Central  Asia
Constructing Corruption: Foreign Aid, Bureaucratization, and Uzbek Social Networks

      David M. Abramson
      Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University Presented at Harvard University, Monday, March 20, 4:15-6pm Coolidge Hall 215

      Let me begin with a story. Within the last year, a young Armenian girl, let us call her Anna, was finishing up her last year of courses at an institute of higher education in a small city in Uzbekistan. At exam time, the students began collecting money to pay their teacher to ensure passing grades. Some paid individually, others collectively, but in every case, it was clear to the teacher who paid how much. Anna refused to pay what she, unsurprisingly, considered to be a bribe. After the exam, the teacher warned her that she had not passed the exam and therefore was not going to pass the course. Anna did not care very much, but one of her Uzbek male classmates expressed concern and begged to be allowed to help her. He insisted that it was important for her to pass the course and told her that he would go to the teacher`s home and negotiate a settlement on her behalf. How could she say no to a friend`s earnest offering of assistance. Anyway, perhaps he could get the teacher to change his mind. The next day, her friend let her know that everything was arranged. He had gone to visit the teacher, telling him that Anna felt it was awkward for her, a girl, to participate in such a transaction. The teacher had given him a shopping list of things to buy--food, soap, toilet paper, the friend went shopping, and brought the items back to the teacher`s house. Anna asked him how much this set him back and, not wanting to seem ungrateful, she reimbursed him.

      Examples of this sort of soft-pedaled corruption, or bribery-lite, in Uzbekistan abound. They augur bleakly for the educational system. But they certainly reveal the creativity in the ways people negotiate everyday life in Uzbekistan. Even more interesting are the ways in which borderline illicit social practices are incorporated into a larger social system that structures the way things get done. As the above example illustrates, shared ideas about gender roles, consensus and collective participation, and the mobilization of social networks all come into play to legitimize otherwise unsavory practices. I will return to this story later. For now, suffice it to say that I am not arguing against the possibility of transforming social practices. They do change over time. Rapid and large-scale change, however, occurs only when the incentives to do so are sufficiently convincing, such as occurred in the Central Asia under the first two decades of Soviet rule. Promises of democracy, civil society, and free markets, as alluring as they are, are often too abstract for most people to keep in mind and pursue when they are living their lives from day to day. The difficulties and obstacles most foreign aid workers in Uzbekistan have to contend with attest to this.

      This thought is my starting point for this presentation on how the concept of "corruption" takes on new cultural meanings, that is, comes to be construed, in the context of foreign aid projects and in the way people engage in bureaucratic behavior and social networking in Uzbekistan today. In this paper, I try to show that corruption is not an empirical category of behavior, but is an assessment of behavior based on perceived intentions. Stories like the one I just related are interpreted in a number of ways depending on the social position of the interpreter. Behavior that is viewed as corrupt by members of the foreign donor community may be seen as just doing what needs to be done by some members of the recipient population. Others view the practices of all participants in foreign-funded projects--donors and beneficiaries alike--as corrupt. For still others, corrupt behavior is only what other people do. In short, the assessment of corruption varies according to the goals and needs of social actors. In foreign aid and development discourse, i.e., in the rhetoric of transition, "civil society" is positioned as the symbolic opposite of corruption, or a "corrupt society." Yet both concepts are open signifiers and are therefore subject to being attributed a variety of meanings.

      I shall argue three points in this paper. The first is that corruption is deeply embedded in Uzbek society. The second is that much of what has come to be understood as Uzbek "corruption" is inextricably linked to, and even aggravated by, transnational forces such as foreign aid projects most of whose aims are transformative in nature. All deliberate policies of transformation, whether couched in terms of reform, revolution, or transition, produce greater amounts of "corruption" (or resistance) in the process of trying to get people to change their ways. In a circular way, this further justifies attempts to effect change. As Herzfeld observes in his discussion of secular theodicy--the idea of "salvation" in the form of civil society here on earth--"Western" intellectuals tend "to contrast their own idealized political models with the corrupt` practices of other cultures." [1]. The third point, which I shall explore in greater depth in my concluding comments, is made best by a set of challenging questions. Given that "civil society" or "open society" is the apparently neutral conceptual panacea for what ails Uzbek society, is the foundation on which it operates predetermined by the scale of "society" or polity? What are the boundaries of civil society? If accountability, trust, transparency, respect for difference, and the balance of self and collective interests--all ingredients that comprise civil society--are truly global values, are they to be fostered in transnational institutions? Or are they merely to be shared transnationally, but fostered nationally?

