Central Asian Politics – An Introduction

Lecture, Seminar
  • Course description

    The purpose of this course is to introduce the most important features of contemporary politics in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and, for comparative purposes, Mongolia, analysing how it developed and changed, sometimes radically, from a feudal order to contemporary authoritarianism, passing through the trials of the Soviet era. In particular, the course’s aim is to give to the students a sound background to understand the most recent socio-political developments in the region and critically engage with academic and media sources dedicated to Central Asian politics. This will help students understand a region that is set to be more and more in the spotlight after the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014.
  • Main themes

    1. Theoretical framework: General introduction to the Central Asian region and the Selectorate theory
    2. Formal and informal institutions in Central Asia:
      1. Informal institutions: clans, interest groups, patronage, corruption
      2. Formal institutions, electoral processes and their role
    3. Cases and patterns of democratization:
      1. Democratization patterns in Central Asia and beyond
      2.  Mongolia's democratization success story and its contradictions
      3. Kyrgyzstan's problematic democratization efforts
    4. Case studies of Central Asian authoritarian politics
      1. Kazakhstan's political system: "enlightened" authoritarianism?
      2. Uzbekistan's political system: repressive authoritarianism
      3. Tajikistan's political system: “failed state” or kleptocratic stability?
      4. Turkmenistan's political system: sultanism and totalitarianism
    5. International relations. Regional level
      1. Regional relations between Central Asian States
      2. Politics of water in Central Asia: conflict or stability?
    6. International relations. Global level
      1. International relations: Central Asia, world powers, the EU
      2. Central Asia in the world politics of oil and gas pipelines
    7. Political violence and repression
      1. State violence, repression and political control: the case of the 2005 Andijan massacre
      2. State violence, repression and political control: the clashes in Rasht, Khorog and Zhanaozen
  • Learning outcomes

    - To develop skills for analysing various propaganda’s texts
    - Will acquire the ability to understand political developments in a strategically important region, whose global relevance is set to grow over the next few decades due to presence of energy resources and security issues. 
    - Will be able to evaluate and critically engage with media coverage on Central Asia, understanding how events in the region can have an impact on other regions such as South Asia, China and, especially, the Middle East.
    - Will learn to understand how societies can change in periods of regime transition, and will be able to apply this knowledge to other case studies using a comparative approach. Will understand which aspects of politics can be expected to show more resilience even in the event of radical institutional transformation.
    - Will achieve a thorough understanding of political dynamics in non-democratic societies, understanding how apparently similar authoritarian systems rooted in the same cultural background can develop according to radically different patterns.
    - Will be encouraged to find out, through the lens of Central Asian politics, whether some of the features of authoritarianism are also shared with democratic systems, and will learn to use the case of successful or failed democratic transition in Central Asia to understand more about democratization in the whole post-Soviet space.
  • Assessment criteria and methods

    • Participation in discussions during lectures, reading of academic literature and participation in class activities, especially in Q/A sessions, regular attendance (30%) - On a 0-30 rating scale, 30 points are given if a student actively participates in discussions, asks and answers questions, and attends all lectures. 0 points if s/he almost does not participate in discussions and misses more than 30% of the lectures for unjustified reasons.
    • Final exam: 6 (+1) questions to answer in 140 minutes. Students have to answer to one question per topic (They can choose between three questions per topic), plus one compulsory question on theoretical framework (70%) - 70 points in total are assigned based on answers’ clear structure, precision, conciseness and relevance. Max. 10 points per answer, assigned as follows: 
      1. 0-1.5 points per question are assigned for answers’ format (structure, clarity of argument, conclusions).
      2.  0-6 points per question are assigned based on answers’ content: factual precision, correct reference to sources and concept presented during the course.
      3. 0-2.5 points per question are assigned for critical thinking and ability to engage with the literature.
    Failure to answer properly to the compulsory question about theoretical framework results in 0 points being assigned to the specific question and 20 points being subtracted from the final mark.
  • Required reading

    Compulsory reading
    Kathleen Collins 2006 Clan Politics and Regime Transition in Central Asia NY & Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
    Students have to choose one of the two volumes below to approach the selectorate theory.
    Option 1 (historical approach)
    Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Alastair Smith 2011 The Dictator’s Handbook New York, Public Affairs
    Option 2 (statistical approach) Bruce Bueno de Mesquita et al. 2003 The Logic of Political Survival Cambridge (Massachussets), the MIT Press
    Additional reading
    Rafis Abazov 2008 Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of Central Asia New York, Palgrave Macmillan
    Pauline Jones Luong 2003 The Transformation of Central Asia: States and Societies from Soviet Rule to Independence Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press
    James C. Scott 1998 Authoritarian high modernism” in Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed Pp. 87-102 New Haven, Yale University Press
    Adeeb Khalid 2007 Islam after communism: Religion and politics in Central Asia Berkeley, CA, University of California Press
    Martha Brill Olcott 1992 Central Asia’s Catapult to Independence” Foreign Affairs 3 (1992): 108-130 Available from JStor or from Foreign Affairs archive
    Deniz Kandiyoti 2007 “Post-Soviet institutional design and the paradoxes of the ‘Uzbek path’” Central Asian Survey 26, 1 (March 2007): 31-48 Available from Taylor & Francis Online
    Pauline Jones Luong, Erika Weinthal 2001 “Prelude to the Resource Curse: Explaining Oil and Gas Development Strategies in the Soviet Successor States and Beyond,” Comparative Political Studies 2001 (34, 4): 367-399 Available from course coordinator
    Anna Grzymala-Busse, Pauline Jones Luong 2002 “Reconceptualizing the State: Lessons from Post-Communism.” Politics and Society 30, 4 (December 2002): 529-54 Available from course coordinator
    Alisher Ilkhamov 2007 “Neopatrimonialism, interest groups and patronage networks: the impasses of the governance system in Uzbkistan.” Central Asian Survey 26, 1 (March 2007): 65-84 Available from Taylor & Francis Online
    Freedom House 2011/2015 Nations in Transit (Reports about democratization and status of human rights) Sections on Central Asian states Available from Freedom House website

Last updated: 24 August 2017

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