By Stig Toft Madsen
April 23, 2010
The Ananda Marga – the Path of Bliss – was founded in 1955 by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar as a socio-spiritual organization. In 1959, Sarkar added the political wing, known as Proutist Universal, where PROUT stands for Progressive Utilization Theory.
Sarkar was born a Bengali in Bihar in 1921. His uncle was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the still very popular Bengali revolutionary, who aligned his forces with the Axis powers during the Second World War. Sarkar established the headquarter of the Ananda Marga in Purulia district in West Bengal and its main urban node in Calcutta.
The movement also got many followers outside India. For years, Denmark and Sweden were important sites for the movement. Ananda Marga used to be quite visible in Copenhagen, where many walls had “PROUT” graffiti scribbled on them in the 1970s and 1980s.
The movement has long been on a confrontational course with the central government in India. It was one of a handful of organizations that were prohibited during the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975. The tension lasted even after the emergency was lifted in 1977. When Indira Gandhi visited Denmark in 1983, the Ananda Margis joined Khalistani Sikhs and Danish ultra-leftists on the Copenhagen Town Hall square (Rådhuspladsen) to protest against the Prime Minister. Despite similarities in political ideology, the Ananda Margis has had an equally – or even more - inimical relation to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has ruled West Bengal since 1977. The conflict between Indian authorities and Ananda Marga violently visited Denmark in 1977 when Molotov cocktails were thrown at the residence of the Indian Ambassador to Denmark (Blüdnikow 2009).
In recent years, the movement has led a more unobtrusive existence. With the recent decision reached between Denmark and India to extradite Niels Holck to be tried in India for his role in the so-called Purulia Arms Drop in 1995, the movement has come back into the limelight.
The story of Niels Holck may be read as a story about a Dane devoted to social and economic justice to the extent that he decided to selflessly help the suppressed Ananda Margis by arming them for self-defence against their evil foes. This is a trope manifest also in the Danish Blekingegadebande, which altruistically robbed banks, etc. to supply the Palestinian organization PFLP with funds for its fight against Israel. However, the story of Niels Holck (alias Niels Christian Nielsen, alias Kim Peter Davy, alias Barfodsrøveren – the Barefooted Robber) may also be read as a story about Ananda Marga.
The following, therefore, is a brief presentation of the movement based on an article by Helen Crovetto entitled “Ananda Marga and the Use of Force”, which traces the elements of violence in the Ananda Marga movement.
According to Crovetto, the Ananda Marga core members have subjected themselves to a form of institutional and ideological “totalism”, which has regulated their physical and the mental life. The organizational form has been centralized and authoritarian with Indian male renouncers (sannyasis) exercising the maximum influence. In pursuance of justice and human development, the Ananda Marga has established a number of agrarian communities, called Master Units, where physical isolation may support institutional totalism.
The leader of the movement PR Sarkar – also known Sri Sri Anandamurti – is seen as an incarnation of both Lord Krishna and of Lord Shiva, or rather of Sadashiva, i.e. the True Shiva, who is believed to have lived 7,000 years ago when he entered this world to teach Tantra Yoga. Sarkar has set out his philosophy in the 264 books and the 5,018 songs he wrote before his death in 1990. Though Sarkar tried to maintain a strong hold on the movement, divisions occurred within his lifetime. The authoritarian ideology prevailing within the movement meant that defectors and renegades were seen as a threat to the movement. In some instances, renegades were apparently killed.
The Ananda Margis see themselves as being persecuted by the state in their homeland India. Unlike many other political Hindu organizations, the Ananda Margis do not direct their ire against Muslim and Islam, but against the state and its regulatory arms, particularly the police and the judiciary.
Already in 1967, Ananda Marga sannyasis were allegedly attacked by local people at the instigation of communist party workers at its Calcutta headquarter. In 1971, Sarkar and some of his disciples were arrested for abetting the murder of several renegades. On his part, Sarkar accused the state of poisoning him while in jail. In 1976, he was convicted even though he had obtained some international support. In response, no less than seven people committed suicide, including two Germans who self-immolated on the steps of a church in Berlin. Sarkar was subsequently granted another trial. Cleared of all charges, he was released in 1978. However, before he was released a splinter group called Universal PROUTists Revolutionary Federation (UPRF) claimed responsibility for criminal acts, including the bombing of the Hilton Hotel in Sydney in Australia in 1978 where the Indian Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, was a guest. Three people died in this attack. Like many other incidents on the Path of Bliss, the circumstances around this incident remain disputed.
