The selection of Uzgen as host-city was itself symbolic, as it managed to withstand a wave of inter-ethnic violence that shook Kyrgyzstan in 2010. Uzgen was one of the epicentres of a similar conflict in 1990, and many feared the same violence would erupt in this city again, 20 years later.
However, as many residents of the city noted during Unity Day, local leaders and community members managed to mobilize the community, counter the misinformation spreading through the crowd, and ultimately keep the peace.
Uzgen’s ability to counter this wave of violence shows that these kinds of self-regulatory mechanisms within society are critical for managing conflict in the country.
Local councils, community leaders, youth organizations, and schools serve as “social barometers” and agents of influence in their day-to-day interaction with the community at large.
We at UNDP in Kyrgyzstan along with our partners are working with these grassroots-level entities to help identify and resolve potential conflicts.
Joint cultural events, discussions in the communities, training courses on conflict mitigation, grants for small infrastructure projects – each specific situation requires customized approaches.
Another key aspect of the conflict-mitigation process is enabling open discussion in a country with a very strong and committed civil society.
Their concerns over violence and inter-ethnic tensions are voiced in various conferences, public hearings, seminars, and mass media, which helps in building a constructive dialogue at all levels.
Last but not least, having the active participation of the government and reflecting this issue in the national agenda is crucial. People must see that government is listening to their concerns and taking specific actions.
In this regard, Kyrgyzstan has taken some very important steps forward by adopting a national level document for strengthening inter-ethnic relations, establishing aforementioned specialized agency and a unit within the Office of the President.
Currently, we are also assisting the state agency in creating conflict-monitoring centres, which will conduct regular surveys that will help identify potential conflicts and develop recommendations on how to resolve them.
Naken Kasiev, the Head of the State Agency for Local Self-Governance and Inter-Ethnic Relations, shared these plans with the crowd gathered at Unity Day in Uzgen.
Another rousing speech was delivered by the Head of the Kyrgyzstan’s Peoples Assembly, Mr. Murzubraimov, whose words seemed to especially resonate:
“Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are like two paddles in a boat. In order to swim forward both paddles have to work. If one side paddles too hard, the boat will just go in circles in one place.”
Well, Kyrgyzstan has more than 90 ethnicities – or “paddles” - and if they all work in a harmonized and synchronized way, this boat will get to its destination much faster than anyone can expect.