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Central Asia’s Nomenklatura: “Incredible incompetence at all levels”

Blogging over at Steve LeVine’s Oil and Glory, Sasha Meyer has an interesting article about the 1989 revolutions which never caught on in Central Asia, drawing interesting comparisons with Gabon and Egypt.  A huge factor depends on what kinds of dissidents took over when the USSR collapsed – insiders (nomenklatura) or outsiders.

The stumbling block is probably the prevailing mindset among officials in the region. Russian researcher Olga Kryshtanovskaka has found that up to 83% of government positions in Russia are held by former members of the Soviet nomenklatura. The figure for Central Asia is probably higher as its bureaucracy survived the Soviet collapse intact.


Soviet-era writers have been scathing about this upper layer of society, which comprises just 0.1% of the population. Soviet-era writer Michail Voslensky called the nomeklatura “an invisible aristocracy whose reign is more oppressive than that of the czars.” Hungarian essayist György Konrádcaustically writes that the nomenklatura often fail economically,trained as they are in a Communist system in which “the more stupidlead the more intelligent, because it has made political reliability amore important job requirement than ability.” There is traction to thisthinking. For instance, a Western diplomat based in Tajikistan says of local officialsin a report by the International Crisis Group, “We are not just dealingwith selfishness and greed, but incredible incompetence at all levels.”

Thequestion then is whether there will be new faces in the politicalelites, and whether they will make a break with Soviet-era attitudes,as has happened in Georgia and to a lesser degree in Ukraine.

Orwhether the region will continue to be like Gabon and Egypt – in theformer, the new president is the son of the late Omar Bongo; in the latter,the combination of a youthful population bulge and governmentaleconomic incompetence is creating an increasingly religious andconservative society, possibly opening the door to the Pakistani outcome in the longer term.