Another violent incident occurred in 1982 in Calcutta when seventeen Ananda Marga sannyasis were killed. The killings may have been instigated by communist workers. The attack may have been related to possibly well-founded rumors that Ananda Margis kidnapped children in order to secure inmates for their schools and children‘s homes.
Militias in the Cosmic War
Sarkar put stress on military preparedness. To manage religious gatherings, Sarkar created a paramilitary wing called the Volunteers Social Service (VSS) for men and a Girl’s Volunteers (GV) force for women. Their work was described as “boy-scout” activities, but in reality they were paramilitary forces. According to Crovetto, such forces practiced with firearms in Europe during the 1970s.
In other words, pilgrims on the Path of Bliss strode a thorny path. As other fundamentalists, Ananda Margis see the world as divided between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Unlike some other fundamentalists, the Ananda Margis do not owe allegiance to a particular land or territory, but they share with similar organizations “absolutism, elect membership, sharp boundaries, behavioral requirements, charismatic and authoritarian leadership, and moral dualism” (Crovetto, p. 37). According to Sarkar, “Peace is the result of fight. Peace-lovers of the universe must not keep themselves away from fight” (Crovetto, p. 38). Peace for Sarkar had two forms: Black static peace implying absence of struggle, and white “sentient” peace implying active and, if necessary, armed struggle on behalf of the suppressed. Crovetto writes:
“To win the fight against evil in society, Sarkar said täntrikas should acquire strength because it was “impossible for goats to establish sentient peace in the society of tigers.”The real source of people’s power might be their spiritual force, but organizing on the material level was indispensable. He observed that arms were more necessary than the drums and cymbals used for worship.Not only should täntrikas arm themselves, they should go on inventing ever more powerful weapons as a counter-balance to those society has…..With regard to taking preemptive actions, Sarkar told his followers that one needed to be sure of the enemy’s intentions and could then act with impunity” (Crovetto, pp. 40-1).
Niels Holck, the Danish deliverer of arms for preemptive and self-defensive action, has secured impunity for himself for more than fourteen years. Granted the twists and turns that court cases against Ananda Margis have taken in the past, it may be that his impending confrontation with the Indian legal system may be brief: The cases against him may be dismissed on formal grounds. But it may also be that he will have to spend some time litigating in India before he is returned to Denmark. The communists in West Bengal have recently suffered several election defeats. If state elections come early in West Bengal, Niels Holck may be in India when the communist government will hand over power to a new government.
Berlingske Tidende, “Jeg ser mig selv som frihedskæmper”, Birgitte Erhardtsen, 17. May 2008, 22:30 hours, www.berlingske.dk/danmark/jeg-ser-mig-selv-som-frihedskaemper
Blüdnikow, Bent 2009, Bombeterror mod København: Trusler og Terror 1968-1990, Gyldendal.
Crovetto, Helen “Ananda Marga and the Use of Force”, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Volume 12, Issue 1: 26-56.
Deadline, DR2, 12. April 2010, 22:30 hours: “Retsforfølges i Indien”, http://www.dr.dk/DR2/Deadline2230
Information, 21. August 2007, “‘Hvad nu hvis det var en inder, der havde kastet våben ned over Nørrebro?”
P1 Debat, P1, DR, 14. April 2010, 12:20 hours, “Holder sikkerhedsgarantien?”, www.dr.dk/P1/P1Debat/Udsendelser/2010/04/14150724.htm
Are the Hiccups in US-Chinese Relations an Introduction to a Serious Global Confrontation by Timo KivimäkiPosted: April 29, 2010
Professor of Asian Security, University of Copenhagen
The exit of the American media giant Google from China, the controversy about US weapons sales to Taiwan, US and European criticism of China’s human rights record in Tibet and in Xinjiang, China’s perceived trade protectionism and manipulation of the value of its currency, the new, more affirmative policies in the South China Sea, and the US accusations of China’s support to rogue regimes, like the ones in Burma and Iran, sabotaging western sanctions, are all developments that some scholars have been expecting to see. They are symptoms of a change in the global political order – a change that, according to many of them, could eventually lead to a major war between the United States and China. A war, even if across the Pacific Ocean, could seriously threaten the world order let alone that it would be disastrous to both of these nuclear powers, and vitally important trading partners of Denmark.
