Policy Papers - Mapping

Policy Paper No 7 – Cultural and other relations – Mapping EU-Central Asia relations

Policy Paper No.7 examines the ties between the EU and the five Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) in the field of higher education, culture and identity, and civil society. The paper shows that while the European Studies including the European languages have been long established at higher academic institutions in Central Asia, Central Asian Studies are still a rarity at European universities. A positive development is that the exchange of students and researchers between the two regions is intensifying through frameworks such as the EU’s “Central Asia Education Platform” (CAEP), the Erasmus+ programme and the network CAREN.

Furthermore, the paper describes the ethnic, linguistic and religious set-up of the five Central Asian countries paying attention to the history of the people living in those societies. The paper reveals that diversity and multiculturalism are significant characteristics of all Central Asian societies. Moreover, the cultural identity of the peoples living in Central Asia is strongly influenced by the respective environment and natural landscape. While the Tajik and Uzbek peoples, for example, have been strongly influenced by a mountainous way of life and animal herding, the Kyrgyz people have a strong nomadic tradition.

Last but not least, the paper displays how the stark differences in the social and political realities in the five Central Asian societies are strongly reflected in the amount of officially active civil society actors. In Kazakhstan, for example, 19.680 NGOs are registered today, whereas in Turkmenistan, only 13 NGOs can operate more or less freely. As the interest of Europeans towards Central Asia is gradually increasing, the cooperation between European and Central Asian civil society actors is slowly intensifying and more tourists from Europe are interested in visiting Central Asia as a holiday destination.

Did you know?

Existing tribal traditions and family ties continue to influence the political culture. All Central Asian countries’ leaders tend to surround themselves with elites from their regions and even hometowns.

Foreign aid has been and continues to be an important source of financial support for local organizations in Central Asia.

According to the various sociological researches, Tajiks and Uzbeks are the most religious and traditional nations in Central Asia.

The Tajik culture is also highly influenced by the experience of a mountainous way of life and animal herding. In all these dimensions, the Tajik culture is strongly intertwined with the Uzbek one.

Within the framework of identity politics, Uzbekistan was one of the first post-Soviet countries which switched from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet, a decision that has not yet been implemented by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Kyrgyz people try to save the nomadic traditions and customs, emphasizing their belonging to the nomadic civilization. Thus, Kyrgyzstan initiated the World Games of Nomads – an international competition in ethnic sports, based on the folk games of nomads of Central Asia – in 2014.