examines the adequacy of the EU’s tool-kit and overall strategy
for socializing Central Asia into human rights and democracy.
First, the analysis will show that several interrelated
conditions, above all cultural idiosyncrasies, properties of
interaction between socializees and socializing agents, as well
as the nature of the political system, are not sufficiently
allowed for by the EU’s policy approach. This renders the
prospects for moving the region towards a democratic trajectory
bleak. Second, building on identified problems in the EU’s
socialization efforts, the paper presents policy
recommendations, above all a concentration on certain aspects of
human rights and government accountability that should help to
improve the EU’s democratizing impact.
European Union, Central Asia, democratization, normative suasion
Asia, conformance with democracy principles has deteriorated
since the late 1990s. None of the five Central Asian states has
fulfilled the democratic aspirations that were held by their
citizens some fifteen years ago, not to mention the aspirations
held by the international community. In most states, presidents,
individuals who come from the upper echelons of the communist
establishment, have gained wide powers to rule by decree.
Parliaments and courts are weak and are routinely ignored.
Opposition has been circumscribed, co-opted, and/or repressed.
Almost all elections have had dubious legitimacy and the
emergence of independent mass media has been hindered; in short,
substantive democracy is either absent or falls short of the
Accordingly, talk of democratization in Central Asia represents
the “triumph of hope over experience”.
Of course, within each of these states political
conditions vary. Thus, it might be more accurate to divide the
region into a more semi-authoritarian north-eastern tier and an
authoritarian or even dictatorial governed south-western tier;
the former consisting of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
the latter of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Building on the
international socialization mechanism of normative suasion, this
article offers some preliminary thoughts on major obstacles of
European Union (EU) democracy promotion in Central Asia. Though
the article chooses an EU perspective, most of the identified
difficulties are faced by any other Western actor active in
promoting democracy in the region. Simply put, socialization can
be defined as the “induction of new members […] into the ways of
behaviour that are preferred in a society”.
As far as this article is concerned ‘preferred behaviour’ is
understood as compliance with human rights and democracy
standards. The literature on international socialization usually
distinguishes two mechanisms for the projection of liberal
democratic norms onto a target country: strategic calculation
and normative suasion. While strategic calculation uses a
rational, cost-benefit approach to explain international
normative suasion works differently. The parties engaged in the
socialization process present arguments and try to persuade and
convince each other; in the end, the socializees accept the new
norms as ‘the right thing to do’ and not because of material or
social incentives promised by socializing agents from the West.
This article examines
major impediments for the EU’s democratization efforts in
Central Asia through the normative suasion mechanism. The reason
for choosing normative suasion over strategic calculation as the
framework of analysis is that this approach much better depicts
the difficulties of Western-led democratization in the region.
The analysis proceeds as follows. The section following this
introduction outlines the theoretical framework by introducing
the normative suasion mechanism. The third section briefly
examines the EU’s current socialization tool-kit. The fourth
part then looks at the major impediments for setting off a
trajectory of liberal democracy through normative suasion.
Finally, the fifth part offers some ideas on how to improve the
EU’s current socialization approach to the region.
Framework: Normative Suasion
Habermasian social theory as well as on insights from social
psychology, normative suasion claims that socializees do not so
much calculate cost and benefits when considering democratic
change. Rather, they engage in argumentation with the
socializers, with the latter trying to persuade and convince the
socializees of their interests and preferences as ‘correct’
interpretations of the world.
The establishment of these interpretations is the result of
socialization processes involving the dissemination of a
particular set of conceptual categories and behavioural
dispositions (in Bourdieu’s terminology, a habitus),
which shape the ways in which people think about and act in the
Thanks to the ‘power of the better argument’, the socializees
are persuaded by the legitimacy of the validity of the
socializers’ claims and change their identity and interests
accordingly. In contrast to strategic calculation and its logic
of consequences, this approach implies a switch to one of
appropriateness in terms of ‘doing the right thing’.