      Social Networks in Practice
      Civil society ideally entails the promotion of trust and accountability between organizations and institutions and among their members who work to realize collective goals. Uzbekistan is a society where social networks are a highly valued resource precisely because they help maintain civility. Very little is accomplished without them. The reasons why people in Uzbekistan and, in fact, in most of the world operate this way are beyond the scope of this presentation. Even in the United States social networking plays an important role in the way people get things done (e.g., party politics, college alumni associations, and state citizenship), although we are loathe to admit it because it shakes our faith in the idea that all Americans are treated equally and civilly, if not created so. Gellner points out that most social science research regards clientalism with disapproval because it "'offends both our egalitarianism and our universalism. Patrons and clients are generally unequal. Patronage relations are highly specific. They fail to illustrate the principle that like cases should be treated alike.'"[2].

      My original concern was that development and civil society-building projects tend to put a strain on social networking because development, as we know it, encourages a form of bureaucratization ( e.g., by requiring verifications of how foreign aid is used). The means for regulating the usage of donor resources have broad implications for Uzbek society (i.e., there is a ripple effect) and even strengthen the bureaucratic type of interaction at the expense of familiar, social networks. This means that state officials actually garner power through increased opportunities for bribery and other ways of making life more difficult for people, consequently undermining civil society.

      In this sense, a bureaucracy is not merely a cadre of lazy office workers and unreasonable amounts of paperwork who create irrational obstacles to getting real work done. Rather, bureaucracy is a tactic that is employed in large societies when the use of networks of familiar social contacts is not an option. Knowing someone, or knowing someone who knows someone who works in an office that issues driving licenses, sets up phone service, or registers businesses and NGOs is the key to a relaxed and civil way of accomplishing the given task at hand. We like to do nice things for people we like; mutual concern for people can motivate mutual benefit under ideal circumstances. As Singerman's study of lower class neighborhood networks in Cairo shows, social networks are not as materially driven as social science literature would have us believe. Materialism and good will often work in tandem. [3]

      Bureaucracy and social networks often overlap: bureaucratic rules are broken to serve network interests just as bureaucratic rules are also invoked to punish those who are not meeting the expectations of network interests. As Herzfeld suggests, we need to avoid opposing rationality and self-interest and, instead, explain how they "both reproduce and influence cultural values." [4] Ledeneva points out how social connections, known as blat in Russian, were used not only in lieu of bribery, but to make bribery a less risky exchange in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia.[5] That extra degree of familiarity smoothed over the often awkward or dangerous practice of taking or offering bribes. Werner`s article brings this discussion to Central Asia by illustrating how and in what situations Kazaks distinguish between gifts and bribes and how foreign donors might take this cultural awareness into account when assessing levels of corruption. [6]

      Ritual ceremonies such as birth, circumcision, and wedding celebrations (known in Uzbek as beshik, sunnat, and niqoh toi-i, respectively) are occasions for the exchange and reciprocation of material goods and the creation or maintenance of social ties. You invite those to whom you feel you owe a social obligation or whom you would like to obligate. As Kandiyoti, Werner, and others have explained, this system of obligations became an extremely important strategy for social survival in the Soviet period where goods and services were tightly rationed and meted out by the state. [7] In reality, and perhaps especially in Central Asia, "the state" was nothing more than an enormous system of social networks and political status positions by means of which the economy functioned. [8] Thus, despite ideological claims to the contrary, the formal and informal, red and black, official and underground economies, or however you wish to characterize them, operated in tandem.

