DW Akademie and the OSCE Academy have co-organized a summer school program for journalists in Bishkek. Workshop trainer Lydia Rahnert reports on civil courage and new media freedoms in Kyrgyzstan.
It's a calm summer evening and three DW Akademie coaches and I are walking through a park in downtown Bishkek. We're enjoying the fresh air after a day in the sweltering training rooms, when a woman suddenly starts yelling. We spot a group of police officers standing on a lawn scattered with colorful playthings, rubber balls and toy cars. In their midst sits a middle-aged man, his hands tied with a police officer's belt. The officer is holding the other end.
We're shocked but also impressed by the reactions of the onlookers, and especially by those of the women. The woman yelling is joined by others - older women wearing colorful scarves, young women in high-heeled shoes, middle-aged women cradling children or holding ice cream cones. Their protests grow louder, their curses chaotic. The policemen obviously feel uncomfortable but the protests have little effect. They arrest the toy merchant for conducting business in a prohibited zone.
Still, this once again shows that Kyrgyz citizens are not as intimidated by the police as are their counterparts in other Central Asian countries.
Kyrgyzstan has become much more open in recent years and people no longer put up with everything. If they're against something, they go on strike or stage a demonstration, like they recently did in Karakol to protest the new government-appointed governor. Erecting roadblocks, however, take the lead. They erected one at Cholpon-Ata on Issyk-Kul lake in early July, sealing off the busy road between Karakol and Bishkek to protest arbitrary police activity. The media have also become bolder than in other Central Asian countries. The government and parliament are opening up, the mayor can be criticized, and there are disputes about verdicts handed down by the supreme court.
Journalists are taken more seriously in Kyrgyzstan than in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and that is something that the participants of the Summer Academy for Central Asian journalists recognized right from the start. The Summer Academy was hosted by DW Akademie and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Academy. When the students were asked to gather statements and opinions from ministries and authorities, the non-Kyrgyz participants responded, "They'll never tell us anything." Their Kryrgyz colleagues simply said, "Go ahead. They'll give you their point of view." It didn't always work, but in most cases it did.
Lydia Rahnert is DW Akademie's Country Manager for Kyrgyzstan and has trained journalists in various European and Central Asian countries since 2005. Her focus is on radio journalism and journalism ethics. Rahnert was born in Russia and worked there as a journalist.