The Central Asianist Podcast
Top experts and journalists from around the world discuss the politics, economy, and culture of Central Asia. Hosted by Nate Schenkkan.
info_outline Episode 25 - Of politics and patronage in Kyrgyzstan 04/05/2018
Episode 25 - Of politics and patronage in Kyrgyzstan In episode 25, I talk with Aksana Ismailbekova about her book Blood Ties and the Native Son: Poetics of Patronage in Kyrgyzstan, published by Indiana University Press. Blood Ties and the Native Son is an ethnographic study of patronage, kinship relations, and political practice in Kyrgyzstan, centered on the figure of Rahim, who in the late 2000s became an important businessman and an influential figure in the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, or SDPK, before meeting an untimely end in 2008. The book guides the reader through the networks of kinship, geographical relations, and economic clientelism as they are constructed and reconstructed in Rahim’s native village in the Chui Valley in northern Kyrgyzstan. It takes us up close to Rahim’s businesses, his political performance, and local election-day practices. With its extremely close and empathetic reading of kinship and patron-client relationships, the book provides an insightful corrective to simplified narratives of corruption and patronage in Central Asia.
info_outline Episode 24 - Order at the Central Asian Bazaars 11/13/2017
Episode 24 - Order at the Central Asian Bazaars In this podcast, I speak with Regine A. Spector, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, about her book, Order at the Bazaar: Power and Trade in Central Asia, from Cornell University Press. Bazaars, including those in Central Asia, are often treated as sites of chaos – emblematic of the failure to develop rule of law institutions and in need of state intervention to bring order. In her book, Spector uses extensive interviews and research – focusing on the Dordoi and Osh bazaars in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan – to document how the people who work in bazaars, and some owners of bazaars, have created islands of order. To do so, they draw on Soviet and pre-Soviet traditions to adapt to the disruptive transition from the Soviet system to capitalism. Order at the Bazaar offers a ground-up view on how citizens build order for themselves, and provides a critique of external approaches to institution-building.
info_outline Episode 23 - Nationalism in Central Asia 09/26/2017
Episode 23 - Nationalism in Central Asia In this episode, I speak with Nick Megoran, Reader in Political Geography at Newcastle University, about his new book, Nationalism in Central Asia: A Biography of the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan Boundary. The book is an engaging and perspective-shifting account of how a new international border was formed where one had not previously existed before. Based on more than 20 years of fieldwork in both countries and along the border, it contributes to a deeper understanding of how discourse about the border has shaped national identities and nationalist politics. Among other topics, Nate and I discuss the role of nationalism in understanding politics in Central Asia, the political dynamics in Kyrgyzstan in advance of the presidential elections, the significance of the reopening of the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan border, and the names of Nick’s children.
info_outline Episode 22 - The Changing Situation of Central Asian Labor Migrants in Russia 07/25/2017
Episode 22 - The Changing Situation of Central Asian Labor Migrants in Russia In this episode, I speak with Yan Matusevich, a migration researcher with a focus on the post-Soviet space, about how the situation for labor migrants in Russia is changing in light of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Yan and I discuss a variety of developments now affecting labor migrants in Russia, including the economic crisis of the last several years, the creation of the EAEU and its new labor regulations for member state citizens, the impact of anti-terrorism policing in Russia, and how Russia’s presidential election campaign could affect migrants.
info_outline Episode 21 - Turkmenistan’s Growing Economic Crisis 06/27/2017
Episode 21 - Turkmenistan’s Growing Economic Crisis In this episode, I speak with Farruh Yusupov, the director of RFE/RL’s Turkmen service Azatlyk, about the burgeoning economic crisis in Turkmenistan and whether the government will be able to find a way out. With both Russia and Iran having ended the purchase of Turkmen gas, and oil and gas prices declining yet again, dollars are scarce, wages are going unpaid, and subsidies for utilities have been cut. Even with the media under tight control, there is growing frustration with the government’s lack of response to the crisis. Is President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov able and willing to address the crisis? Or is a harder crash inevitable? Subscribe via RSS feed. Subscribe via iTunes.
info_outline Episode 20 - Thaw or No Thaw in Uzbekistan? 05/24/2017
Episode 20 - Thaw or No Thaw in Uzbekistan? In this episode, I spoke with Bakhtiyor Nishanov, the deputy director for Eurasia of the International Republican Institute (IRI), about whether Uzbekistan is experiencing a thaw since the death of Islam Karimov in August 2016. Bakhti and I discuss Uzbekistan’s policies under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev: the release of a small number of high-profile political prisoners, relaxations on speech restrictions on social media, and improved relations with neighboring countries in Central Asia, among others. Do these changes constitute a genuine thaw, or are they just attempts by a new leader to shore up legitimacy using different tools than his predecessor? What kind of system is Mirziyoyev interested in creating, and what will it mean for Central Asia? Special thanks to Eurasianet for its support that has made bringing back the podcast possible. Subscribe via RSS feed. Subscribe via iTunes.
