Evidence from Expert Interviews: Mechanisms and Outcomes

The interviews are even more opaque about how Kazakhstan may exert its influence. This is not a unique feature of Kazakhstan: Scholars and experts rarely have sufficient knowledge of the high-level interactions through which authoritarian regimes aid each other (Hall and Ambrosio 2017). There are exceptions, like when regimes implements large-scale programs (material or ideological, like the Russian Russkiy Mir idea or Venezuela’s PetroCaribe redistribution mechanism), but Kazakhstan does not do anything of this sort. While acknowledging that they might be speculating, experts still identify a few' potential channels of influence.

Socialization of Elites and Bureaucracies

The systematic interaction with elites and bureaucracies of neighboring countries, which leads to the transmission of values and attitudes, is a very natural way of increasing the normative appeal of one’s model and affecting the politics of other countries - and is used as such by both democracies and non-democracies (e.g. Freyburg 2011). Kneuer et al. (2019), in their discussion of how regional organizations can be used to promote authoritarianism, point out the existence of the “learning room” effects associated with two mechanisms: demonstration and emulation. Emulation, specifically, implies that smaller countries learn from authoritarian gravity centers, mimicking their way of solving political problems and enhancing regime stability. Some of the interviews indeed suggest that Kazakhstan is engaging in interactions possibly leading to emulation, although they provide little detail on what is actually happening. The interviews indicate that there is an information exchange going on between countries, with bureaucrats and politicians from the smaller Central Asian states trying to copy “best practices” from Kazakhstan:25

I know that many of our [Kazakhstani] processes become subject for learning. For example, Tajik delegations come to Kazakhstan for a week to learn and discuss issues of their interest. Kirghiz also learn and copy many of our laws. Tajiks and Kyrgyz learn our experiences (laws) during joint workshops and seminars organized in Kazakhstan. Just recently we organized a workshop on “Public services delivery”. It was attended by representatives of all Central Asian countries, including Turkmenistan. This workshop was organized in light of establishment of the state corporation “Government for citizens”. The workshop provided opportunity for exchange of experiences in this sphere.

(Expert 8)

The same expert suggests that Uzbekistan is also trying to emulate Kazakhstan: “I have many friends in Uzbekistan, who came to us on a business trip and stayed at the Uzbek embassy for 1-2 months to study concrete issues.” However, the way these exchanges seem to take place makes the picture of Kazakhstan’s “normative power” blurrier: “They (Uzbeks) collect information like spies... They come and stay at their embassies. Upon the results of their trip, they write a report, which is sent to their president” (Expert 8). According to this view, this seems to be evidence of Uzbekistan trying to learn (or even to stay informed about) specific governance practices rather than the all-encompassing emulation process an ACG would initiate.

Some interviews provide further remarks on possible elite and bureaucratic socialization. Students from other countries (especially Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) are said to go to Kazakhstani universities for their degrees (Expert 10; Expert 15). One of the experts goes even further, suggesting that

many representatives of the post-Soviet Kyrgyzstani elite studied in Almaty. Post-nomad societies are very close, not only ethno- culturally, but also in terms of economic models. Be it Bakiyev, Akayev or Atambayev, they had always taken a closer look at Kazakhstan.

(Expert 5)

The last claim, however, cannot be verified empirically, at least if we look at the highest echelons of the Kyrgyzstani elites.26

Interaction of Think Tanks

Emulation could take place due to the regular interaction between the lively think tanks communities of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. A respondent claims that representatives of these think tanks maintain intensive transnational informal contacts:

Furthermore, they [Uzbekistani experts] have strong contacts with KISI [Kazakhstani Institute for Strategic Studies - one of the leading think tanks in Kazakhstan] and other pro-governmental think tanks. They actively interact with each other. There is an informal union, an Astana-Tashkent axis [off the record, the speaker asked not to publish]. This axis means that they can develop common rules and a political trend for the region. There are very strong informal connections.

(Expert 28b)

Even if we take this single statement as evidence that a relationship between think tanks exists, it is very difficult to discern the actual role think tanks play in authoritarian regimes. In some cases, they indeed advise the government, socialize bureaucrats, and play an important role in policy formation. In other cases, however, their task is more similar to that of the astrologists in the castles of medieval princes (Titaev and Sokolov 2013), and is limited to legitimize and justify government decisions. In these cases, authoritarian regimes rely on networks of experts usually invisible to outsiders (for instance, the security services). The role of think tanks is even more difficult to ascertain, because they tend to present themselves as important institutions for governmental policy formation. Thus, even if there is an interaction between Kazakhstani think tanks and think tanks of other countries, we cannot be sure of the degree of their influence on decision-making.

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