Dr. Andrea Berg on NGO Tensions in Central Asia

by Laurence on 10/3/2005 · 10 comments

Important Update: See bottom of post

Dr. Andrea Berg at the Wilson Center Dr. Andrea Berg, a senior researcher at the Institute of Peace Research and Security Policy, University of Hamburg, Germany was in Washington today, to talk about “The Tensions between Authoritarian Rulers and International Organizations in Central Asia.” the Woodrow Wilson Center.

She gave a thorough rundown of problems between NGOs and governments in the aftermath of the Rose and Orange revolutions. She had some interesting perspectives:

* KRYGYSTAN: The so-called “Tulip Revolution” was not a regime change, but a power change. It did not fundamentally alter the patrimonial networks in Kyrgyzstan, but did destabilize the central authority’s ability to allocate resources. Result: destabilization. The country may be worse off than it was before–and no more democratic. There is now, according to Berg “a fragile security situation” due to the erosion of the national state. Any future problems for Uzbekistan in the Ferghana Valley might adversely affect Kyrgyztan. “The future looks dark.”

*UKRAINE: Central Eurasian Studies Society conference-goers in Boston, American scholars of Central Asia, appeared to be unaware that Viktor Yushchenko’s wife is an American citizen who was a former US State Department official–a fact widely reported in Germany, that affected CIS perceptions of the event.

*KAZAKHSTAN: The government has passed new laws limiting the activities of NGOs, including re-registation and government approval requirements.

*UZBEKISTAN: While she did not speak about the Andijan events, Berg did note that it has become increasingly difficult for Western NGOs to operate in Uzbekistan. She said that although the restrictions are widespread, she believes they were aimed at the Open Society Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House. All money must go through two banks, either the National Bank of Uzbekistan or Asaka Bank, so it may be traced. She quoted Uzbek leader Islam Karimov’s remark that the “Georgia revolt carried the mark of Soros.”

*RUSSIA: Preparing laws similar to those of Central Asian to restrict NGO activity.

*TURKMENISTAN: One additional problem is a change in the education law that now ends schooling after the 9th grade, which hurts efforts by the Aga Khan University, American University of Central Asia, and so on, to recruit Turkmen students.

*TAJIKISTAN: Here it is quiet, Berg said. No major problems.

*OSCE: Nine former Soviet republics signed a declaration on July 3rd, 2004 complaining of OSCE double standards, violations of national sovereignty, and various objections to field centers. After a decade of cooperation, the statement marked the beginning of a period of confrontation.

*EU: Berg felt the EU decision to impose an arms embargo on Uzbekistan and put visa restrictions on government officials may further intensify problems in relations with Western NGOs.

Berg made a very good impression, quoting an anonymous Kyrgyz about nostalgia for the USSR: “In those days, we did not disturb the state, and the state did not disturb us.” Berg said that as a former citized of the German Democratic Republic, she understood the sentiment.

If only other representatives of NGOs had Berg’s understanding, I’d feel a little better about the future of Western relations with Central Asia.

She is also responsive to questions, unlike the International Crisis Group, which has never answered my inquiries. For example: When I asked Berg whether any Americans had in fact been involved in the Andijan uprising, as the Uzbek government charges, or if the Uzbek government is making it up, she said she did not know but would check it out and get back to me. She told me that Human Rights Watch currently has an observer at the trial in Tashkent, and that she will ask her what the story is.

So, stay tuned…

UPDATE: Dr. Berg dropped in to clarify and correct a few points. Please do see the comments. (Because in the interests of transparency, I’m strongly biased against making inline changes. Especially when I’m having some horrible connectivity issues.)

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david walther October 3, 2005 at 11:29 pm

“All money must go through two banks, either the National Bank of Uzbekistan or Asaka Bank, so it may be traced.”

General concern here with small, humanitarian
NGOs is not the matter of whether the govenrment “traces” the money, but whether they ever let it out of the bank! Very few people have anything to hide about where their money comes from (the vast majority of NGOs here are truly non-governmental organizations who don’t work with any governments or have any regime-change agendas), and the main problem with the govenrment’s banking policy is that once money goes into an Uzbek bank, it can be very, very difficult to get it back out.

Money in those banks can dissapear, or be held for no particular reason (sometimes jus because the banks themselves don’t have enough currency on hand to make withdrawls)
for weeks on end. While it’s debatable how much of this is repression, theft, or just a result of an underdeveloped and underfunded (for legitimate purposes) banking system, but it’s one of the biggest issues that small, truly non-governmental organizations here have to face.

I don’t mean for this to be an arguement, just an addendum. As a person working for a very small, Uzbekistan-specific organization, I just want to remind people that “NGO” is a very blanket term, and I think we ought to find another one, because it’s unfair to lump big, government funded organizations in with so many small education, agricultural, and pure humanitarian aid organizations here run by people who don’t drive SUVs and live in masions… these organizations are getting hit even harder than the big, governmental “NGOs”.

qadinbakida October 4, 2005 at 12:19 am

Too bad she didn’t mention Azerbaijan. Any local NGO that receives more than 30% of its budget from foreign sources cannot register to monitor the election. This is an administrative hurdle more than anything, since local observers can still register as citizens. But its a law unique in the world.

David October 4, 2005 at 2:13 am

So Tajikistan is quiet eh? That suggests she hasn’t done any research there. Its just most NGOs don’t make their problems very public for fear of making things worse.

And what is this obsession with Americans being involved in Andijan? I mean, are you Russian? How is she going to check it out? It sounds like a stupid response to a dumb question. If those are the questions you’re asking, perhaps thats why ICG doesn’t respond?

