One of the most common stereotype concerning the corner of the planet called Central Asia is the insulation. Located in the middle of the Eurasian continent, the region is regarded as quiet unknown, hard to reach and ruled by authoritarian and corrupt autocracies. Well, crossing the steppes populated of horses and bovine herds or reading about Central Asian affairs you can understand that maybe the stereotype is true. However, a less known side could be able to show the reality of Central Asia in a different light, namely the relations between the regional leaders and the international finance.
The power of autocracies in Central Asia is fully integrated in the globalised economy: investment in London real estate, tax heavens – for example the British Virgin Islands – based companies, participation in the international jet set, utilization of Western counselors and law firms to manage assets resulting from more or less lawful activities. This is the complex panorama described in a extremely interesting book, not difficult to read despite the topic: Dictators without borders, written by a couple of university professors as Alexander Cooley e John Heatershaw.
For each of the five Central Asians republics, the authors examine an illustrative case of corruption, where Western actors are involved. They guide the reader through the intricate offshore companies system, which hides the autocrats’ business that takes full advantage of the local natural resources to the detriment of the population. What goes out of their study is a bleak picture where the investors must bow to logics imposed by corruption, otherwise it would be impossible to do business and they would be expelled from the promising markets.
The message of the book, as stated above, goes beyond the simply criticism of the corruption, what come out from the pages of this important work is the connivance between autocracies and international finance. The corrupt system that underpins most of the Central Asian economy cannot, in fact, depart from Western actors having an interest in it; actors ready to accept not too clean money, without asking themselves too many questions. Tax heavens, banks, law firms, brokers, the accomplices of the corruption in Central Asia are really a greedy legion.
The full integration of the regional dynasties in the globalised world can be also found in other fields, as the repression of opponents. Indeed, another topic of the book is the hunting by the Central Asian regimes to the opponents that have fled abroad. These are accused, almost ironically, of corruption and Islamic terrorism as well. Arrests, kidnappings, killings are a variety of operations carried out outside the national territory with the collusion, if not the collaboration, of the local authorities. We should think of the resounding Ablyazov case, whose one of the protagonists has been Italy.
A true paradox is the use of nationalist slogans by the ruling class, in the attempt to forge a post-Soviet identity. In this way, ethnic hatred and border disputes are accompanied by transnational flows of money, whereas Central Asia finds itself at the center of the ambitions of several geopolitical players. Russia, China and United States, each one has its own interest to stay in the region, meaning the willingness to pay the requested sums – in the requested modes – to ensure their presence military or commercial whatever.
In conclusion, we have before us an image quite different from that one with which Central Asia is usually represented, in particular we have before us a world of international finance without any qualms in regards to handle the money. A great risk, among others, is Western democracies taking Central Asian autocracies as a social model, where a monolithic ruling class manages the economical life of the country and a population without a voice. A Central Asia maybe politically corrupt but surely not isolated.
Image Source: Chris Potter on Flickr