Accepted paper:

Building big dams in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan: when and how does the political culture of a state impact infrastructure projects?


Jeanne Féaux de la Croix (University of Tübingen)

Paper short abstract:

A comparison of building big dams in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Similarly poor post-soviet states, the two have developed very different political cultures since independence. Both have taken up huge dam projects resisted by down-river states. How do degrees of citizen participation or freedom of speech matter in planning these infrastructures?

Paper long abstract:

This paper compares the political process of building big dams in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and citizens’ reactions to them. These small post-soviet countries are much poorer than their neighbours, yet their mountains are the source of much of Central Asia’s water, and thus hydropower potential. Both have taken up late Soviet plans for ambitious dam-building projects much resisted by down-river states. Yet each country has developed a very different political culture since independence, with governments exercising very different degrees and kinds of economic control, cooption and censorship. The comparison will be based on joint ethnographic fieldwork with Mohira Suyarkulova in 2013. We draw out reactions to the dam construction by citizens around dam sites, dam workers, technicians. I will also use media analysis to discuss government rhetoric and depictions of the dam in popular media, e.g. Tajik pop songs celebrating the project. Such a comparison of projects vaunted as revolutionizing the fate of the two countries is an opportunity to explore the differences in citizens’ relations with the state through the medium of water, electricity and dam development. In the case of such large infrastructure projects, when and how does the political culture of a state come to matter?

panel P014
Building promises: how international, state and local actors collaborate on public construction projects in non-democratic environments