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The Role Of Non-Governmental Organizations In The Kyrgyz Republic: Current State And Development Stages

Saturday, November 26, 2016 - 01:37

As of today, non-governmental organizations around the world are the main political actors and elements of the political system. NGOs play an active role in the domestic and foreign policy of any state. In the domestic policy, they act as an additional mechanism of social relations and play an active role in the formation of civil society; in the foreign policy, the act as a tool of public diplomacy and a “soft power.”


Non-governmental organizations have a long history of development. According to E. Eggins, the first organization of the kind was founded in 1863; it was the Canadian Society of Montreal. He also states that the first secular voluntary organizations dealing with the issues of social and economic development were the American Health Organization (1847), and the London Association “Save the Children.” The latter was established in 1919 and is presently known as the Safe Children Fund/United Kingdom (SCF/UK). Thus, the first NGOs were created in Europe in the form of charity organizations. Later, they began to transform and penetrate the political plane, becoming policy actors. Over time and under the influence of external processes, such charities were transformed into modern non-governmental organizations.


The UN system has a dual mechanism of defining the term “NGO.” In its publications, the Department of Public Information of the UN Secretariat defines NGOs as follows: “a non-governmental organization is any voluntary non-profit alliance of citizens organized on a local, national or international level.” Thus, we can say that the UN definition excludes the possibility of legal entities being members of a non-governmental organization.


In turn, in the 1940s and 1950s, the ECOSOC adopted several resolutions related to non-governmental organizations. However, the adopted resolutions do not contain a single definition of the term “NGO.” In accordance with the ECOSOC resolution No. 288V (X), which was adopted in 1950, the term “NGO” means “any international organization that is not established on the basis of an intergovernmental agreement.” That is, non-governmental organizations can carry out their activities only in a certain state.


Paragraph 12 of the 1996 resolution No. 1996/31 clarifies that, for the purposes of the ECOSOC, the term “NGO” is understood as any organization that is not established by a governmental entity or an intergovernmental agreement, and satisfies the following conditions:


  • - It has a “representative structure;”
  • - It has “appropriate mechanisms of accountability to its members;”
  • - Its members “exercise effective control over its policies and activities through the use of the right to vote and other appropriate democratic and transparent decision-making processes.”


Paragraph 13 of the resolution No. 1996/31 pays close attention to any support – direct or indirect, financial or other – that the NGO receives from any government, requiring strict reporting, and these funds to be spent on the purposes consistent with the objectives of the United Nations. Dependence on the government is seen as a determining factor when deciding on the possibility of cooperation.


On April 24, 1986, the Intergovernmental Organization “Council of Europe,” having established a consultative status for non-governmental organizations, developed “The European Convention on the Recognition of the Legal Personality of International Non-Governmental Organizations.” According to the Convention, all non-governmental organizations must meet the following requirements:


  • Firstly, a non-governmental organization must not aim to make a profit;
  • Secondly, it must be established by a document covered by the domestic legislation of the member state; it must carry out its main activity in at least two member states;
  • Thirdly, it must have its own statutory bodies in the territory of the member state, and its management and supervisory bodies in the same or another member state.


The Convention sets out what documents should be submitted to the authorities of the member state where the international NGO wishes to be registered. It also determines the exceptional cases where the member state may refuse to recognize the international non-governmental organizations (for example, if its activities threaten the national security, public order or hinder riot control, etc).


As mentioned above, the international legal system does not have a single concept of a non-governmental organization. In the Kyrgyz Republic, the legal system uses the term “non-profit organization” instead of the term “NGO.” A non-profit organization is a voluntary self-governing organization established by individuals and/or legal entities on the basis of their common interests to pursue spiritual and other non-material needs in the interests of its members and/or the entire society, for which obtaining a profit is not the primary objective of activities, and the resulting profit is not distributed among its members, founders and officials.


We have provisionally divided the process of formation and development of non-governmental organizations into three stages. The first stage covers the period 1985-1994, the second stage lasted during the period 1995-2004, and the third stage corresponds to the period 2005 to the present.