The main argument of the alarmist voices about China is that the process when a challenging power (in this case China) grows more powerful than the world’s leading power (this time the USA), is a precarious one. It is not often that this happens, though. In a recent publication in Global Asia journal, Jia Qingguo and Richard Rosecrance claim that this has happened only seven times during the past 600 years. However, within the next few decades China will overtake the USA in overall economic power. Jia Qingguo and Richard Rosecrance revealed that in six out of seven cases of a hegemonic challenger overtaking the world hegemony, the result has been a major conflict. A famous American professor, John Mearsheimer says that this does not have to be because the challenger attacks the hegemon, but there could also be a temptation for the United State to try to use force to prevent China from taking over the role of global leader. In fact, Mearsheimer suggests that the United States should do what it can by using political and economic means to prevent China from rising too much already, before that can only be done militarily.
Denmark has good reasons to hope for a more peaceful development of the relations between China and the USA, and there are experts that focus on the characteristics of China’s strategic culture who claim that despite the global transformation, peace can be maintained. It seems that China’s transformation from a revolutionary power that exported insurgency regionally and internationally, into a responsible nation that recognizes the sovereignty and non-interference principles in its international cooperation, took place after a domestic power battle rather than after a global power political change. China became more peaceful and responsible at the end of the 1970s, and it would be difficult to pinpoint any major international event that could have contributed to this change. The ending of the Cold War no longer much affected China’s behavior, and neither did the beginning of the war on terror. This is why a prominent China scholar, Jia Qingguo and some others say that any change in China’s orientation towards peace and war will not be much affected by external inputs, but will be more dictated by the domestic developments. These scholars suggest that China’s inherent unwillingness to lead globally will cushion the effects of the transition to a world where China might be the most powerful power, but not necessarily a power that wants to lead in the same manner that the United States has lead first the western world and later also most of the rest of the world. Furthermore, more optimistic scholars also point to the fact that the United States still is and will be superior as a world power for the next few decades, and thus the hiccups in US-Chinese relations that we are seeing now cannot be part of the great transformation yet.
A way to combine both the domestic and international inputs into a more sensible, not too optimistic but neither too pessimistic world view, would be to look at how the expectations of an international change could mobilize the domestic forces and how that, together with the direct international influence would reframe China’s global role. The growing worries of the United States will already directly change China’s foreign policy environment, and this will naturally make China look more defensive. At the same time China still needs to grow, and growth is still the main priority of Chinese leadership. Thus it would be unlikely, aside from issues related to competition for energy supply, that China would like to risk any major confrontations with the US, whose markets will continue to be so important for the Chinese economy. At the same time, the Chinese population seems to be reacting to the growth of China and a healthy nationalism is on the rise. This could push China to policies in some issue areas that would seem more assertive than before. However, the priority of development will be likely to reduce China’s interest in offending its main trading partners too much. Still, positive developments would require some new approaches and more explicit tackling of some of the issues that continue to irritate China’s main international partners. The resolution of these issues would not be easy if China feels pressured by powerful nations. Instead, it seems that, for example, the problems with China’s press freedom, especially in sensitive questions of Tibet, Xinjiang and the democracy issues could be best tackled from outside the framing of power politics. In these issues China can reform itself only from the inside, reacting to internal rather than international pressures. Yet, it would make sense for the international community to highlight the agenda, and thereby make it easier for democratic forces to bargain with their government. The profile of Denmark as a defender of media freedom could be useful, especially as Denmark should prove to the Muslim world that it is for media freedom rather than against Islam. At the same time, as a moral authority rather than a major political or military power, Denmark would not be seen as threatening to China, or as part of a power battle against the rising great power. Denmark could have another mission for press freedom.