Accordingly, the process of rule transfer and rule adoption is
characterized by arguing about the legitimacy of rules and
appropriateness of behaviour (rather than bargaining about
incentives and rewards), persuasion (rather than coercion), and
‘complex’ learning (rather than behavioural adaptation).
Because behaviour can be re-changed once incentive structures
change and rewards are paid, socialization through suasion is
likely to be more enduring than socialization through strategic
calculation, as actors have begun to truly internalize new
It is important to note that the chances for the process of
normative suasion to be successful are higher when certain
conditions are fulfilled.
Such scope conditions include not only that educational
practices have to be carried out consistently, over a reasonably
long period of time. The socializing agency also should not
lecture or demand but, instead, act out principles of serious
deliberative argument. Moreover, socialization is more likely to
be successful if the target has few prior, ingrained beliefs
that are inconsistent with the overall socialization message.
The EU’s Suasion
1991, the Development Council in its landmark Resolution on
‘Human Rights, Democracy and Development’ explicitly linked
democracy, human rights and development and made the promotion
of human rights and democracy both an objective and a condition
of development assistance.
The Maastricht treaty widened this approach and made the
development and consolidating of democracy not only an objective
of development cooperation but also of the EU’s Common Foreign
and Security Policy (CFSP) in general. They are now considered
to be complementary and fundamental to other EU foreign and
security policy goals, as reinforced in major EU statements and
As far as normative suasion is concerned, various forms
of political and human rights dialogues build the cornerstone to
achieve the above objectives. Until recently the Partnership and
Cooperation Agreements (PCAs) - which build the legal framework
for the EU’s relations with the Central Asian states – were the
only platform for political dialogue.
Pursuant to the PCAs, political dialogue rests mainly with the
Cooperation Council which meets annually at ministerial level
and at senior civil servant level in an annual Cooperation
Committee, with the latter preparing Cooperation Council
While the EU’s Regional Strategy Paper 2002-06 only
envisaged strengthen dialogue more generally on regional and
technical cooperation, basically through existing PCA
consultation mechanism, a more promising source for dialogue on
democracy and human rights rests on the EU’s new Central Asia
Strategy, adopted by the European Council in June 2007.
This document calls for both a ‘regular’ regional political
dialogue at foreign minister level with the EU Troika and a
bilateral human rights dialogue with each of the Central Asian
The creation, in July 2005, of the post of European Union
Special Representative (EUSR) for Central Asia is a further
component of the EU’s capacity for dialogue. Though not
explicitly mentioned in the EUSR mandate, among his duties is
also “to develop appropriate contacts and cooperation with the
main interested actors in the region“.
Successful Socialization through Normative Suasion
As far as the
condition of consistent, long-term interaction is concerned, the
aspect of socialisation through dialogue is only somewhat
embodied in the EU’s various cooperation schemes. The PCAs are
documents of some 60 pages, but there is only a brief section
(one page) that relates to political dialogue. The rest of the
document deals with functional aspects of economic cooperation
and the pursuit of structural and legal changes that might
foster it. MacFarlane is right; this brevity is somewhat odd,
given that political issues are given pride of place in the PCAs
declaration of principles.
Moreover, the goals of the political dialogue are outlined only
in very vague terms (Art. 4): “A regular political dialogue […]
shall support the political and economic changes underway […]
and contribute to the establishment of new forms of
cooperation”. Only the Uzbek PCA adds that “The political
dialogue […] shall foresee that the Parties endeavour to
cooperate on matters pertaining to the observance of the
principles of democracy, and the respect, protection and
promotion of human rights, particularly those of persons
belonging to minorities and shall hold consultations, if
necessary, on relevant matters”. In addition, the Cooperation
Council only meets annually; therefore, high ranking dialogue is
anything but intensive. By way of comparison, the
Euro-Mediterranean Committee for the Barcelona Process, composed
of senior (foreign ministry) officials of the EU and the
Mediterranean Partners, meets on average every two to three
months. When their PCAs were signed in 1995, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were keen to advance cooperation, but
their enthusiasm was not reciprocated. This is especially true
for the more senior official levels in Europe. It has always
been a struggle to find high-level EU officials to attend
Cooperation Council meetings, while the Central Asia delegation
would easily be composed of the Prime Minister or the Foreign
Regarding the properties of interaction, Cooperation Council
talks are usually conducted in a reserved, high-hat manner;
sensitive subjects are seldom discussed in detail.
