Kyrgyzstan’s parliament might not, after all, pass a controversial “foreign agents” bill. In discussing the bill, two Kyrgyz lawmakers recently offered differing views about the piece of legislation that would require non-commercial and non-governmental organizations that are funded by foreign sources to register as “foreign agents.”
The bill–which is based on a 2012 Russian law known under the same name–concerns many NGOs in the country. The fear is that such a law would not just label them in an undesirable fashion, but would increase their reporting burden and perhaps open the door for greater pressure. A glance at how the foreign agents bill has played out in Russia fuels these concerns in Kyrgyzstan.
The debate surrounding Kyrgyzstan’s foreign agents law–and in particular the bill’s drawn-out progress–highlights conflicting impulses among Kyrgyzstan’s politicians and its people. On the one hand, there is deep-seated suspicion of outsiders funding organizations in the region for their own purposes. Both the 2005 and 2010 revolutions were surrounded by a swirl of conspiracy theories which still persist in one form or another. Most often these theories cast the United States as a nefarious actor, bent on influening the leaders in Bishkek and instigating change in Kyrgyz society. On the other hand, Kyrgyzstan’s people have benefitted greatly from NGOs, which don’t just pursue sometimes controversial human rights issues (such as LGBT issues) but tackle broad public health issues and also fill gaps in government services.
Almambet Shykmamatov, an MP from the Ata Meken Party, voiced opposition to the so-called foreign agents bill. As reported by 24.kg, Shykmamatov said, “It is being discussed, but we can not agree on it. I believe that the bill should be completely withdrawn. In addition, there are other mechanisms to enhance the activities of NGOs, Tax Service controls financial issues and so on.” Shykmamatov served as justice minister until resigning last February. His party, which holds just 11 seats in Kyrgyzstan’s unicameral parliament, just barely polled above the 7 percent nationally require to capture seats in last October’s election.
Another MP, Iskhak Masaliev of the Onuguu Progress party, however, said the bill was necessary. Per 24.kg’s report, he said the bill needed to be finalized still but “[t]he state should control and regulate NGOs.” In particular he noted that “[m]any of them advocate same-sex love and marriage. And this is unacceptable for the culture and state of mind of Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan has its own culture and traditions.” Masaliev also brought up that the “the role of NGOs is great in revolutions. Key issues are strengthening of control and a ban on engaging in political activities.”
Masaliev is an interesting character, to say the least. Prior to his affiliation with Onuguu Progress he led the Kyrgyz Communist Party. In May 2010 he was briefly put in jail before being acquitted of charges that he was organizing protests in the country’s south where the just-ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev had had the greatest support.
Another element, explained in greater detail by Eurasianet, is economic. Many developments in Kyrgyzstan in the past few years have been linked to a general political lean toward Russia. With economic trouble blanketing the region, however, following Moscow’s lead hasn’t led to significant financial reward for Bishkek.
Whether the bill will ultimately be passed or dropped is uncertain at this point, but the debate is clearly still ongoing.