November 29, 2017
Since my arrival in the United States as a Next Generation Leader at the McCain Institute, my belief that corruption lies at the heart of the problems in Kyrgyzstan, my home country, has been reaffirmed. My in-depth discussions with fellow NGLs and Institute staff have highlighted the need for character-driven leaders across the globe. In Kyrgyzstan, this need is especially acute.
Over the past 25 years, Kyrgyz society has become increasingly tolerant of high levels of corruption, something Kyrgyzstanis actively fought under Soviet rule. This raises the question: “What are the factors that have transformed Kyrgyz society’s consciousness?”
Some believe that the mindset of Kyrgyzstanis themselves changed, however; this belief is incorrect.
The consciousness of the law-abiding Kyrgyz population gradually transformed due to the greed and unpunished plunder of wealth by the country’s leaders. The unrestrained, corrupt example set by high-ranking Kyrgyzstani leaders brought about the acceptance of corruption as a societal norm.
The acceptance of corruption as a way of life in Kyrgyzstan began with the independence of the country from the Soviet Union. With the Soviet breakup, Askar Akaev took over a country with ample resources and a clean slate for future governance. Instead of establishing ethical institutions, Akaev laid the foundation for a corrupt government that has been the largest obstacle for Kyrgyzstan’s development over the past 25 years.
This corrupt system is built into the state’s budget, through which government leaders embezzle profits. Through this system, millions of dollars are distributed to government officials as bribes in order for the elite to remain in power.
Corruption in Kyrgyzstan has spread tremendously and greatly hindered the economic development of the country. As a result, society now distrusts the government and its laws. Values and principles like justice, honesty, education, and morality are gradually vanishing and being replaced by notions of wealth accumulation and personal gain or advancement.
In 2005, public outcry over the country’s corrupt practices led to Akaev’s overthrow. By April 2006, the Office of the General Prosecutor initiated 106 cases against Akaev, his relatives, and his inner circle of friends and advisors. In 2005 alone, it is estimated that Akaev embezzled 50 million dollars.
The next president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, simply tapped into the existing corruption mechanisms upon his assumption of office, reaffirming the wide belief that only corruption can lead to success and that the institution of corruption is unbeatable.
Thus, due to its recent history, it is difficult to talk seriously about implementing successful anti-corruption measures in Kyrgyzstan when the leaders of a country are themselves involved in corruption. On the other hand, many current discussions of corruption are wrongfully polarized. The myth that corruption is a genetic peculiarity of the Kyrgyz people is a false imposition upon our society. It is used as an excuse for wrong-doing and deepens the perception that corruption is a fact of life.
Hard-working civil institutions are required for prosperity and progress, not to mention, the chance to become a full member of the world’s society. The primary efforts to combat corruption should focus on anti-corruption education campaigns for all Kyrgyzstanis. Only awareness and the collective force of those bypassed by development can provide institutions free of corruption. Efforts should especially target young people, the next generation of leaders who will bear the responsibility of future governance. These future leaders must lead by example in order to demonstrate honest and ethical decision-making. Only when leaders exhibit traits of character-driven leadership will the remainder of society