Thursday, June 26, 2008

More Summer Reading

I just finished reading another anthology of scholarly articles. Yaacov Ro'i, ed., Democracy and Pluralism in Muslim Eurasia (London: Frank Cass, 2004) has nineteen chapters by various authors dealing with the progress and prospects of democratization in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Central Asia and the Muslim republics of the Russian Federation in the North Caucasus and the Volga region. Among the contributions are two specifically on Kyrgyzstan during the rule of Askar Akayev, "Liberalization in Kyrgyzstan: 'An Island of Democracy' by Leonid Levitin and "Political Clans and Political Conflicts in Contemporary Kyrgyzstan" by Vladimir Khanin. Living in Bishkek I am always trying to expand my knowledge of the country and these two pieces provided some good background material on the political situation here from 1991 to 2004.

I found the most interesting chapters to be those that dealt with the North Caucasus. I did not fully comprehend the complexity of the ethno-territorial state structure of Dagestan until I read Enver Kisriev's, "The Polticial Process in Dagestan: Prospects for Democracy." The State Council has 14 representatives, each one from a different ethnic group. They also have reserved 66 out of 121 constituencies for elections to the People's Assembly for specific ethnic groups. A total of 12 ethnicities have reserved constituencies of which the three largest are the Avars with 12, the Kumyks with 12 and Russians with 10. For those many people in the US who see antisemitism in every Muslim state it should be noted that the Jewish Tats have 2 reserved constituencies while the native Muslim Rutuls and Aguls do not have any (p. 335-336). Kirsriev argues that the complex ethnic structure of the Dagestani state in fact constitutes a consociational state (pp. 332-334). This state structure has made Dagestan more stable and less prone to ethnic conflict than neighboring multi-ethnic republics with presidential systems such as Karachai-Cherkessia and Karbardino-Balkaria, the subjects of the chapter by Svante E. Cornell, "Ethnic Relations and Democratic Transition in the North-Western Caucasus." The two essays side by side make a great comparison.

Overall Ro'i and his collaborators are not very optimistic about the prospects of liberal democracy in Muslim Eurasia. The historical precedents in the region do not translate well into forming modern western style democracies (pp. 375-379). Almost all of the impediments to liberal democracy in Muslim Eurasia, however, seem to be the same obstacles faced by other areas of the former USSR. A couple of comparative essays dealing with the problems of democratization in places like the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belorus, Georgia and Armenia all of which are predominantly Christian would have been instructive. But, it is hard to see from the Ro'i collection any problems of democratization in Muslim Eurasia that are distinctly Muslim rather than generally Eurasian.

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