TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr.
Juni 2010

Sektion 1.5. Europe and Central Asia – More than Security and Energy? Defining an Emerging Partnership
Sektionsleiter | Section Chairs: Peter Felch (ARTilek, Vienna, Austria), Gunther Neumann (Vienna, Austria)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Section Report 1.5.

Europe and Central Asia – More than Security and Energy?
Defining an Emerging Partnership

Gunther Neumann (Vienna, Vice President of the IICP) [BIO]





The melodious name “Silk Road” has been a song line of early globalization. Samarqand, Scheherazade, a Thousand and One Nights have stimulated the fantasies of Europeans as well as Orientals for generations with rapturous delight. Central Asia has made notable contributions to human progress in architecture, medicine, mathematics, philosophy, handicraft, irrigated agriculture. Central Asia, melting pot of ancient civilizations and the historical bridge between Europe and East Asia, has re-emerged as a sphere of economic and political interest in the Centre of Eurasia, the continent where 75% of the World Population lives. After the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the rather unexpected emergence of independent Central Asian republics, the balance of power in the region has shifted. The KCTOS section discussed questions such as:

Anticipating and summarizing the conclusions outlined below, the KCTOS section agreed that, with the shifting centre of gravity of the world economy towards East and South Asia, the role of the EU in the area and in the competition for regional resources and influence is still limited. Meanwhile, the influence of China continues to grow, and the Russian ascendancy is also on the rise again. Attendees concurred that more political efforts, financial resources as well as endeavours in the field of cultural exchange were needed in order to strengthen and accelerate EU-Central Asia relations. With several potentially destabilising geopolitical factors (such as nationalism, religious fundamentalism, terrorism and the global contest for energy resources), all major state players are nevertheless interested in economic growth and political stability, with a possibly negative impact on civil liberties. 


Trends since independence

Except Tajikistan, which, with its historical and geographical proximity to Afghanistan experienced a dolorous civil war, independence came rather unexpected to the five former Soviet Republics of Central Asia. Known before to the rest of the world primarily for space launches and nuclear testing, the economic development of several countries, in particular Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan is accelerating, based on mineral resources and Petrodollars, with influx of foreign capital and investment in infrastructure, including several pipeline projects. The head for business along the modern “Silk Road” is back.

Russia, China and the US are undoubtedly the major players in a new “Great Game”, the Eurasian poker in competing for resources and influence in Central Asia, with other regional powers (such as Japan, India, Turkey, Iran in the second, and possibly additional countries with a mostly Muslim majority such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Arab countries in the third row), each with a separate agenda and vested economic and political interests. Right after their independence, the Central Asian Countries needed international recognition and were receptive to advice, as lined out by Kamoludin Abdullaev from the Tajik State National University in Dushanbe in a concise written report. Since the mid 1990ies, the new old ruling elites either tried to balance between the competing major players or strike the most profitable alliance to ensure their rule. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE, the successor of the former CSCE), in which the author Gunther Neumann served as Deputy Director for seven years, was among the first international organizations to accept the new Central Asian Republics as “Participating States” (full-fledged members with a right to veto any decision). The OSCE has opened offices or missions in all five Central Asian Countries to provide assistance and advice in the areas of economic transformation, rule of law, practices of democracy, institution-building, pluralism, human rights and open society. Gunther Neumann reported on the co-operation of the OSCE and the UN with Central Asian authorities on these issues as well as on strengthening comprehensive efforts to counter terrorism right after 9/11, e.g. at the “Conference on Enhancing Security and Stability in Central Asia” in Bishkek as early as December 2001.

The increased US involvement in Central Asia after 9/11 has strengthened the respective ruling class. According to Kamoludin Abdullaev,  the authoritarian regimes in the area have imitated - and even perverted - US policy, declaring their respective “wars on terror” against real, imagined or invented Islamic extremism: ruling regimes - and not the civil society - have benefited most from this development. With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, increasing frustration, dissatisfaction and disillusionment and growing anti-Americanism, commonly associated with “anti-Westernism” have been spreading in Central Asian, above all in the densely populated Fergana Valley, shared by Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, with its new, jagged international borders and numerous respective enclaves and exclaves.


Russia, China

Bülent Ugrasiz (Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir, Turkey) expounded that Chinese relations with Russia as well as Central Asia have evolved since the independence of the latter, both in the political and economic field. Although China and Russia are in different stages of difficult economic and political transitions, their respective policies seem rather stable, i.e. in search of reducing possible security tensions, to enhance economic co-operation and develop energy resources for the Chinese market. Last not least, China and Russia’s mutual concern lies in the dominant global political, economic and military power of the US since the end of the post Cold War. Both China and Russia will seek further co-operation for a multi-polar world, to reduce US control in the future, last not least with the “Shanghai Cooperation Organisation” (SCO) as an intergovernmental mutual-security organization founded in 2001 by the leaders of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

In 2005, a first pipeline from Kazakhstan to China was inaugurated, and there are plans for a rail connection, while the way to Western Europe – either through Russia or across the Caspian Sea - is longer and more complicated, due to a variety of geographic and political factors. Most recently, a first test train delivered 89 containers from Beijing to Hamburg via Russia in just 15 days – as compared with 35 days on the sea route.


Role of the EU

Ertan Efegil (Beykent University, Istanbul, Turkey) pointed out that, ever since independence of the Central Asian countries, the European Union has provided support for economic transition, thus promoting stability. The EU has developed its relations with Central Asia within the framework of several programs, such as TACIS, INOGATE, etc. The EU has made serious contributions to the state-building processes of the region as well as to economic reforms. Since 2006, it has shifted its focus even more to topics such as rule of law and human rights, migration, corruption, anti-terrorism and drug trafficking prevention. But such kind of relations do not appear to be enough to change the regional situation and conditions positively.

