Sorry for the long delay. I have been out of the country (on a visa run to Kazakhstan) and under the weather (sick as a dog)! I hope all of your holidays were great.
As might be expected in a country that has endured two revolutions in the past 5 years, I have noticed a general feeling of uncertainty among the population. Some of this certainly relates to the constant presence of corruption (http://fellowsblog.kiva.org/2010/12/28/kyrgyzstan-post-revolution/)
This general feeling manifests itself in a staggering number of ways. One of the most surprising occurred the other night while at a company dinner. The tradition here in Kyrgyzstan, as it is in a variety of Asian countries I have been to, is for very formalized toasts lasting the majority of the meal. In this case the entire top management was at dinner so the toasts promised to be lengthy. I have picked up a few good toasts while here and my toast went off without a hitch. At some point, amid the mostly Russian toasts I began to pick a word out that I understood. The woman toasting at the moment was repeating Stalin…Stalin…Stalin… I questioned my closest English speaking colleague and he confirmed that the woman was reminiscing about the times when Stalin controlled Kyrgyzstan. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Didn’t she realize that Stalin supervised one of the greatest genocides in human history? One of his most famous purges happened right here in Kyrgyzstan (http://www.rferl.org/video/4894.html)!!!While I did not phrase my question as such, I did ask for some clarification of her admiration. To her, the small town we had visited that day was basically devoid of industry in the post-Soviet era. When Stalin reigned there had been an enormous light bulb factory placed there, the results of a centrally planned economy, producing bulbs for homes as far as Kiev and an abundance of jobs. Pensioners make up 10% of the Kyrgyz population (Elderly Assistance in Kyrgyzstan) and the value of their Soviet pensions has drastically dropped while the cost of living continues to rise (http://fellowsblog.kiva.org/2010/11/12/hows-the-weather/). Food prices alone have risen over 50% in the past two years (Source). Underlying all of this is the intangible but pervasive personality cult here in Kyrgyzstan. Power is without a doubt or a question admired. This is typified by the fact that a large proportion of University students pay professors (anecdotally confirmed by many sources) for their grades, copy their final exams, and pay others to write their final papers. The most interesting thing about this is not that it happens but how open people are to admit and even boast about their participation in this currupt system. For in a culture where corruption is everpresent, the ends trump the means.
While I certainly don’t plan on toasting Staling anytime soon, the fact that he is being toasted raises quite a few concerns about the current situation here in Kyrgyzstan.
On a lighter note – Bear Down Chicago Bears this weekend! Wason my computer until 3 AM Sunday night watching the Seattle game. That said, here is a Wisconsin shout out for all my friends in the land of cheese, in Russian brat means brother…enough said