|ELEVATED TO THE STATUS of a union republic by Joseph V. Stalin in 1936, the Kyrgyz
Soviet Socialist Republic was until 1990 one of the poorest, quietest, and most
conservative of all the Soviet republics. It was the Kyrgyz Republic that celebrated the
election of a sheepherder as president of its parliamentary executive committee, the
Presidium, in 1987. Three years later, however, that quiescence ended, and Kyrgyzstan's
history as a separate nation began.
Kyrgyzstan began the new phase of its existence by declaring independence in August 1991. At that point, it possessed a combination of useful resources and threatening deficiencies. Geographic location fits in both categories; landlocked deep inside the Asian continent, Kyrgyzstan has minimal natural transportation routes available to serve its economic development, and its isolation has been an obstacle in the campaign to gain international attention. On the other hand, Kyrgyzstan also is isolated from most of the Asian trouble spots (excepting Tajikistan), making national security a relatively low priority. The natural resources that Kyrgyzstan possesses--primarily gold, other minerals, and abundant hydroelectric power--have not been managed well enough to make them an asset in pulling the republic up from the severe economic shock of leaving the secure, if limiting, domain of the Soviet Union.
In the mid-1990s, the most ambitious economic and political reform program in Central Asia caused more frustration than satisfaction among Kyrgyzstan's citizens, largely because the republic inherited neither an economic infrastructure nor a political tradition upon which to base the rapid transitions envisioned by President Askar Akayev's first idealistic blueprints. Although some elements of reform (privatization, for example) went into place quickly, the absence of others (credit from a commercial banking system, for example) brought the overall system to a halt, causing high unemployment and frustration. By 1995, democratic reform seemed a victim of that frustration, as Akayev increasingly sought to use personal executive power in promoting his policies for economic growth, a pattern that became typical in the Central Asian countries' first years of independence.
Since independence Kyrgyzstan has made impressive strides in some regards such as creating genuinely free news media and fostering an active political opposition. At the same time, the grim realities of the country's economic position, which exacerbate the clan- and family-based political tensions that have always remained beneath the surface of national life, leave long-term political and economic prospects clouded at best. Kyrgyzstan has no desire to return to Russian control, yet economic necessity has forced the government to look to Moscow for needed financial support and trade.
SOURCE: Country Studies/Area Handbook by the US Library of Congress
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