Bill Taylor, coordinator of U.S. assistance to the newly independent states at the State Department, visited Kyrgyzstan this month. The purpose of the visit was to discuss U.S. involvement in Kyrgyzstan’s economic development in the framework of a bilateral memorandum on mutual understanding, cooperation and support of economic reforms in the Kyrgyz Republic. During the day of the visit, Mr. Taylor met with government officials, alumni of US-government-sponsored programs and representatives of civil society and the independent mass media.
Mr. Taylor had a meeting with Vice-Premier Nikolay Tanaev where the conclusions of the February visit of Kyrgyz economic delegation to the U.S. were discussed. As he stated in an interview to the local ‘Pyramid’ TV station, He plans to lobby the U.S. Congress to double the sum of support, which would make it US$ 60 million. The U.S. would assist in the development of the private sector including small business development, provide experts assistance, assist with securing borders and water as well as health reforms. Taylor also met with the governor of Osh region and discussed investments into agriculture in the region.
The US provides humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan, giving 400,000 out of 500,000 tons received by the republic in the last decade. The aid is mostly distributed directly to vulnerable groups through USAID agencies, and not through the government. At the meeting with alumni of US government exchange programs which took place at the American University in Kyrgyzstan, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. Alumni talked about their experiences and what they learned during a year in the United States. Alumni of the Freedom Support Act Future Leaders Exchange shared their views on contributing to the future of Kyrgyzstan and told Mr. Taylor about a variety of community projects they are involved in. The funding for this programs was increased and 50 students will be able to spend a year at an American high school compared to approximately 30 per year in the past years. Bill Taylor said that it was “inspiring” to meet with alumni.
As Bill Taylor acknowledged at a meeting with the U.S. Congress’ International Relations Committee, Kyrgyzstan along with Moldova and Georgia is making a “genuine” commitment to reform, especially in comparison with Belarus and Turkmenistan. However, the meeting with independent media showed that democratic reform at least with the freedom of mass media in Kyrgyzstan is going backwards. The media representatives blamed the government and mostly President Akaev and his family for restricting them from reporting on topics that do not fall under government-approved criteria, such as opposition demonstrations, corruption, social instability, etc. Government-monopolized publishing houses, requirements of registration of publishing devices and licensing for publishing activities were among the issues raised. The in the meeting mostly represented newspapers that were shut down by the government and human rights activists. They claim that Kyrgyzstan is following the trends of all Post-Soviet governments where the governments are increasing executive powers and sidelining the media.
Bill Taylor commented that the US is concerned with respect to human rights and democratic freedoms in Kyrgyzstan and that the memorandum includes responsibilities of Kyrgyz government aimed at improving democratic institutions, human rights and the freedom of mass media. He also acknowledged, however, that it is a difficult time for the Kyrgyz Government.Anna Kirey