      In 1998 I received an email message from a woman who works with an organization that supports the development of third sector (i.e., non-governmental) projects in Central Asia. She sent the email to a list of acquaintances whose work involves the region, a network if you will. The message contained a news brief about how Uzbek President Islam Karimov fired a high official in the state revenue service and issued a warning against lavish spending on social celebrations. The scanty news coverage suggested that the tax official was accused of throwing an extravagant ritual celebration, thereby contributing to the aggravation of a national trend that for the majority of the Uzbek population was reaching crisis proportions. "What will he (Karimov) do next?" the woman asked, editorially, implying that this is one more in a long series of universally incomprehensible acts by representatives of the republic`s government. While it may seem incongruous--even patronizing--that a country's president interest himself in how much people spend on their own weddings, the issue is actually of considerable social consequence for the health of the country's economy and its population's peace of mind. Most Uzbeks, indeed most Central Asians, use these celebrations to strengthen crucial social networks in the face of high inflation and scarce resources. Connections are often the only way to avoid paying prohibitive bribes for higher quality education, to obtain access to medical supplies, or just to turn a profit in a business venture. Many people cannot afford the escalating costs and expectations of these celebrations without going deeply into debt. To economize, however, is to risk losing one's status and social ties at a time of great economic uncertainty. Naturally, the standards for ritual celebrations are often set by those who already occupy a high social status in society and possess considerable resources. It is this perverse version of trickle-down economics that Karimov was addressing, although it seems to have had little or no effect.

      What then is the significance of the centrality of social networks for foreign aid and civil society-building projects? It is quite easy for members of the donor community and scholars studying Central Asia to dismiss social networks, clans, and patron-client relationships as evidence of corruption, nepotism, or exclusionism. However we choose to value these social practices, it is important to keep in mind that they are nonetheless rational practices with their own cultural logic developed in response to behavioral expectations based on real life experience.

      The Mahalla
      I would like to turn now to the mahalla, which in overlapping with kin and occupational networks, serves as a social foundation and framework for the formation of relationships of solidarity and trust. The mahalla is a form of neighborhood organization common throughout Central Asia. Based on an Arabic word for "place," the word mahalla is used in reference to neighborhoods and informal neighborhood associations from Macedonia to Bengal and western China. Its form has varied somewhat geographically and according to whether it was targeted as a political vehicle for social engineering, as tended to be the case in socialist countries. In the Soviet period policy makers and political activists tried to transform Uzbek mahallas into local administrative units by formalizing decision-making processes and appointing authority figures to committees accountable to municipal and republic-level governments. Despite these attempts, the mahalla continued to function, simultaneously, as a site where a range of social networks--familial, ethnic, and religious--could sustain themselves. People identified strongly with their native, or home, mahalla and drew on those collective ties to obtain many of the goods and services necessary to get by in life. This included access to everything from employment and education to building permits, welfare, food, and support for celebrating ritual events such as births, weddings, and deaths.

      One of the ways in which mahalla solidarity was achieved (and it was by no means a perfect system) was through participation in holiday and life-cycle celebrations and through the distribution and circulation of food. For example, on the new year holiday of Nawruz, celebrated in March every year, women from the mahalla spend a day and a half stirring and cooking a huge pot of wheat-based pudding called sumalak. After it is prepared, the organizers of the event distribute bowls of pudding to all the residents of the mahalla. Similar distributions of home-baked bread and a home-made marshmallow-like dessert occur at other marked times throughout the year. People also throw celebration feasts and invite their neighbors. Since Central Asia came under Russian imperial and later Soviet rule, many Russians and people of other nationalities settled in Central Asia. Most lived in separate neighborhoods, forming their own communities and observing their own national, or Soviet, customs. Since Uzbekistan became independent in 1991, and even earlier, thousands of non-Central Asians have emigrated abroad or to other destinations in the former Soviet Union. Nonetheless, many still remain and are finding themselves in increasing contact with Uzbek neighbors and Uzbek mahalla practices. My experience in Kokand revealed that Uzbeks have few expectations, let alone make demands, that non-Uzbeks participate in mahalla activities. They nonetheless tend to involve the Russian-speaking population in the distribution of food. I too had neighbors or their children coming to my door with bowls or jars of holiday food. What is usually expected in return is a modicum of respect and token acknowledgement of the mahalla as a social form. In the case of elderly Russian pensioners who have no family in the vicinity, Uzbek neighbors often look after their needs and, sometimes, get their property if there is no family to claim it from afar. The importance of at least symbolic collective participation and respect on the part of resident Russians is exchanged for material gifts or assistance from Uzbeks. This exchange helps maintain a sense of community and is manifested in social relations beyond the mahalla in ways I will come back to later in this paper.