The first phase (1985-1994). During this period, the NGOs in the Kyrgyz Republic did not have an independent status; they were the result of government policies. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the socio-political space changed; in particular, the first NGOs began to be formed in Kyrgyzstan.


Since independence, Kyrgyzstan has outlined the following objective: a democratic path of development that involves developing civil society, building democratic institutions and NGOs. As noted by B. Dzhusupov, the emergence of NGOs is not a consequence of the natural process of the formation and activation of civil society. It was technically inoculated from outside by the international non-governmental organizations, foreign donors, private foreign funds and so on.


Such development of the NGOs has had a negative effect on society. According to experts, there was a local social paradox: the NGOs dis not associate themselves with the society, and the society did not recognize the NGOs. The fact that the NGOs began to be politicized, feeling their own elitism, was primarily due to the artificial changes introduced in the natural course of social development on the social engineering level.


The first legal act regulating the sector of non-profit organizations was the Law “On Public Associations” adopted on February 1, 1991. It provided for the right of citizens to unite in an organization on the basis of common interests, and regulated the activities of NGOs, as well as political parties, trade unions and consumer cooperatives. This law was in force for nine years. During this time, it was amended only twice. The first set of amendments related to the part on registration of public associations, which was caused by the widespread transition to the new system of registration of legal persons through judicial authorities. The second set of amendments excluded political parties from the scope of application of the law. The main drawback of this law lies in the fact that any associations of citizens were recognized as public associations.


According to the 1993 Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, only citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic had the right to association. Consequently, foreign nationals staying in the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic did not have the right to form associations. However, these restrictions were removed from the 2010 Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, after which foreign nationals obtain the right to engage in activities of the NGOs in the republic.


So, until the end of the 1990s, the Kyrgyz government's attitude to the emergence and activities of the NGO sector could be called passive and observant. Analyzing development of the NGO sector in this period, A. Tretyakov noted the following issues in the relations between them and the Kyrgyz government:


  • Firstly, the lack of trust on both sides;
  • Secondly, the potential partners do not understand the “languages of activity and claims of each other;”
  • Thirdly, the inability to manage public and business activity through administrative methods;
  • Fourthly, both parties' propensity to speak on behalf of the people;
  • Fifthly, the mostly pretentious nature of the relations between the parties.


In turn, these problems form the situation where “the establishment of the NGO sector occurs mainly at the expense of donor funding and, most importantly, in the paradigm of confrontation rather than cooperation with state agencies. Hence, the claims of the NGOs to obtaining total control and the accusatory rhetoric. Neither of the parties can build an image of the future or an image of the collective future. Individual and group values prevail over the system of social goals and values. The survival strategies are relevant to most members of the society, which makes it difficult to use partnership schemes.


Thus, the first step of the functioning of the NGOs in Kyrgyzstan may be characterized as follows:


  • 1) at the initial stage, there was certain distrust in relation to NGOs on the part of the state and society;
  • 2) the development of NGOs was unnatural and chaotic;
  • 3) during the first stage, the human rights organizations began to develop actively due to the fact that the society was going through a transition period.


The second phase (1995-2004) of the NGO development in Kyrgyzstan can be described as the formation and institutionalization of the NGO sector.


After 1999, the decrease in the actual number of organizations of the non-governmental sector was the decisive factor that pushed the “survivor” NGOs to be active in completely different areas of public life. Thus, in 1995-1997, there were formed the largest and most stable NGO of the present day. Basically, they represent the most politicized part of the “third sector:” the Bureau of Human Rights, the Center “Interbilim,” the Counterpart Consortium (currently, the Counterpart International, Counterpart Sheriktesh and the Civil Society Support Centers Association; the coalition “For democracy and civil society” and others). The rest of the organizations were created later. They were established by former employees of the first NGOs or re-registered by their original owners or founders. Thus, we can say that at this point in time there were created the most stable NGOs, which subsequently became the most politicized.


In 1996-1999, grant assistance to the NGOs in Kyrgyzstan on the part of international organizations and projects reached its maximum volume. However, this period was also marked by the turning point when for the first time there was observed a steady decline in trust towards NGOs – not only on the part of the authorities and the population, but also on the part of the donors. However, despite this fact, the analysts can not accurately determine the causes of the decline in trust on the part of the state.