The European Union still plays a limited role, although interest and involvement in the region rise, with security and energy issues on the forefront. The conclusion of an energy partnership with Kazakhstan and the recent adoption of a Central Asian strategy of the European Union prove the rising commitment to the region, although the tools as well as financial commitments of the latter remain somewhat unclear. Central Asia is eager to get assistance in the areas of technology, telecommunications and financial services or to meet ecological challenges (like the fight against desertification), less so in promoting civil society or human rights.

From the experience in assessing the implementation of OSCE commitments relating to democratic processes, Gunther Neumann pointed out that, while the democratic “hardware” such as a constitution, institutions and electoral processes introduced in several Central Asian countries were more, or sometimes less, accepted, the respective “software” such as traditions, behaviour patterns, loyalties, values and political or social priorities seem to be more resistant to quick modernisation or “westernisation.” As outlined by Vijay Kumar Bhatia (Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi), the Constitutions of Central Asian countries provide for a presidential system with separation of powers between executive, legislative and judicial branches. However, in practice, there seems to be little democracy in these republics, and the Presidents have dominated political life of their respective countries.


 “Eurasia” – regional values and leadership

Edgar Hoffmann (Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration) gave a historic and scientific overview of several “Eurasia” concepts, and different views on the “Eurasia” continent (Latin for “bound together” or “coherent”). Above all, he lined out historical definitions that originated in Russian imperial visions of the 19th and 20th century. Discussions of the term “Eurasia” continued later in the session, when cultural aspects and conflicting images and models were discussed, without reaching a conclusion. Gunther Neumann emphasized that, in spite of numerous international conventions or the global “Agenda for Democracy” presented in 1996 by the then UN Secretary to the General Assembly, the discussion on the relation of western and regional values, intercultural co-existence, different needs and expectations and distinctive trends is far from over, last not least in Central Asia. Mirzokhid Rakhimov from the Institute of History/ Uzbek Academy of Science regretted a certain lack of mutual cultural understanding between Europe and Central Asia.

The section participants were unable to reach a conclusion on the definition of modern “Central Asian Values”, but agreed that Central Asia, while aiming for modernity, is the meeting ground for “European” (such as democracy), traditional “Asian” (e.g. discipline, “path of virtue”) and moral “Islamic” values in their tolerant forms. During World War II, Millions of Chechens, Wolga Germans and other peoples deported by Stalin survived in Central Asia not least because of local help and hospitality.

The question of a future regional leadership within CA countries was raised by the section, discussed briefly and controversially, with participants reaching different, outlier results. The Turkish influence, thought by many observers to be an important factor right before and after independence, is felt in trade and SME related business, but less in the political arena.

At the time of the KCTOS conference, the 56 OSCE participating states unanimously appointed Kazakhstan to be the first former Soviet Republic to exercise the annually rotating chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010, thus representing the Organization and co-ordinating the work of OSCE institutions. Not without considerable discussions in the forefront within the OSCE - whether Astana was already fit to assume not only all responsibilities for supervising the activities related to OSCE assignments in the area of conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation, but also with regard to rule of law, the practice of democracy, pluralism, human rights and an open society.



The afternoon session of the section was dedicated to culture, intercultural dialogue and the impact on the developments in Central Asia, including the possible role of the EU.

Soviet power had created republics, but hat suppressed any nationalism. Now, the mostly ethically complex independent countries are looking for national ideas. Governments are promoting the respective languages and culture, searching for their national identities between a distant ancient history and the aim for modernity, mostly leaving out a more controversial recent past. “Mongol”, a film produced by KazakhFilm on the youth of Genghis Khan recently received an Academy Award nomination for the best foreign film. Genghis Khan, known to many abroad as the scourge of nations, has become kind of a national hero in Kazakhstan, like Timur Lenk in Uzbekistan.

A lecture on translation of European literature raised considerable discussion. On the one hand, the presenter, Ms. Stadler from the University of Vienna, got ad-hoc offers from Central Asian Participants for co-operation. On the other hand, several attendees regretted the minimal translation possibilities of authors from Central Asia, and the limited interest of foreign publishing houses for literature in particular, and culture in general from the area.

In this context, Ms. Janyl Chytyrbaeva, a Kyrgyz journalist and promoter of several cultural initiatives and exchange programs, stressed the importance of culture as a bridge-builder. She pointed out that the Central Asian Diaspora in Europe is new, still comparatively small, often even lacking legal status and existing in a certain grey zone, neglected by local mass media. Nevertheless, it is slowly gaining strength and will be important to help bring their experience to their native lands and to build political, economic and cultural bridges between Europe and Central Asia.

Attendees agreed that more efforts and financial resources were needed in order to support cultural initiatives such as theatre and film festivals, exhibition and exchange programs to let culture play the desired role as a tool for dialogue, development and transformation of societies.



More than 35 eminent personalities from Europe and Central Asia had expressed their interest in the topics discussed, but only half the number were able to attend, mostly due to financial restrictions. Nevertheless, some of those unable to take part presented written contributions.

There was common understanding among all participants, both from Europe and Central Asia, that the EU has not yet become a major regional player in the geo-strategic competition for regional resources and influence. Democracy alone is no export hit, no barter arrangement for energy or mineral resources.  Doubts linger whether the recently adopted EU strategy with its rather general character will achieve a substantial breakthrough with regard to the possibilities of the EU to exercise additional leverage in the developments of the region, as compared to Russia, the United States and China. The EU will need political dedication, partners and (investment) funds, as well as diplomacy in order to strengthen not only relations, but also the civil society in the area.

1.5. Europe and Central Asia – More than Security and Energy? Defining an Emerging Partnership

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