      Social scientists have described the distribution of goods and services in Soviet society as being controlled by the central state. [9] In Uzbekistan, especially in the mahalla, this control was mediated by the mahalla committee or by its leader (referred to either as ra'is in Uzbek, or as predsedatel' in Russian). [10] For example, the ra'is would often advise mahalla residents on the amount of food to prepare for ritual ceremonies such as weddings and funerals based on the number of people expected to attend. In this way, the local leader/wedding consultant might limit the accelerating conspicuous consumption at such events which began to take off in the 1980s and which the Soviet government attempted to arrest. [11] Makarova notes that the mahalla's effect "was to give bureaucratic institutions a 'human face.'"[12] In this light, President Karimov's issuance of the wedding decree recasts him in the role of ra'is supreme.

      Beginning in the late 1980s and intensifying in the 1990s, the Uzbek mahalla became the centerpiece of a state-sponsored campaign to transfer responsibilities for welfare and other social services onto local shoulders. Over time, this transfer in conjunction with a recent focus by international aid organizations such as the World Bank will have a new impact on the very structure of the mahalla.

      Because foreign aid organizations saw the mahalla as being both a vehicle for reviving national traditions and as an administrative unit in the government structure, they initially regarded the mahalla as an intransigent Central Asian or Soviet institution that would either resist or corrupt development projects. It did not fit into the civil society model as a non-governmental organization since mahalla committee leaders receive state salaries, albeit minimal ones. With time, however, donor organizations have developed a stronger appreciation of how the mahalla continues to play a central role in many Uzbek citizens' lives. Foreign aid organizations have already begun to see the mahalla as an indispensable conduit for small-scale aid in the form of loans and micro-credits, although now the problem is one of regulation. This is a smart policy shift, although it may have some undesirable consequences--that is, by including an increase in bureaucratization that is merely a continuation, ironically, of the effects of Soviet policies. In particular, the increased pressure on mahalla leaders to make decisions about determining who deserves what kind of assistance (and who, after all, better knows this than mahalla residents themselves?) may lead to the professionalization of these roles.[13]

      Gathering statistics on the number of residents in each mahalla, their official incomes, property ownership, and accordant needs requires a vast army of accountants and other specialists with skills current mahalla committee members do not have. While this kind of information gathering was done in the Soviet period with regard to the ethnic composition of each republic and of the Soviet population as a whole, the mahallas as isolated units remained largely untouched. Currently, few mahallas keep records detailing more than the names of residents and where they live. Thus, despite attempts to distribute aid through mahalla networks, this focus on mahalla may well strengthen bureaucratic means at the expense of less formal and decentralized ones. I am suggesting here one way development work that proceeds in the name of building civil society actually creates bureaucracies, perhaps at the expense of a local understanding of civil society itself.

      NGOs between Society and Foreign Donor Expectations
      An examination of the operations of social networks both in and outside the mahalla (and mahalla is often invoked as a metaphor for social networks or community) exposes some disparities between an NGO's position in society and the expectations of foreign donors. Herein we can locate the rationale for incorporating bureaucratizing operations into aid projects. In order to understand this rationale, let us take a look at some of the typical dilemmas and pressures facing the NGO organizer in Uzbekistan who has received money and/or resources from a foreign donor organization for a specific project and must account for how those money and resources are utilized.

      Given the dependence of most people in Uzbekistan on familial and other social ties, it is expected that as soon as resources become available to one member of a network, that person will distribute the wealth among his or her own. There may be requests to use the fax machine, photocopier, or computers on occasion or regularly for a relative's unrelated business--e.g., desktop printing of wedding invitations and greeting cards, computer programming training, translation services, etc. These are all typical and reasonable requests given the financial difficulties of acquiring access to these resources.