In addition, communication between the EU and the Central Asian
governments is far from being consistent. The EU is a
multi-level system of governance with complex decision-making
structures and different levels of authority. As regards the
latter, member-states and the Commission often have different
interests and policy priorities. According to an EU diplomat
stationed in Central Asia, relations between the EU delegations
and member-state missions are sometimes tense, with occasional
“sparring over turf, particularly on political issues: They make
their own demarches, which are very confusing for our partners,
who don’t know who is speaking for the EU. It gives the
impression that Europe is a very amorphous entity and not
most important impediments to successful socialization via
normative suasion are Central Asia’s socio-cultural
idiosyncrasies. It is more likely to be successful in the
socialization process if the target society has only a few
prior beliefs and cultural traits that are inconsistent with the
socialization message; i.e. the parties involved act within the
framework of a Habermasian ‘common lifeworld’,
consisting of collective interpretations of the world and a
common system of rules perceived as legitimate.
Although present in all Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan is
probably the best showcase to illustrate the most important
aspects of ‘Central Asianness’: authoritarianism and personalism.
Authoritarianism is especially apparent among the settled Uzbek
peoples. Some scholars have sought explanations for this by
noting that the functions of regimentation and centralization
required by the nature of the irrigated oasis society produced
an effect on public psychology. Karl Wittfogel argued that
unlike the individualistic political culture in many water-rich
agrarian societies, semi-arid agricultural societies often
require a high level of centralized decision-making, resulting
in the formation of a ‘managerial state’. Furthermore, Uzbek
authoritarianism is not merely a political value, but an
ensconced social value. An everyday example is the great
importance associated with ‘hurmat’, the idea of ‘obedience’ and
‘respect’. In present day Central Asia, the origins of hurmat
are not hard to find. Hurmat starts in the family, where social
relations are characterized by great respect for older family
members and the dominance of male heads of households.
In part, the authoritarian hierarchies of political life are
merely a natural extension of corresponding structures of the
a feature which can be traced back to the feudal era of Khanates
and Tsarist control.
While Westerners, steeped in liberal democratic traditions, tend
to automatically distinguish between the post and the person who
fills it, Central Asians find this distinction difficult to
draw. Personalism is strongly connected with patrimonialism.
Leaders create personality-based patron-client networks that
consolidate power through the dispensing and withholding of
political and material incentives to followers. To Westerners
this may appear to be corruption, but to those engaged in the
practice as serving the needs of their community. Those and
other customs have been very persistent in Central Asia; they
even permeated Soviet institutions due to the policy of ‘korenizatsiya’,
the Soviet leadership’s reliance on local cadre members and
their adherence to traditionalism. Just like in Soviet times,
today traditionalism has created a two-level political culture:
on the one hand an appearance of conformity with the ‘social
project’ imposed by the upper authorities; on the other hand, a
subversion of the project by practices of factionalism and
Patrimonial-authoritarian features can also be found in the
societal organization of clans in the formerly nomadic countries
of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Simply put, a clan
is a network of allegiance, an informal organization comprising
a network of individuals linked by kin-based bonds. They are
governed by informal councils of patriarchs and elders, whereas
an extensive network of poorer relatives and kinsmen, close
friends, women etc. constitute the non-elite members. Elite and
non-elite members feature a relationship of reciprocal
dependency. Elites need the support of their networks to
maintain their status, protect their group, and make gains
within an overarching political or economic system. Non-elites
need clan elders and patrons to assist them in improving their
social status (e.g. finding a job, accessing education, getting
loans) or even secure their survival in an economy of shortages.
