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Central Asia in Focus: November 8, 2022

Russian TV gets competition in Uzbekistan, Tajik migrant laborers find employment closer to home, Organization of Turkic States Summit, and more.

RFE/RL journalist speaks to two Tajik migrant workers.
KAZAKHSTAN — Tajik migrant workers featured in RFE/RL’s November 2022 Current Time television program about finding work in Kazakhstan instead of Russia. RFE/RL photo.

What’s Happening in the Region

Tajik Migrant Laborers Find Employment Option Closer to Home

Western sanctions on Russia for the latter’s war on Ukraine are thinning the job market in Russia and causing many Central Asian migrant laborers to consider alternative destinations.

According to a recent report from RFE/RL’s Current Time, an increasing number of Tajik migrant laborers are appearing in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is the wealthiest of the Central Asian countries. For years there have been some migrant laborers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan who went no further in search of work than next door in Kazakhstan, though their numbers are far lower than those working in Russia.

Wages are lower in Kazakhstan than in Russia, but as some of the Tajiks interviewed pointed out, the fear factor for Central Asian migrant laborers is much lower in Kazakhstan than it is in Russia.

Central Asians working in Russia are often targeted by Russian police who threaten to detain them if they don’t pay bribes, there are Russian skinheads and nationalists who mistreat and abuse people from Central Asia, and now there is the risk of being conscripted and sent to fight in Ukraine.

At the best of times Central Asian citizens are often treated as second-class human beings in Russia.

The attitude is obviously different for people from neighboring Central Asian states who work in Kazakhstan.

At the same time, there are fewer jobs available in Kazakhstan, population some 19 million, then there are in Russia, population some 140 million.

An estimated eight million Central Asian citizens have been working annually in Russia in recent years and there is no way Kazakhstan can accommodate even a small percentage of this figure into its labor force.

Why It’s Important: Probably more than half of these estimated eight million Central Asian migrant laborers will continue to try to find work in Russia.

It is not easy for Central Asian citizens to obtain visas for most countries and Russia has proven a relatively easy place to enter and find employment.

Kazakhstan offers possibly tens of thousands of migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan an option for opportunities to find work, but Kazakhstan cannot absorb all these workers. The Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek governments will have to come up with different solutions or risk unrest from an increasing pool of unemployed at home.

Russian TV Gets Competition in Uzbekistan

Russian soft power in Uzbekistan will be facing a challenge soon after the UzDigital TV announced a new package for customers that will offer BBC World News, CNN International, Bloomberg Television, China Global Television Network (CGTN), and Turkish channel TRT Avaz.

True, it’s only available in the Tashkent and Syrdarya provinces initially, and prices are not yet available, but it’s a start.

How many people will actually subscribe and watch is a big question and I suspect most people who do pay for the foreign channels will want the Turkish channel, especially as UzDigital advertises that TRT Avaz shows “news about culture for Turks and Turkic peoples in Eurasia…”

Russian TV is still widely available in Central Asia. I’ve watched a lot of it with my friends there and I do not ever remember that we were watching to see Russian news. We were watching some music or video show, sporting event, or maybe an American movie dubbed into Russian.

But the Russian news came on between those broadcasts and we sat there and watched it simply because it was easier than turning the channel, and we knew there probably wasn’t anything particularly interesting on local channels.

So people in Central Asia do see what Russian news is reporting and it does influence their view of world events.

And in the case of Russia’s war in Ukraine, media in Central Asian has been sparing and cautious in covering that topic, leaving people in Uzbekistan and more generally Central Asia with almost no other sources of information to balance what they see on Russian news.

Why It’s Important: How many people will want to pay to watch the American, British, or Chinese news channels is unclear, though the cost should not be prohibitive as UzDigital TV’s most expensive package currently (45 channels) is 25,000 som (about $2) per month.

But the Central Asian governments are reluctant to allow their own state media to challenge Russia’s narrative of events in Ukraine. At least those Uzbek citizens who do watch these newly available foreign channels will be able to give their family members and acquaintances a different perspective of what’s going on in the world.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at Kyrgyzstan’s border negotiations with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The Kyrgyz government was hoping to finally agree with its neighbors on sections of their border that remained unmarked, but instead military conflicts have broken out twice with Tajikistan and a deal made with Uzbekistan sparked protests in Kyrgyzstan that have raised domestic political tensions.

This week’s guests are Viktoria Akchurina, author of the recently released book “Incomplete State-Building in Central Asia: The State as Social Practice,” and Bakyt Beshimov, a former member of the Kyrgyz parliament, a Kyrgyz ambassador to India, and to the OSCE.

What I’m Following

The New Regional Block?

The Organization of Turkic States (OTS) has a summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on November 11.

The current members are Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.

Turkmenistan is scheduled to become a full member of the organization but more important will be watching what the leaders do as they try to transform their group into a regional organization with an economic and security agenda.

U.S. Official Tours Central Asian States

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu is paying visits to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan from November 6-11.

Lu’s visit comes at a time of shifting alliances in Central Asia as the Central Asian states look for new partners to fill trade, economic, and security vacuums that are appearing as Russia focuses its attention and resources on its war in Ukraine.

Fact of the Week

Kazakh media outlet reports that price of flour in Kazakhstan in October 2022 was 44.3 percent higher than in October 2021.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading our Central Asia in Focus newsletter! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who you think may be interested.

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See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,