      Not only are these common requests, but it is difficult to turn them down. In Uzbek society people less readily accept the strict separation of professional and personal lives, at least as we know it (and we have our own gray areas with regard to email, telephone use, and office supplies). People who rely on and participate in this network economy often take offense when someone refuses such a request since a refusal often signifies the severing of a relationship built partly on a long history of the exchange of favors so complex that they cannot possibly be quantified. Yet, the donor organization, based in Tashkent or Almaty or Washington, with funding from a government agency whose budget is ultimately appropriated by Congress, must have an accounting of office supply usage, postal and phone expenses, use of the company car, etc. Is the aid being used appropriately according to the original project design? Is it assisting the proposed target population? Unfortunately for the project itself, much of the aid has been drained away from the project for a wide range of unanticipated reasons and unrelated purposes. The NGO organizer is caught between loyalty to the project and loyalty to his or her extended network.

      If civil society is partly about weaning people away from their dependence on exclusive networks with the idea of fostering a stronger public trust within the society at large, then we must have patience. Not only must people in Uzbekistan learn to trust local strangers, but they must also trust the intentions and motivations of the donor community. Yet there are enough cases of donor organizations abandoning projects midstream (for incomprehensible financial or political reasons in far-off Washington), promising money and services and then not delivering them, and expecting charitable and selfless activity on the part of local NGO organizers who have no real source of income. Thus, NGO activists' experiences with the donor community can reinforce the "clannishness" donors want to challenge.

      One applicant for a small grant spent months gathering information, filling out proposal and budget forms, and responding to requests for yet more information only to be told that there was no money left. All of his communications went through a local (Uzbekistani) representative of the foreign aid organization and, he believed, through several other levels of local offices. Even if he believed that the American organization was honest and would do its best by him, he was convinced that all the intermediary levels of administration, staffed by Uzbek or other former Soviet citizens, knew how to manipulate the system in their interests. These interests might range from simple bribery to theft to some convoluted or inexplicable manipulation of the foreign aid organization. In the end, the applicant, who happened to be Armenian, borrowed money from relatives and acquaintances to buy a computer and began his own home-printing business that was somewhat profitable, something he would have done anyway, out of necessity, with the resources for which he had applied in his grant. One might say that it was just as well that he did not succeed in getting a grant from this American organization since he was going to use some of it for his own profit anyway, except that this behavior is to be expected in Uzbekistan given the social and economic realities of life there.

      Americans in the academic and non-profit sectors are used to spending a lot of time writing grants and being turned down for most of them. But Americans also hold the belief that some grant money will turn up because a project merits support, and merit is rewarded. In Uzbekistan, as throughout the former Soviet Union, anonymous merit-based support is rarely a reality, and is even less often an article of faith. In any case, there are many more instances that reinforce the belief that success is based on whom you know. Furthermore, Americans tend not to have to rely as much on this form of aid as their sole source of livelihood, if only because it does not often yield an income many times what most individuals can normally make (as it can in Uzbekistan). In Uzbekistan, the system of social networks is in fact a rational one, at least for now. In order to design more effective and humane aid projects, we must understand the degree to which this practical thinking is culturally embedded.

      Let us now consider the place of women's NGOs in Uzbekistan as sites of tension between social networks and the priorities foreign donor organizations place on aiding women. I would like to suggest that outsiders, at least, perceive women in Central Asia as a vulnerable, receptive, uncorrupted, and therefore reformable segment of the local population. From a western cultural perspective, the non-profit sector is a feminized realm with a logical orientation toward the needs of women. This is true at least on the level of operations, if not policy and funding. From a Central Asian perspective, this is not the first time that women have been targeted as a vehicle of development and social engineering. Soviet policies in the 1920s attempted to effect change in precisely the same way.[14]

      Women's NGOs in Kokand
      During a recent trip to Kokand I interviewed women involved in various stages of foreign-funded NGO project developmentfrom projects in the early design phase to those which have been active for several years. [15] In all, I spoke with women representing five NGO projects. I chose Kokand for two reasons. I was familiar with the city from past field research and I had heard on numerous occasions in Washington, Tashkent, and on the internet that the network of women's NGOs there was very successful. I was looking for examples of successful NGOs outside of the capital city Tashkent in order to get a balanced picture of the foreign aid enterprise in Uzbekistan. Moreover, since most women's activities tend to be tied to the mahalla, they seemed a logical group to study. I was also interested in investigating the expansion of foreign-funded programs with a focus on gender (read: women) and local social responses to these programs. But first, a sampling of the projects themselves.