The existence of clan-based societies has severe implications
for the EU’s socialization efforts. Without trying to lay down
an exhaustive set of obstacles for successful democratization in
clan marked societies, two factors need to be mentioned.
First, clans undermine the EU’s aim of contestation through
elections, the most basic element of democracy. In Central Asia,
political leaders mobilize voters through hierarchical networks
of clan patronage. According to prior arranged clan pacts, they
put kinsmen or allied clan members in positions of power, for
example, as regional or local governors (akims). In exchange for
their appointment, the local officials wage support for the
leader. First and foremost they put pressure on the clan elders
or respected persons with influence in the local community to
make their people vote in support of the official’s patron.
Second, clans weaken the constitutional separation of powers and
impede parliamentary and court independence. Parliaments are
riddled with clan politics. Regardless of their party
affiliation, clan cronies in the legislature support
high-ranking members of government and win benefits in exchange.
As Collins puts it, “their main objective as deputies is to
direct state resources to the particularistic interests of their
networks, not to pass legislation aimed at broader interests”.
Moreover, also members of the jurisdiction are pushed by their
kinsmen to make critical decisions that favour and/or even keep
their clan in power. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, the chair of
the Constitutional Court, Cholpon Baekova, successfully pushed
for a constitutional reform that allowed her kinsmen, former
president Akayev, to run for another presidential term in 1998.
analysis has shown that the EU’s ‘socialization through
dialogue’ approach faces major obstacles, above all because of
unfavourable properties of target/sender interaction and the
lack of a shared normative framework between the EU and the
Central Asian elites. So what do we do? Firstly, a most obvious
policy prescription would be to increase the EU’s capacity for
political dialogue with Central Asia. In the very recent past
there has already been some remarkable progress in this regard.
It cannot be denied that following the adoption of the EU’s
Central Asia strategy in June 2007 dialogue has indeed
intensified. Until late April 2008 the European Union foreign
ministers’ troika has set up three regional meetings with their
Central Asian counterparts.
However, dialogue on the regional level is focusing on political
cooperation in general, including areas like education, the rule
of law and security; according to the EU issues of human rights
and democracy will be raised bilaterally through the human
With the exception of an EU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue
which was established in the post-Andijan context, such
dialogues do not yet exist.
In addition, even if EU officials are publicly enthusiastic
about the institutionalization of a human rights dialogue,
insiders of the human rights dialogue with Uzbekistan report
that members of the Uzbek delegation – somewhat unsurprisingly –
only developed an interest in such meetings just before the EU
The latter point leads to a second, more fundamental policy
prescription: the socialization message itself. So, far the EU
promoted a Western-style democracy in the region and gives only
little attention to socio-cultural idiosyncrasies and the larger
question of “what is actually possible” with regard to democracy
in the region.
argues for a change in the EU’s socialization message by
concentrating on certain human rights dimensions and government
accountability instead of democracy in the narrower sense. The
reason for this is twofold. First, I have mentioned above that
the success of dialogue within the normative suasion approach
depends on whether projected norms are part of a collective
interpretation of the world and therefore regarded as
legitimate. When looking at the political and social
characteristics of tribal Central Asia we find that in most of
the Inner Asian Khanates a normative order and legal tradition
was in place that showed appreciation of certain aspects of
administrative and legal accountability that is similar to our
understanding of the notion.
A socialization message that builds on such a link is probably
viewed less alien and therefore appreciated more than the tough
sell of party competition or the separation of powers. Second,
by concentrating dialogue on issues that don’t directly
challenge a regime’s political survival (like, for example,
arguing permanently for free and fair elections) EU
representatives are likely to increase their trustworthiness for
one side of the Central Asian elites. This in turn would
increase dialogue effectiveness. In addition, an
approach of supporting genuine democracy issues may have worked
in Eastern Europe where authoritarian structures were already
broken up and elite commitment to
democratic reform was strong. In Central Asia, however, projects
redistributing power are thwarted by the fact that power is
still locked in place.
