Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of The Times of Central Asia – Opinion by Founder Emeritus, Giorgio Fiacconi

The Times of Central Asia – First Edition, March 1st, 1999; Photo: TCA

It is 25 years today since the first edition of The Times of Central Asia, the first English publication in the region, hit the newsstands on March 1st 1999. Twenty-five years represents a generation; many people more or less of my age have passed, and Kyrgyzstan has gone through various conflicts which have marked its history, not always for the better.

With a background in journalism and as an entrepreneur, I arrived in Bishkek from Kazakhstan in 1994, investing in the reconstruction of the abandoned Hotel Kyrgyzstan – now the Hyatt Regency – before working on the Bishkek Free Zone project for the European Union and later as the main investor in ZUM Aichurek. I also served as the first Honorary Consul of Italy to the Kyrgyz Republic for approximately fifteen years, between 2000 and 2015.

March for a more equal society, Tulip Revolution, 2005; Photo: TCA

 

During my time in Kyrgyzstan, I witnessed two revolutions, in 2005 and 2010, and it could be argued that another took place in 2020. There were abuses and injustices that allowed me to understand the importance and necessity for healthy development based on reliable rules and laws, which everyone should be able to respect. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and until the judiciary is free to exercise its independence and represent a guarantee, then manipulations by elites and interested parties will continue to prevail and delay positive results.

After twenty years in the Republic, I collected my experiences of the country’s independence in a book, reporting on economic development and the need for justice for all. The preface to that book and its contents highlight problems that have yet to be resolved. For the realization of this better future, perhaps another generation will be needed, but we should be positive and trust in the abilities of the region’s many young people.

A wounded demonstrator in Bishkek, April 7th, 2010; Photo: TCA

 

 

It is not enough to say that Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country with wonderful and hospitable people. The reality is unfortunately not so black and white, and inequalities persist. An economically poor country, Kyrgyzstan needs both financial and organizational support, and the answer in many cases is linked to foreign investment, which is difficult to channel – unless geopolitically motivated – if the rule of law is not upheld. In Kyrgyzstan, private interests manage politics in a continuous conflict between North and South, and few groups seek solutions to crime and corruption.

Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assert that given its geography, many decisions in Central Asia are the result of a geopolitical effort to change for the better in achieving tangible signs of progress. Recent development also related to the war in Ukraine show that Russia’s influence on Central Asia has also waned, with the EU becoming one of the major trading partners and foreign investors.

Photo: TCA

 

As a former journalist and a foreign investor, to my mind the role of the free press as a witness to what is taking place in the region cannot be overstated. Personally, I’m optimistic that although changes will take place slowly, I can only hope that The Times of Central Asia can continue its work. Today, it is fair to say that an independent media has a massive part to play in holding those in power to account, ensuring the region engages with the wider world, fostering development for all, and ushering in the next chapter in Central Asia’s rich history.

Giorgio Fiacconi founded The Times of Central Asia in Bishkek in 1999, firstly in a print edition, and later online. With a background as a journalist and an entrepreneur with global interests, he implemented numerous projects in South East Asia before moving to Moscow in 1989. Relocating to Kazakhstan and later to Kyrgyzstan in 1994, he developed trade ties between Central Asia and Italy in concert with the Italian Government and the European Union, and was the First Honorary Consul of Italy to Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek from 2000 until 2015.