanings that coexist and inevitably shape the social world. In connection to the latter, the discussion engages with the concept of ‘social imaginary’ based on the works of Cornelius Castoriadis, Charles Taylor and others. It shows how social imaginaries can help to analyse meaning and understandings that are not explicitly observable but nevertheless inform and shape social ordering processes and their outcomes. The final section presents the dialogical and practice-based approach to research in detail and demonstrates how it helped the researcher to navigate issues of access and safety during fieldwork, and how it helped to uncover the role of social imaginaries in peacebuilding and community security practices. This includes critical reflections on the limitations and barriers faced by the author, and on the implications of these for the present study and future research
Opening the second, analytical part of the monograph, this chapter maps out the imaginaries of social order identified in this study. A brief initial reflection on Kyrgyzstan’s and the wider region’s history since independence in 1991 and the social, political and economic challenges it has faced is carried forward and deepened in the discussion of the three dominant imaginaries of social order. The main section discusses the three imaginaries – the ‘Western liberal peace’, ‘Politics of sovereignty’ and ‘Tradition and culture’ – and the four key discourses which constitute each of them and thus reflect their historical formation, consolidation, normalization, but also contestation. The discussion pays particular attention to the aspect of friction and complementarity between different imaginaries and composite discourses, so as to orientate the reader as to how they can play out in social reality. The final section provides further detail on how the interplay between different imaginaries, discourses and associated practices of peace- and statebuilding produce post-liberal, rather than ‘liberal’ or ‘illiberal’ forms of order. It further gives an overview on how the case studies in the following chapters are situated within and vis-à-vis the three imaginaries of statebuilding in Kyrgyzstan.
This chapter introduces the reader into the field of community security in Kyrgyzstan and the first case study on Local Crime Prevention Centres (LCPCs). It first presents a sketch of life in rural and semi-urban Kyrgyzstan and surveys the challenges to peace and security stemming from the market transition and associated forms of migration-based livelihoods and informality. The next section presents a mapping of local government structures and community-level social institutions as well as their role in helping to maintain a minimum of stability, order and service provision. The third section discusses the establishment of LCPCs as a node between executive and law enforcement authorities, local populations and social institutions, as well as NGOs and international donors. The following analysis of peacebuilding and community security practices in municipalities in southern Kyrgyzstan scrutinizes the selective, future-oriented and often performative approach which leaves the ‘politics of sovereignty’ imaginary unchallenged and thus foregrounds a post-liberal governmentality. As demonstrated in the case of the peacebuilding carried out with reference to the Soviet-era discourse of ‘peoples’ friendship’ (druzhba narodov), such efforts resonate with popular desire for peace and unity, but simultaneously leave experiences of injustice and suffering during and after the 2010 interethnic conflict unaddressed.
This chapter analyses Territorial Youth Councils (TYCs), whose creation and capacitation, similar to LCPCs, has been initiated by local NGOs and supported by the OSCE in Kyrgyzstan. Apart from being aligned with executive and government agendas, TYCs’ activities pointed more explicitly to the necessity of raising and addressing people’s needs by more systematic, national-level policy and institutional changes. The second section describes how TYCs were created as bodies for conflict prevention, peace- and tolerance-building in the aftermath of the 2010 clashes in and around Osh. The next section shows how TYCs addressed conflict-related and more general socioeconomic issues through strategies ranging from solidarity and charity to self-help and entrepreneurial thinking, thus propagating resilience and adaptation while normalizing the neoliberal market economy. This alignment with the Western ‘liberal peace’ imaginary coexists with a positioning in the ‘politics of sovereignty’ imaginary, as TYCs engage in events and practices affirming Kyrgyzstan’s national ideology and national elites’ ambiguous positioning vis-à-vis ethnic minorities. Moving into the realm of national youth policy and participation, the fourth section indicates the state authorities’ lack of systematic approaches and reliance on NGOs and international funding, which underlines the post-liberal constellation of policy and order-making from the national down to the community level.
This chapter analyses the evolution and impact of the NGO network Civic Union “For Reforms and Result”. The first section situates the aspect of law enforcement reform in peace and security research and surveys the creation of the ‘Civic Union’ and its challenge to the authorities’ approach to police reform. The second section traces the impasse faced by the network’s activists in trying to effect policy change, which required them to build up and demonstrate their ‘expert’ status. The next section analyses the network’s implementation of its ‘cooperative security’ approach in piloting communities, which points to a general success in creating more inclusionary and representative forms of security, although some hierarchies and exclusions persisted. The final section analyses the network’s knowledge-production practices, including publication of research and commentary to demonstrate the importance and efficacy of their approach, and traces how the small successes achieved were slowly reversed by the recent re-monopolization of the police reform process and wider public policy in a deepening authoritarian trajectory. This morphing of a post-liberal into a more clearly anti-liberal trajectory is linked back to the book’s argument about the regressive nature and long-term trajectories of ‘liberal peace’-style statebuilding interventions.
The conclusion draws together the insights from the three empirical chapters and consolidates the monograph’s argument on post-liberal statebuilding in Central Asia and beyond. It first recapitulates and links the insights on practices and discourses of peacebuilding and community security to the imaginaries of social order identified in Chapter 4. This discussion focuses on three themes: different forms and degrees of alignment, cooperation and contestation of actors and initiatives with executive and government authorities; the possibilities and constraints on attempts to reconfigure and redefine the authority, obligations and competencies of state actors and institutions; the selective absence and withdrawal of the state on the community level and in various sectors, combined with claims to power of interpretation. These observations are tied into the argument that the country, and in some ways its neighbours as well, is on a post-liberal trajectory of order-making and statebuilding. The chapter elaborates the implications for the literature on ‘illiberal’, ‘authoritarian’ and other non-democratic forms of political order in Central Asia and beyond. It points to the need to appreciate the post-liberal character of contemporary politics and to further engage in formulating a decolonial perspective on it, and on alternative future horizons.