How can such an
inevitably long-term strategy that does not directly address
genuine democracy issues contribute to the democratization of
the region? Of course, human rights and government
accountability are necessary but not in themselves sufficient
for democratic government. In the long run, however, they are
likely to contribute to the break up of authoritarian regimes.
At this point it is helpful to
remember that democracy is an overarching concept to which the
concepts of human rights and good governance are closely
interrelated, though less so to each other. This can be
illustrated diagrammatically as three intersecting circles, with
democracy in the middle, and areas of overlap between democracy
and human rights as well as between democracy and good
governance left and right to the centre circle (see figure 1).
It is assumed that those elements within the central circle
amount to an overall objective of promoting democratization.
Conceptual Linkages of Human Rights, Democratization and Good
Governance (according to Crawford, Promoting Democratic
Governance in the South, p. 24)
The notion of good governance is
subject to a number of definitions with either relatively narrow
or broad interpretations. While a narrow type focuses on public
administration, with the goal to increase the capacity and
efficiency of executive institutions, a broader approach
stresses the normative dimension of the openness, accountability
and transparency of government institutions. Promoting a
competent public administration may have little to do with
democracy whereas the broader type tends to support the same
values as democratic government.
Of course, strengthening certain lines of government openness
and accountability (for example, increasing financial
accountability through an independent auditor or introducing
ethics statutes and codes of conduct for public officials that
outline unacceptable practices) reduces a regime’s room for
political manoeuvre. However, those measures are significantly
less challenging to regime survival than, for example, pushing
for free and fair elections or the strengthening of opposition
movements. This should increase the Central Asian governments’
willingness to engage in dialogue.
A further promising focus for the
EU’s socialization efforts is the promotion of certain equality
rights. Democracy is less based on voters than on citizens who
are allowed to participate in their polity regardless of gender,
religion, or ethnic identity. From a democracy promotion
perspective, gender equality is a particular good starting
First, it can be argued that the repressiveness and unquestioned
dominance of the male over women tend to replicate in broader
society, creating a culture of domination, intolerance, and
dependency in social and political life.
Second, individuals who are more accustomed to such rigidly
hierarchical relations in their personal lives may be less prone
to resist patterns of authority in politics. Third, authors have
shown that men hold attitudes that are more conducive to
authoritarianism. While men tend to have a strong ‘social
dominance’ orientation, women are generally less comfortable
with hierarchy and inequality.
Women also seem to be more successful in some aspects of
building consensus which again is conducive to democratic
Of course, teaching Central Asia’s patriarchal societies aspects
of gender equality is no easy task. It is achievable only by
directly engaging with local structures. Here, USAID funded
programmes in the field of community development might help as a
general blueprint for further EU action. USAID, in order to
mitigate the potential for powerful elements (mostly elders or
aksakals) to take over assistance projects, successfully
advocated the use of participatory techniques, referred to as
Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA).
PRA especially aims to facilitate the input of women and
marginal groups to development projects.