Andrea Berg October 4, 2005 at 8:01 am

I do not agree with all things Laurence wrote about my presentastion. Here are some comments:

First of all I talked about the tensions between authoritarian rulers and international actors (especially OSI and the OSCE) and not about local NGO’s.

Viktor Yushchenko’s wife was an American citizen (now she is an Ukrainian citizen) who was a former US State Department employee.

*KAZAKHSTAN: The government lower house of the parliament (and not the government) has passed the draft of two new laws limiting the activities of NGOs, including re-registation and government approval requirements. President Nazarbayev submitted both laws for review to Kazakhstan’s constitutional council on 13 July 2005.

*UZBEKISTAN: She said that although the restrictions are widespread, she believes (in fact many analysts argued) they were aimed at the Open Society Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House. All money must go through two banks, either the National Bank of Uzbekistan or Asaka Bank, so it may be traced.

She quoted Uzbek leader Islam Karimov’s remark that the “Georgia revolt carried the mark of Soros.” This quotation was not from Karimov. It is the headline of a newspaper article symptomatic for the whole discussion.

*TAJIKISTAN: Here it is quiet, Berg said. No major problems. I said this with regard to the crackdown on civil society in Uzbekistan. There are big problems in Tajikistan and politically it is everything but quiet. I asked Laurence to delete this statement or make clear that is was meant for NGO legislature. on 14 April 2005 the Tajik MfA announced that foreign embassies and aid organizations would have to report their contacts with civil society activists and groups. I totally agree with David’s view on Tajikistan.

Brian October 4, 2005 at 9:29 am

I agree with David… and as recent evidence, the $400 my fiance Western Unioned home to her family two weeks ago is still not picked up because the bank has no cash. Only $400 – two weeks. Imagine if you had a organization and actually needed the cash right away.

The ICG mentioned this problem in one of their reports, and the reasoning they put behind it is that when the EBRD and IMF were pressuring convertability of their currency they were thinking that the Uzbek government would let the offical rate float up to match the (black) market rate. What the Uzbek government apparently did instead, or maybe is still doing, is the opposite. They tried to bring down the market rate to match the offical rate… and the way they did this is by restricting the amount of currency in circulation in the country. Wages and pensions were purposely witheld for months and bank withdrawls were prevented. This Western Union is in dollars, not cym, so maybe something else is going on here, but maybe not.

Tatyana October 4, 2005 at 10:49 am

Now that’s an interesting “open to interpretations” statement about Yuschenko’s wife. Do you mean to say, Ms.Berg, that Germans consider this circumstance an evidence of our State department direct involvement into last December events? Actually, former citizenship status of Mrs Yuschenko is a widely known fact here – it’s just we don’t engage into government conspiracy theories on such shaky ground so easily; or altenatively – yes we do, but if there were anything substantial to dug up, it would be done long time ago by Condy’s opponents.

Laurence October 4, 2005 at 10:58 am

I have made Andrea Berg’s requested corrections on my personal blog as requested, and asked Nathan to make the same corrections on the Registan account.

The word “local” did not appear in my original text; I do not recall a discussion of Azerbijan NGOs; I doubt anything appears in an Uzbek newspaper of which President Karimov would disapprove; the article is explicitly about a presentation on NGO-government tensions, and that was the context for the original mention of Tajikistan. I am happy to clarify matters in this regard.

Further, I believe that it is important to know whether the Uzbeks are lying or not about charges of American involvement, whether through the embassy or NGOs. I don’t think that makes one a Russian to ask (though I do believe such a personal attack borders on McCarthyism), or that it is a dumb question, since the allegations have poisoned US-Uzbek relations. If they are false, showing that they were concocted out of whole cloth might help clear the air. I am quite certain the US government has the resources to answer this question without investigative assistance from any other country. And I believe the NGOs in Uzbekistan know the answer, as well.

Curzon October 4, 2005 at 2:16 pm

I saw McCain on the Senate floor this morning getting feisty about Uzbekistan…

Brian October 4, 2005 at 5:16 pm

Gotta try to catch it on c-span. It’s nice to know that three senators considering running for President (McCain, Brownback, and Biden) are taking Uzbekistan relatively seriously.

Rob October 9, 2005 at 9:17 am

An addendum to the addendums regarding the UZ bank restrictions (specifically Decree 56) which require aid from international organizations to pass through one of two banks (Asaka and NBU).

On an important level, Ms. Berg and othes are missing the point.

Funneling money through these two banks, though offensive, was not much of an issue last year when the decree was passed. For the international aid community, it was fairly simple to ask local NGO grantees to open new bank accounts in these banks. That’s not the point.

The critical issue was that the decree was accompanied by a bank circular which required all money transfers from international aid organizations to local grantees to be reviewed and approved by a central bank commission.

As a rule, for the past year, that commission has routinely rejected practically any transfer coming from any international NGO (mostly US but also EU) that promotes civil society, human rights, or anything that vauguely smacks of reform.

I work for one of these international NGOs and can say that we have had roughly $1 million in grant funding destined for local NGOs returned to our bank accounts after being rejected by the commission. The same is true for most of the other major grant-givers in UZ.

This more than anything else has shut down local NGO activities. And if it wasn’t so mean-spirited…you’d have to give Karimov a due amount of respect for his shewdness in setting up the Bank Commission. It has quietly but effectively cut off financial support for local NGOs (other than those working in some health fields and economic development).

To the frustration of the UZ government, most of the NGOs have continued to work despite not receiving funding from international aid. But finally, the patience of the government has reached its limit which is why the Misitry of Justice has begun (a couple months ago) making a round of phone calls forcefully suggesting that the local NGOs voluntarily shut down. Most, but not all, are complying.

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