In the later period (about 1999-2005) the NGO sector was dominated and steered by the non-governmental organizations mentioned above. It should also be noted that prior to the beginning of 2005, the NGOs were not so visible in the politics. However, the March events stimulated their rapid growth.


In 2004, the President of the Kyrgyz Republic approved the concept of cooperation between the Government and the NGOs. However, the mechanisms of implementation of this concept were not developed; as the result, it was not funded by the state. The main forms of cooperation were consultations, exchange of information, addressing social issues. In order to improve the effectiveness of the public opinion consideration, representatives of the NGOs were included in the national public councils under the President on health care reforms, development of science and education, the matters related to persons with disabilities. They were also included in the inter-ministerial councils of the government for implementation of national development programs.


The third stage began in 2005 and has lasted until the present day. Today, Kyrgyzstan has more than 16,000 NGOs. Despite the large number of registered organization, no more than 600-700 NGOs are actually operating throughout the country. These figures are confirmed by the studies of the Chamber of Tax Consultants, which were carried out jointly with the State Tax Inspectorate (STI). According to the STI, about 600 NGOs are registered in Kyrgyzstan and report to the STI bodies monthly. Of them, about 400 NGOs account for Bishkek.


Many experts argue that individual officials or the state will only support those NGOs, which they have a liking for. For example, the Kyrgyz government has successfully used the policy of creation and support of “pocket” NGOs that categorically supported the government's decisions, reported at international forums about the positive changes taking place in the country, and were opposed to any criticism from their colleagues in the NGO sector. To some extent, this case demonstrates elements of a specific “soft power.” The “pocket” NGOs served as a good imitation of the civil society's involvement in the decision-making process. The attempts to subjugate the NGO sector and to prohibit the NGOs from participating in the political life of the country were also made by former president of Kyrgyzstan Kurmanbek Bakiev.


On July 21, 2008, there was adopted the Law “On State Social Order,” according to which the non-profit organizations were able to participate in the provision of public services to the population by execution of social projects at the expense of state grants. In each 2009 and 2010, about KGS5 million were allocated in Kyrgyzstan for social projects; in 2011, the sum rose to about KGS12 million.


In 2009, President Bakiev's team developed additions to the law “On Noncommercial Organizations,” the essence of which was to ban domestic NGOs from participating in political activities. The additions to the law also introduced a number of measures to control the activities of NGOs. Despite all the criticism on the part of the government, the NGO sector was gaining political weight; there was observed a close co-operation between the NGOs and the opposition movement aimed against the methods of President Bakiev's government. According to the study “The sentiment of the country” that was commissioned by the International Republican Institute and conducted in October 2006, 65 percent of the population had a positive attitude towards the NGO activities. The influence of the NGOs increased especially significantly after the April and June events of 2010: the outbreaks of inter-ethnic conflicts in the village of Mayovka, in Osh and Jalal-Abad; the mass burning of the houses of civilians, the appearance of insurgents in the streets.


In February 2011, amendments and additions were introduced into the Decree of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic dated September 29, 2010. The decree's title was: “On improvement of the interaction between the government and the civil society.” The updated decree provides for creation of public supervisory boards (PSB) under each ministry, with active involvement of representatives of the NGOs. The objectives of creation of the public supervisory boards are:


  • 1) to ensure participation of citizens in public affairs; to execute public control over the activities of executive bodies;
  • 2) to establish an effective interaction between the said bodies and the public;
  • 3) to consider the public opinion in formation and implementation of the public policy.


However, in spite of this draft law, not all citizens can participate and consult in such departments. This is due to the fact that the draft law is not effective.


The main share of the NGOs in Kyrgyzstan accounts for the NGOs engaged in social, educational and charitable projects. A striking example of such support is the international organization “Save the Children Federation Inc.” This organization operates in 120 countries and is supported by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Its main purpose is to identify and support the most vulnerable groups – especially children and women – and to provide assistance in development of sustainability of the low-income communities. As of today, Kyrgyzstan has more than 10,000 NGOs, and the majority of them are engaged in social projects.

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