info_outline Episode 19 - Dictators without Borders 03/23/2017
Episode 19 - Dictators without Borders In this episode, I spoke with Dr. John Heathershaw, Associate Professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Exeter about his new book with Alexander A. Cooley, Dictators without Borders: Power and Money in Central Asia, published this month by Yale University Press. The book challenges the typical situating of post-Communist Central Asia as an isolated hinterland by illustrating the ways in which Central Asian authoritarian regimes use their “connectivity” with global financial and law enforcement mechanisms to stash national assets offshore and punish their opponents abroad. It builds its sophisticated critique of conventional wisdom on detailed and up to date case studies from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, drawing on the research compiled in the Central Asia Political Exiles database compiled by Exeter Central Asian Studies Network. Key references: J.C. Sharman, The Despot’s Guide to Wealth Management: On the International Campaign against Grand Corruption Stephen Kotkin, Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics Special thanks to Eurasianet for its support that has made bringing back the podcast possible. Subscribe via RSS feed. Subscribe via iTunes.
info_outline Episode 18 - The Strange Case of Jaysh al-Mahdi & Mr. ISIS 03/02/2017
Episode 18 - The Strange Case of Jaysh al-Mahdi & Mr. ISIS In this episode, I spoke with independent journalists Franco Galdini and Zukhra Iakupbaeva about “The Strange Case of Jaysh al-Mahdi and Mr. ISIS: How Kyrgyzstan’s Elites Manipulate the Threat of Terrorism for Their Own Benefit.” In this paper published by the Central Asia Program at George Washington University, Galdini and Iakupbaeva dissect in great detail a series of unusual alleged terrorist attacks in Kyrgyzstan from 2010 to 2016 that were blamed on the Islamic State and a supposed terrorist group called the Jaysh al-Mahdi. Their paper situates these supposed terrorist attacks within a larger framework of the history of the management of Islam in Central Asia, state and elite insecurity in Kyrgyzstan, and American and Russian discourses about the war on terror. Franco Galdini & Zukhra Iakupbaeva, The Strange Case of Jaysh al-Mahdi and Mr. ISIS: How Kyrgyzstan's Elites Manipulate the Threat of Terrorism, CAP Papers 179, October 2016 Sarah Kendzior, Inventing Akromiya: The Role of Uzbek Propagandists in the Andijon Massacre, Demokratizatsiya, September 2006 Special thanks to Eurasianet for its support that has made bringing back the podcast possible. Subscribe via RSS feed. Subscribe via iTunes.
info_outline Episode 17 - OBOR (Part 2) 06/24/2016
Episode 17 - OBOR (Part 2) For this episode, I talked with Angela Stanzel of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) about the think tank's new report, Absorb & Conquer: An EU Approach to Russian & Chinese Integration in Eurasia. This episode is a follow-up to episode 16 on the same topic. The podcast focuses on the Chinese perspective on OBOR and on Central Asia. Near the end, we get to the nub of what worries me about the plan--whether it is actually premised on economic development beyond China, or if it is just an outlet for Chinese overcapacity and excess foreign exchange reserves. ECFR, Absorb & Conquer: An EU Approach to Russian & Chinese Integration in Eurasia, June 2016 World Bank, The Impact of China on Europe and Central Asia, April 2016 Subscribe via RSS feed. Subscribe via iTunes.
info_outline Episode 16 - OBOR (Part 1) 06/20/2016
Episode 16 - OBOR (Part 1) For this episode, I spoke with Sarah Lain of the Royal United Services Institute about China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) plans in Central Asia--what they are and aren't, the assumptions behind them, and how different Central Asian countries have responded to them. This is the first of two consecutive episodes on OBOR and Central Asia. Sarah Lain, China's Silk Road in Central Asia: Transformative or Exploitative, Financial Times, 27 April 2016 Subscribe via RSS feed. Subscribe via iTunes.
info_outline Episode 15 - Human Rights Watch 03/14/2016
Episode 15 - Human Rights Watch This episode I spoke with Mihra Rittmann, Central Asia researcher and Bishkek office director for Human Rights Watch. Mihra talked about the foreign agents and anti-gay legislation in Kyrgyzstan, about the pressure on civil society, the media, and opposition of the last five years in Kazakhstan, and about doing human rights work in Central Asia.
info_outline Episode 14 - Eurasian Economic Union 12/11/2015
Episode 14 - Eurasian Economic Union In this episode, I spoke with Rilka Dragneva-Lewers of the University of Birmingham about the Eurasian Economic Union: what it really is, how it is developing, and whether the recent European Commission plan to use it as a tool of engagement with Russia makes sense. Rilka is the author of a new book with Kataryna Wolczuk, Ukraine Between the EU and Russia: The Integration Challenge.
