President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov responded to a letter from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who asked the country's leadership not to adopt an analogue of the bill on foreign agents. Bishkek said that some non-governmental organizations are engaged in “cutting” money, and asked Washington not to interfere in the internal affairs of the republic. MK was looking into whether the Kyrgyz authorities would enter into conflict with the Americans.
In recent years, the authorities of post-Soviet states have seriously begun to identify foreign funding in the country. In the fall of 2023, a register of “foreign agents” was published for the first time in Kazakhstan, which included journalists and human rights organizations. And in October of the same year, the bill was adopted in the first reading by the deputies of Kyrgyzstan.
According to the project, an article will appear in the country’s criminal code on the activities of NPOs that infringe on the personality and rights of citizens. For its violation, fines of up to 100 thousand rubles or imprisonment for up to five years are provided. The concept of “foreign representative” is also introduced - an analogue of a foreign agent.
According to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the adoption of the document will cause significant harm to civil society. In particular, citizens' access to health and education services will be at risk, since many of them are provided through NGO programs funded by the US and the EU.
Bishkek did not share Washington’s concerns and asked not to interfere in the internal affairs of the state. Japarov emphasized that most NGOs in the country work transparently and honestly, but there is a certain layer of organizations that are involved in disbursing grant funds.
“These same non-governmental structures often disseminate false and unreliable information among the people, which leads to litigation brought by victims or those slandered. As a result of cases being considered in court, distributors of false information are often forced to file a petition for reconciliation with the plaintiffs,” the head of state said.
There are indeed quite a large number of non-governmental organizations in the republic. As of June 2023, 29 thousand 130 non-profit organizations are registered in the Unified Database of Legal Entities of the Ministry of Justice of Kyrgyzstan. The figure for the country's population of 7 million is not small. For comparison: in Kazakhstan, where about 20 million people live, about 23 thousand such companies are registered.
Why do the Kyrgyz authorities need a bill and whether its adoption will worsen relations with Washington? MK spoke with the director of the Center for Expert Initiatives “Oy Ordo”, political scientist Igor Shestakov:
— Kyrgyzstan is a country of NGOs. This is what the former president of the country Askar Akayev said. Of course, of the 20 thousand organizations registered in the country, only about 10 thousand are active. Of these, only about 40% deal with social and economic issues, help the poor, cancer patients, and improve where the state fails.
Questions arise for those who are involved in political activities and implement the Western agenda in the country. After all, as they say: he who pays calls the tune. The same US State Department determines the programs that it must finance. For this reason, when this document was discussed, many in the expert community supported the initiative in order to protect national security.
Ever since Kyrgyzstan gained independence, the United States has launched vigorous efforts in the country to teach our society democratic principles based on the American model. If the document is adopted, the image of the American wise democratic educator will fade.
— Kyrgyzstan is considered one of the most democratic countries in the post-Soviet space. Was this achieved thanks to the work of NGOs?
— First of all, this is connected with the first president Akaev. He was an exemplary student of Washington and received good grants from the United States. Yes, we have acquired a large number of NGOs, but now there are too many of them.
The overthrow of Akaev was also carried out by the hands of NGOs, which became one of the driving forces of the United States. After this, Akaev began writing books where he criticized the system of non-profit organizations.
— What organizations will be affected by the bill?
— Among the large NGOs working with Western grants: “Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society”, as well as “Human Rights Movement: Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan”.
—Could the adoption of the bill on foreign agents spoil relations between Washington and Bishkek?
— I don’t think that the United States will sever relations with Kyrgyzstan, because this issue is much broader. First of all, I don’t think they would want to cut off their influence. In addition, no one is saying that if the law is adopted, the country will stop receiving funding from the World Bank. There was a proposal to deprive the deputies who approved the initiative of visas to the United States and the European Union, but I have not heard of this happening.
Of course, this will not lead to a strengthening of relations, but there will not be any fatal break either. Yes, Blinken sent a warning. But we must not forget that an election period is taking place in the United States. And if Trump wins the election, I generally doubt that he will grieve about the bill on foreign agents in Kyrgyzstan, which, moreover, has been successfully operating in the United States since 1938 (FARA law).