presented some preliminary thoughts on the impediments for
democratization in Central Asia from the perspective of the
international socialization mechanism of normative suasion. The
EU’s ‘socialization through dialogue’ approach exhibits major
weaknesses, above all unfavourable properties of target/sender
interaction and the lack of a shared normative framework between
socializee and sender. Dialogue – contrary to the EU’s official
rhetoric – is only partly embodied in the EU-Central Asian
cooperation schemes; regarding the properties of interaction,
meetings are usually conducted in a reserved, high-hat manner
with communication form the various EU institutions being far
from consistent. In addition, EU normative suasion efforts are
exposed to traditional institutions that build on
authoritarian/neo-patrimonial values which undermine the EU’s
So, what to do? The
EU has already been trying to intensify its political dialogue
with the Central Asian regimes by adding to it a separate human
rights dimension. However, we have also learnt from the above
analysis that the Central Asian counterparts are far from being
enthusiastic about this. This does not come as a surprise given
a socialization message that presses for the redistribution of
power at the expense of the ruling elite. It was therefore
argued to change the current socialization message towards a
focus on certain dimension of government accountability and
human rights. The reason for this is twofold. First,
concentrating dialogue on issues that don’t directly challenge
the socializees’ political survival is likely to increase the
trustworthiness of EU representatives on the side of the Central
Asian governments, thereby rendering the dialogue process more
effective. Second, particular aspects of government
accountability can look back on a normative and legal tradition
in Central Asia. Incorporating familiar elements into the EU’s
socialization message enhances the chance of increased
receptiveness among the socializees. Of course, such a strategy
is inevitably long-term. However, there is good reason to
believe that it is well suited to contribute more effectively to
democratic ferment than the EU’s current socialization approach.
Barnes, James F., Skidmore, Marx J. and Tripp, Marshall
“The World of Politics: A Concise Introduction”, (New
York: St. Martins Press, 1980), p. 35.
Checkel, Jeffrey T., “International Socialization and
Socialization in Europe. Introduction and Framework”,
International Organization, vol. 59:4, 2005, pp.
801-26., at p. 812.
Gheciu, Alexandra, “Security Institutions as Agents of
Socialization. NATO and the ‘New Europe’’,
International Organization, vol. 59:4, 2005, pp.
973-12, at p. 980.
There has been much debate about whether Islamic and
Western values are inherently in conflict, and
especially whether Islam is inherently hostile to
democracy. Some scholars argue, that the absence of
recognition in Islamic thought for the legitimacy of an
independent political and public sphere separate from
the sacred realm of God’s dominion, as well as the
supposed predominance in Islam of a corporatist spirit
make Islamic societies inhospitable places for the
emergence of democracy (see, for example, Lipset, S. M.,
“The Centrality of Political Culture”, in Larry Diamond
and Marc F. Plattner (eds.) “The Global Resurgence of
Democracy” (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1996); Gellner, Ernest “Conditions of Liberty: Civil
Society and Its Rival” (New York: Penguin, 1994); Fish,
Steven M., “Islam and Authoritarianism”, in: World
Politics, vol. 55:1, 2002, pp. 4-37; Bernard, Lewis
“Islam and Liberal Democracy. A Historical Overview”,
in: Journal of Democracy, vol. 7:2, 1996, pp.
52-63. For a different perspective see Seleny, Anna,
“Tradition, Modernity, and Democracy: The Many Promises
of Islam”, in: Perspectives on Politics, vol.
4:3, 2006, pp. 481-94). It is also noteworthy here that
in Central Asia – to a large extent as a consequence of
Soviet-style modernization – there is only a weak
correlation between religion and political attitudes
Collins, Kathleen, “The Logic of Clan Politics. Evidence
from the Central Asian Trajectories”, in: World
Politics, vol. 56:2, 2004, pp. 224-61, at p. 231.
For a more security related analysis of clan politics
see Matveeva, Anna, “Democratization, Legitimacy and
Political Change in Central Asia”, in: International
Affairs, vol. 75:1, 1999, pp. 23-44, at p. 32-33.
Crawford, Gordon, “Promoting Democratic Governance in
the South”, in: European Journal of Development
Research, vol. 12:1, 2000, pp. 23-57, at p. 24. See
also Beetham, David and Boyle, Kevin, “Introducing
Democracy: Eighty Questions and Answer” (Cambridge:
Polity Press, 1995).
Pratto, Felicia, Stalworth, Lisa M. and Sidanius, Jim,
“The Gender Gap: Differences in Political Attitudes and
Social Dominance Orientation”, in: British Journal of
Social Psychology, vol. 36:1, 1997, pp. 49-68.