5 years ago Kyrgyzstan was in the spotlight of international media with similar images of distractions in Bishkek as it was in April this year. 5 years ago, on the wake of Georgian and Ukrainian “peoples’ revolutions”, the Kyrgyz events when reflected in international media were called the Tulip revolution. That time 5 years ago it was said that Akaev’s authoritarian regime gave way to the Kyrgyz peoples’ will and Kurmanbeck Bakiev with Roza Otunbayeva and the other members of the Peoples’ Movement of Kyrgyzstan (PMK) were the heroes of the Kyrgyz Tulip Revolution. In 2005 after Akaev fled to Russia, Kurmanbeck Bakiev was nominated by PMK as the interim president and in the presidential elections held in Kyrgyzstan under summer 2005, he was elected as president with 89,5 % of the vote. The events and developments in Kyrgyzstan 5 years ago were compared to the regime changes in Georgia and Ukraine and further Kyrgyzstan’s transition towards democracy was predicted.
Since Kyrgyzstan’s independence the country has been identified as the country with the most potential for democratic development in the Central Asian region. As a matter of fact, compared to its neighbouring countries in the Central Asian region, Kyrgyzstan has had the most liberal development and until 1996 it was labeled an island of democracy in Central Asia. However between 1996 and 2005 Akaev’s political regime revealed more authoritarian features, which led to the events of the Tulip revolution. After the Tulip revolution both international and local academics expressed positive expectations for a democratic transition in Kyrgyzstan. However, expected or unexpected, exactly 5 years after the celebration of the Tulip revolution, a new “people’s revolution” (?) happened in the country, with the same scenario and the same people who were allies in 2005 appearing on opposite sides of the barricades in 2010.
The revolutions in 2005 and 2010: similarities.
There are similar patterns between the events in Kyrgyzstan 2005 and 2010 as civic protests initiated in Kyrgyzstan’s southern provinces, distractions in Bishkek with cars and shops burning, robberies of the presidents’ palaces, land seizures around Bishkek, blocking of the country’s main traffic highway between North and South Bishkek-Osh, the presidents’ disappearances. The similarity of events in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 to events in 2005 is that same old soviet political elites are on the barricades. Similarly as in 2005 today, though these political elites claim to be the leaders of the events, they hardly control the situation. Thus, as Bakiev expressed in an interview for the Russian newspaper/Rossiskaia gazeta “during the events 2005 the political opposition did not expect that the events would end with the fall of Akaev’s regime”. In 2005 the situation got stabilized by Feliks Kulov, released from prison, and popular in the Kyrgyz popular opinion with his former internal-affairs minister background. Similarly in 2010 despite the interim government’s calming messages about the control of the situation in Kyrgyzstan, the revolts are still going on in varying parts of the country. These revolts in varying parts of the country are, as a matter of fact, revolts of the people against those newly appointed by the interim government representatives to varying positions in the country. So though the unpopular Bakiev’s regime got overthrown, population revolts still continue, despite the calming messages of the interim government.
Similarly to year 2005, in 2010 the civic protests are initiated mostly by unemployed young men or older men and women, rather than by student movements as was the case during the revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. After the Kyrgyz Tulip revolution in 2005 an initiating role of the student movements Kel Kel and Bereket in Kyrgyz revolution 2005 has been mistakenly argued for. As a matter of fact, the student movement Kel Kel in 2005 was initiated as a reaction to disturbances and robberies in Bishkek. Similarly the media sources reflect that the student movement Bekbeevtsy in 2010 was mobilized as a reaction to mass disturbances in Bishkek.