info_outline Episode 13 - Kyrgyzstan after the Elections 10/19/2015
Episode 13 - Kyrgyzstan after the Elections For this episode, the podcast talked with Chris Rickleton, Central Asia editor for Global Voices. We talked about the results of the parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan, what kind of coalition might form now, and what President Almazbek Atambaev might have in his plans for the last two years of his presidential term.
info_outline Episode 12 - Walking Almaty 09/30/2015
Episode 12 - Walking Almaty For this episode, I took a break from the news cycle to talk with Dennis Keen of the website Walking Almaty. Dennis has carved out a fascinating niche by paying attention to and taking pleasure in all sorts of small details that most of us walk right by in Almaty and around Kazakhstan. He has walked all over the city, to all sorts of places many of us never visit, and found hidden treasures everywhere.
info_outline End of an Era – Crackdown on the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan 09/24/2015
End of an Era – Crackdown on the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan For this episode, I talked with Hélène Thibault, post-doctoral researcher at the Center for International Studies at the University of Montreal, about the crackdown on the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which the government banned in late August. In my opinion, the ban on the IRPT marks the complete consolidation of a one-party state in Tajikistan.
info_outline Episode 10 - Parliamentary Elections in Kyrgyzstan 09/08/2015
Episode 10 - Parliamentary Elections in Kyrgyzstan For this episode I spoke with Erica Marat about the parliamentary elections coming up October 4 in Kyrgyzstan. The elections are the first since 2010, and feature a bewildering jumble of familiar faces from Kyrgyzstan's poltiical scene. All the major players have formed (sometimes contradictory) new alliances in in their efforts to overcome the increasingly dominant Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) that President Almazbek Atambaev no longer leads but still clearly favors. The SDPK, meanwhile, is seeking to strengthen its position in parliament, perhaps with the use of administrative resources and a controversial law on the use of biometric information to register voters. All this and more on the podcast.
info_outline Episode 9 - Kazakhstan Floats the Tenge 08/27/2015
Episode 9 - Kazakhstan Floats the Tenge In this episode, I spoke with Alex Nice of the Economist Intelligence Unit about Kazakhstan's decision to float its national currency after more than a year of trying to defend it against devaluation. We used the Kazakhstani decision as a launching point to discuss regional economic forecasts and the likelihood of other governments being forced to float or devalue.
info_outline Episode 8 - The Insurgency in Northern Afghanistan 08/14/2015
Episode 8 - The Insurgency in Northern Afghanistan In this episode, I spoke with Obaid Ali, assistant country director & researcher at the Afghanistan Analysts Network. Obaid just returned from a research trip through northeastern Afghanistan, including Badakshan and Kunduz provinces on the border with Tajikistan, and we talked about his observations of the state of the insurgency in the north. The Taliban have pressed an offensive across the north this year in provinces traditionally thought outside of their main area of influence. Some reports stress their support from foreign fighter groups driven from Pakistan's tribal territories since June 2014 ("the North Waziristan operation").
info_outline Episode 7 - Northern Afghanistan & Tajikistan 06/08/2015
Episode 7 - Northern Afghanistan & Tajikistan For this episode I talked with Christian Bleuer, a research fellow at the Australian National University's Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies. We discussed the recent insurgent gains in northern Afghanistan, and whether those pose any threat to the Central Asian republics. I also took advantage of Christian's extensive knowledge of Tajikistan to get his perspective on domestic politics in that country, especially to what extent the government has gained control over the state and its territory. We digressed a bit into Western policymakers' perspectives on Central Asia, and got philosophical about whether the region is collapsed, collapsing, or just stable.
info_outline Episode 5 - The Regional Economic Crisis 05/07/2015
Episode 5 - The Regional Economic Crisis For this episode, I talked with Alex Nice of the Economist Intelligence Unit about the regional economic crisis in Central Asia caused by the Western sanctions on Russia and the decline in global oil prices.
info_outline Episode 3 - Elections in Uzbekistan & Kazakhstan with Joanna Lillis 04/06/2015
Episode 3 - Elections in Uzbekistan & Kazakhstan with Joanna Lillis For this episode I spoke with Joanna Lillis, Chief Central Asia correspondent for Eurasianet.org, about the recent presidential election in Uzbekistan and the one upcoming April 26 in Kazakhstan. What do elections in these closed countries look and feel like? How are they different? What are the key issues at stake in each election? How are these governments addressing the economic crisis?
info_outline Episode 2 - The Myth of Radicalization with John Heathershaw 04/02/2015
Episode 2 - The Myth of Radicalization with John Heathershaw
info_outline Episode 1: ISIS in Central Asia & Central Asians in ISIS 03/28/2015
Episode 1: ISIS in Central Asia & Central Asians in ISIS We talk with expert Noah Tucker about how ISIS recruitment of Central Asians works online, and what ISIS means for Central Asians.