      The first was a fully operative NGO or local NGO-support organization--the Kokand branch of the national Association of Businesswomen (Assotsiatsia Delovykh Zhenshchin or Tadbirkor Ayollar). This organization, led by Sahibaxon Ergasheva, a former deputy mayor of the city and former communist activist, existed in part to offer training sessions and advice to locals, mostly women, who wanted to start up business ventures or independent organizations that would offer services to other women--in other words, to build civil society in Uzbekistan. One objective of these projects, I was told, is to instill in women a confidence that would help them to develop ways to support themselves financially.

      I interviewed two women who at the time of my visit were seeking advice with the Business Women's Association of Kokand about how best to realize their own NGO project ideas, such as how to obtain funding and legal support. One woman planned to open a neighborhood-based NGO in the mahalla where she also lived and worked. At the same time she held a top administrative position at the local sewing factory and wanted to use unoccupied space for free classes to train women in confection, baking, sewing, and hairdressing. These women would then operate small business enterprises out of their homes in the mahalla. Her objective was to provide women with opportunities to become economically self-sufficient and to help support their families. Moreover, it is assumed that mahalla-based businesses could produce and sell consumer items and offer services less expensively than "downtown" businesses which often sold expensive imported (non-local or foreign) goods.

      NGO development draws on social networks both within and outside of the mahalla structure. For example, the other woman was a Russian in her forties who wanted to organize the Mekhr Youth Club of the Peoples of Uzbekistan in a building located near the center of Kokand. Reminiscent of Soviet style druzhba narodov or "friendship of the peoples" organizations, this club would target young people representing the national minorities of Uzbekistan--Russians, Tatars, Koreans, Armenians, etc.--although she hastened to add that people of all ages and national backgrounds would be welcome to participate in the programs. The club would offer free business classes in sewing, computers, knitting, and other areas of instruction as the needs arose. The project was similar in terms of services provided by other projects in the city already or about to become operational, except that this one would target national minorities and would not be limited to training women.

      While in a place like Kokandindeed, in most locales outside of Uzbekistan`s capital city Tashkentwhere NGO development by Uzbeks is largely dependent on and often overlaps with the mahalla, mahalla networks are much less important for the minority Russian-speaking population of Uzbekistan, and therefore are used less. Nonetheless, I encountered examples of non-Uzbek entrepreneurship running afoul of network logic in interesting ways. For example, an Armenian teenager (Anna again!) decided to bake and sell cakes and pastries in her neighborhood. The only vending venue available to her was a small soda and cigarettes kiosk across the street from her apartment block. Other outlets were either too far away or were state-run shops that offered their own baked goods in greater quantity. The kiosk was run by a couple of Uzbek boys her age or slightly older whom she knew from school. Anna would deliver cakes to them to sell and they would split the profit with her. Had the youths sold every piece at the agreed upon price, her share would have been enough to cover the cost of the baking materials with a slight profit for her. Time and labor were not issues in this case because everyone involved had plenty of spare time and because, given the low prices of the goods, there was no room to negotiate labor costs. Ultimately, she gave up the whole enterprise. Instead of selling the cakes by the slice, the boys were eating it. What was left, I coincidentally bought when I happened by one day, and ended up serving it to Anna and her parents when they visited me at my apartment. I had no idea she had baked it. What could they do but laugh at the irony of the situation: they could not avoid being reminded of the intimate scale of life in what they perceived to be a "modern" society.

      Our first reaction to such a story might be to roll our eyes. But there is more to it than an illustration of Uzbek naivet about how a free market is supposed to work. This story reflects the fact that, in the context of the Uzbek neighborhood and networks, people associate home-made food with holidays and celebrations. On such occasions people, usually women, distribute food freely to their neighbors. It is not a commodity item to be bought or sold through networks in one's own neighborhood. Furthermore, like the first story about Anna`s grades, this story demonstrates on a small scale how even people who think independently of local practices are intricately tied to prevailing cultural logic and drawn back into the system. This also reveals a considerable disjuncture between mahalla practices and social networks on the one hand, and donor organization expectations on the other. This disjuncture is not accounted for in small enterprise program designs or in the rhetoric of merit-based educational programs such as ACTR or IREX. The assumption then is that foreign introduced values will speak for themselves and will provide an alternative model that people might embrace. It is possible that if there were strong local or international institutions supporting such ventures, then Anna might have been more successful and even overcome the daunting biases that were working against her.

