Non-governmental organization is substitute for the state?

New roles, shared responsibilities in state building in Kyrgyzstan

Tatina Mamatova, December 2009


  • State
  • state collapse
  • Non government organisation
  • post-communist countries
  • transitional process
  • Kyrgyzstan

Past events in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan prove that NGOs could not just indirectly influence political, economic and social life but also participate in radical change of authoritarian regimes. These phenomena attract fresh interest in the role of NGOs in state building in post-communist countries.

The notion of NGOs in particular and civil society in general became trivialized; it is being regarded as an evident and necessary condition to build strong democracy and contribute to development of transitional states. At the same time, international actors tried to apply “blueprints” of civil society institutions to ensure the ‘point of no return’ to communism. Nevertheless, the reality was different from the project, and we observe now that in many countries the existence of wide networks of NGOs did not prevent the formation of authoritarian repressive governments, as demonstrated by Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. In Kyrgyzstan, NGOs ‘took the power’ when a weak state was disengaging from its crucial functions and when political parties were in their first stages. NGOs very often had to perform duties of states and political institutions.

The present paper aspires to describe how NGOs participate in state building in Kyrgyzstan and why it became possible. It also explores ways and opportunities for NGOs to substitute state under certain conditions. Finally, the present study endeavours to demonstrate how NGOs in fragile states could prevent a fall into failed states.

Three main forces participated in state building in Kyrgyz Republic: local elites (government, political forces), international organizations and civil society organizations (CSOs or NGOs). If the first type of actors is traditional for the Kyrgyz state building, the second and third types were new in a complex and mixed landscape that emerged after independence. Interactions between these three forces shape a new construction of the Kyrgyz state.

Furthermore, the nature of Kyrgyz NGOs has its specificities and it differs in character and role from NGOs in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan. This institution that is familiar to the Western democracy was transformed and adjusted to its local environment.


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The full article can be found in the publication “Rethinking these Foundations of the State” (forthcoming 2010)