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Unknown Central Asia

Many people seem to be intrigued when I mention that I am involved in SEnECA (“Strengthening and Energizing EU – Central Asia relations”), a Horizon 2020 project that aims to better connect the EU and Central Asia. “What does Central Asia mean?” is the usual reaction. Many countries are considered as Central Asian: Mongolia, Iran, Turkey, but few people think of the five countries that the project actually targets, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Having previously mainly worked on Europe and its immediate neighbours, I have also had until very recently only limited knowledge of the region.

Central Asia is indeed not on the radar of the European public. Of course, the exceptions are adventurous travelers who tell of beautiful breathtaking scenery, delicious food and kind and hospitable inhabitants upon their return.

Similarly, when conducting our Stakeholder Analysis in the framework of SEnECA, which entails looking for stakeholders who engage in the field of EU-Central Asia relations, we found that there are very few people who work exclusively on Central Asia. Central Asia usually falls under broader terms such as Eurasia, Asia and so on.

That is what SEnECA wants to change. We want to bring Central Asia closer to Europe by connecting not only experts on the topic, but also citizens who, like me, have previously rarely engaged with Central Asia. One of SEnECA’s objectives is in fact to raise awareness for the importance of Central Asia for Europe in the wider public by bringing the region closer to the citizens of the EU. This also means showing why the region is important in the daily life of a European citizen: One example is that there is a sizeable diaspora from Central Asia living in Europe. Also, Central Asia will become a main connectivity hub between Europe and Asia in the future due to China’s ‘One Belt, on Road’ initiative. Finally, preserving stability in the Central Asia region will also have an effect on the everyday life of Europeans.

How to better help citizens familiarise with Central Asia than exhibiting photos of the region? In spring 2019, SEnECA will organise a two-day free photo exhibition in Brussels to show the beauty, culture and traditions of these countries, to portrait the daily lives of their inhabitants and to stimulate reflection on the differences and the similarities between Europe and Central Asia. The exhibition targets citizens and the wider public as well as professionals from the field. The idea behind the exhibition is also to present the academic papers that the project produces in a format that is easily digestible for citizens without prior expertise in the field of social sciences.

Within SEnECA, we will do our best to make Central Asia more known in Europe and to connect Europeans and Central Asians better. For me personally, this objective has already been achieved through my involvement in the project. I have especially enjoyed working with our Central Asian partners and hearing stories about Central Asia from them directly. What has surprised me the most while working on the topic of Central Asia is that the region will soon gain more importance by become the connecting piece for both China’s and the EU’s connectivity strategy. I am certainly looking forward to continuing working with our Central Asian and European partners for the success of SEnECA.

SEnECA Blog Contribution by Julia Krebs from the Trans European Policy Studies Association