      Mirroring social relations described above in the mahalla, the story of Anna`s grades illustrates the importance in Uzbek society placed on the appearance of social cohesiveness. This cohesiveness may have extended to her classroom. If everyone else had to pay bribes, why wouldn`t she? Perhaps her refusal was interpreted by some class members as an act that degraded the social significance of the educational institution in which they were all participating, even if its educational value had already reached an all-time low. On that score we can only speculate given the available information. What we can conclude from this incident is that structured social practice, yet again, worked in favor of illicit behavior.

      We can also begin to see how local practice and foreign aid rhetoric intersect. The young man`s usage of gender categories in negotiating Anna`s case with the teacher suggests that bribery is a gendered act. We might even stretch this to suggest that "corruption" itself is often perceived in gendered terms. This is certainly the case within the international foreign aid community which has increasingly put a premium on projects designed to help women. NGOs and NGO-support organizations, which are increasingly steering the development wagon have until recently been a feminized enterprise with its emphasis on non-profit and grassroots organization, philanthropy, and anti-politics in contrast to the more male-dominated sphere of governmental and multinational development and economic management. Thus, donors working to transform Central Asia like their Bolshevik predecessors 75 years ago, are finding that women as a segment of society are both considerably more vulnerable, less corrupt, and more reformable.

      The findings of a new generation of anthropologists who are studying NGOs indicate that women not only in Central Asia, but throughout the former socialist bloc countries are finding a niche for themselves in the third sector. With more and more donor prerogatives oriented toward women, it is a logical niche. But it is logical for another reason as well. There was already a history of women's activism and micro-enterprise activities (sewing cooperatives, baking, etc.) in the mahalla in the Soviet period with subsidies from the state rather than from NGOs and small grants organizations. The real questions are whether the new projects are merely filling a vacuum left by the recession of Soviet-style subsidies or offering something new? If they are replacing old programs, then the exaggerated rhetoric of transition fails to acknowledge this. If they are introducing real profound changes, then which women are benefiting from this aid? Based on her research on Palestinian women's NGOs and foreign aid in Israel, Faier concludes that activists--all highly educated women who are tapped into similarly constituted networks--tend to redistribute the aid among their own while simultaneously lobbying for social causes. [16]Rather than view this as blatant hypocrisy, we should appreciate the logic here. These are people with strong convictions on certain issues whose support by foreign donors frees them up to express their political views within the social framework of network-based organizations. My preliminary findings on women`s NGOs in Kokand suggest a less politicized version of the same phenomenon.

      According to the rhetoric of both donor agencies and NGO activists, the objective of these programs is to empower women with economic self-sufficiency and to assist them in developing a social safety net in the event that their marriages, family relations, networks, mahalla, or the state fail them. Yet most money-making ventures which women are being prepared for are not very lucrative. At best, they help keep certain services and goods in the mahalla and at low prices. To what extent do these small-scale projects and micro-credit schemes actually benefit the poor? Perhaps it is more realistic to conclude that the results of such projects is the development of a low-level market consciousness that allows people to experience capitalism at an "earlier stage" of development.

      I have tried to argue in this paper that "civil society" as a guiding principle with which to orient global development policies is an extremely problematic one. This is certainly the case for Uzbekistan. The practices that constitute civil society and its evil twin corruption are embedded in social relations that operate as much on a sub-national level as they do on a national one. While there certainly are some meanings of civil society that are shared between Washington, DC, and Kokand, there are some divergences as well. These divergences have more to do with issues of scale and power rather than with abstract values. In the United States, civil society is understood more or less as a system of trust and trusts between people and organizations who interact to make the economy flourish, raise standards of living, and generally maintain a high quality of life for the country's citizens. Ideally, although this is often not the case, these relationships based on trust develop and are sustained institutionally regardless of whether individuals have direct or indirect ties to one another. Theoretically, civil society shares boundaries with the national society, i.e., all citizens are equal and treat each other equally.

      In post-Soviet independent Uzbekistan, civil society, or an equivalent notion, is understood in terms of collective identities and the reciprocal relationships necessary to get things done. People trust almost exclusively those who are in some way obligated to them and to whom they are obligated through multifaceted and often unquantifiable material and emotional ties. Thus, these relationships tend to be enacted at the sub-national level.

      Neither system works perfectly. In the United States the relationship between citizenship and civil society is at times ambiguous. Networks do exist, although people rely less on them, and they tend not to extend across class and racial lines. Furthermore, immigration and labor, both legal and illegal, complicates our ability and our desires to determine who is a citizen and who has what rights. In Uzbekistan trust often breaks down within social networks and people betray one another with impunity or are faced with conflicts of interest. Yet, in both cases, it is important to realize that ideal versions of civil society, or virtual civil society, do exist in the social imagination, and are often the driving force behind social behavior.

      What Uzbeks most likely "get" from the "Western" emphasis on civil society is not what we might want them to get. They see a "Western" civil society as being a much more extensive, powerful, and effective transnational network of which they can only dream. Sometimes the benefits of civil society end at the borders of single, wealthy, and securely sovereign nation-states; at other times they are part of much more powerful alliance of states such as "Fortress Europe." In any case, the rules of boundedness under which "Western" civil society operates at any given moment (e.g., citizenship based on where you were born and who gave birth to you) appear to be as politically manipulative as a guest list for an Uzbek wedding could be. Until this is understood, I doubt that anyone will be willing to let go of the civil society concept easily. And until the civil society concept is abandoned, it will continue to confound attempts to help Uzbeks deal with corruption in locally meaningful ways, that is, in their own terms.


      [1]. Michael Herzfelds The Social Production of Indifference: Exploring the Symbolic Roots of Western Bureaucracy. Berg Press, 1992, p. 4.
[2]. Quoted in Diane Singerman's Avenues of Participation: Family, Politics, and Networks in Urban Quarters of Cairo, Princeton University Press. 1995, pp. 135-136.
[3]. Ibid., p. 134.
[4]. Op. cit. p. 5.
[5]. Ledeneva, Alena. 1998. Russias Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange. Cambridge.
[6]. Werner, Cynthia. 2000. Gifts, bribes, and development in post-Soviet Kazakhstan. Human Organization. In press.
[7]. Kandiyoti, Deniz. 1998. "Rural livelihoods and social networks in Uzbekistan: perspectives from Andijan," in Central Asian Survey 17(4):561-578; Werner, Cynthia. 1998. "Household networks and the security of mutual indebtedness in rural Kazakstan," in Central Asian Survey 17(4): 597-612.
[8]. See Katherine Verdery's "Theorizing Socialism: a prologue to the transition," in American Ethnologist 18:419-439, 1991.
[9]. They have also pointed out that it was the catalyst for the development of a second, or underground economy. See Verdery and Ledeneva.
[10]. In her dissertation ..., 1999, Ekaterina Makarova argues that the mahalla in Soviet times was a mediating institution which functioned to "domesticate" the state in everyday life while simultaneously being transformed by state policies.
[11]. Ibid.
[12]. Ibid.
[13]. More research needs to be done in terms of monitoring changes in mahallas and studying how development projects respond to these changes with new programs.
[14]. See Gregory Massell's The Surrogate Proletariat: Moslem Women and Revolutionary Strategies in Soviet Central Asia. Princeton University Press, 1974; also R. Kh. Aminova's The October Revolution and Women's Liberation in Uzbekistan. Nauka Press, Moscow, 1977.
[15]. Foreign organizations that have participated in financing local NGOs in Uzbekistan include Counterpart International, the Soros Foundations Open Society Institute, The Eurasia Foundation, Mercy Corp, and Save the Children, to name the major ones.
[16]. Faier, Elizabeth. 1997. Looking in/Acting out: Gender, Modernity, and the (Re)production of the Palestinian Family. Political and Legal Anthropology Review 20(2):1-15.

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