Reasons for the civic protests during the events in 2005 and 2010 are also similar. In 2005 corruption, poverty in rural areas and mass unemployment diminished Akaev’s popularity among the people. A survey that local scientists conducted during the protests in 2005 revealed that 60% of the protesters responded that they were tired of socio-economic problems and only 20% were critical to the political regime that robbed and lied to the Kyrgyz population. For the political elites and NGO representatives in 2005 the major reason was about falsifications during the parliamentary elections in 2005, in which the two children of Akayev won (the daughter Bermet and the son Aidar). The dominance of Akaev’s family/clan/relatives within the political and economic key positions was also among the indicated reasons. Similarly now in 2010 the events reveal economic developments and Bakiev’s family/clan/relatives dominance as the major reasons for protests of the political elites. Thus among the officially announced demands of the opposition leaders were to cancelling of the high fares for electricity and heating, cancelling of the illegal privatization of state companies KyrgyzTelekom and Nordelektro, the release of prisoned political opponents. Meanwhile, according to surveys of local scientists, among the population’s concerns were expected higher customs fees to Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as concerns about withdrawal of Russia’s military from the country and the risk for implementation of visa requirements for Kyrgyz citizens to Russia. These last concerns of the Kyrgyz population have again more socio-economic grounds, since most of the goods from China through Kyrgyzstan are further transported to Kazakhstan and Russia, and while around 800 000 Kyrgyz citizens legally migrated to these countries to work, the number of illegal migrants from Kyrgyzstan is of course much higher. So during the events in both 2005 and 2010 the population had reasons for their civic protests which were different from the reasons of the political elites.
The revolution in 2005 and 2010: differences.
However there are evident differences between the events in 2005 and 2010. Now unlike with the events in 2005 there are victims of the civic protests (revolution?). According to media sources only in Bishkek there were 76 dead and 1520 injured from the civic protests. The continued protests in the provinces increase the total number of victims of the events in 2010. Although in 2005 there were disturbances on the streets of Bishkek, cars and shops being burned, the violence did not escalate to such levels nor to shootings from the state side towards the population. Unlike in 2005 the Kyrgyz media sources have provided reports about 3 bombs placed in public places in Bishkek. Though the validity of the source of the last needs controlling, this together with other indications of the escalations of the violence is an alarming sign of the security situation in the country. These changes can be the direct results of remaining problems, which escalated after and even caused the events in 2005. Already a few days after the Tulip revolution in 2005 Kyrgyzstan, instea
d of liberalization processes, witnessed a rise of criminalization, with still unsolved murders of political leaders.
Today unlike in 2005 the reaction of the overthrown state is also different. In 2005 Akaev simply fled the country, accepted the resignation and ‘left in his wake the first peaceful-albeit initially extraconstitutional-transfer of power that the five countries of what used to be Soviet Central Asia have seen in a decade and a half of independence’. Similarly Akaev on commenting on events in 2010 claimed that he would not come back to Kyrgyzstan’s political arena. However his follower Bakiev who fled from the capital Bishkek in 2010, was not that fast on accepting the resignation, if not expressing direct threats of bloody conflict escalation. So the most evident difference that has happened in the 5 year period between the two events 2005 and 2010, is the changed nature of the state.
Last but not the least, is the difference of the changed aspirations of the civil society producing civil protests (revolutions?). The change is in the civil society and the Kyrgyz population that once in 2005 witnessed that with escalated violence the unpopular state regime can be made to flee and a new interim government can be chosen. It has been reconfirmed by the repeation of events now in 2010. Today, according to the expressions of the Kyrgyz civil society, people are tired of promises and changing political leaders. Today people are no longer after justice, but after positive changes in their daily lives. Today it is the civil society that has experienced that it can influence and contradict the authoritarian state with violence. What is obvious is that today there is a civil society in Kyrgyzstan that once again in the future could contradict an unpopular authoritarian state with violence. Whether such civil society is democratic and liberal itself and can contribute to a democratic transition, is rather questionable and doubtful.
What happens now? Lessons of the past to the international community and Kyrgyzstan’s new leadership.
In 2005 the political leaders of the opposition had simply the goal of overthrowing the unpopular Akaev regime but no exact plan for further actions and development of the country, for improvement of the population’s conditions and socio-economic development, which the population most of all expected from the new regime. The political leaders were too diverse, too ambitious, and too scandal-prone. Various groups inside the political establishment are fighting among themselves for their own different interests, while the people have become hostages of these manipulations. Power changes within the political elite in the country had happened prior to the events in 2005 and 2010. Most of the heroes of the revolutions today have been active within these power changes before. The pattern that is typical for Kyrgyzstan’s 19 year old history is that the same old nomenclature political elites, despite the regional and clan divisions, join together for power overthrow, but in a later stage, due to regional and clan differentiations, end up in internal conflicts with each other. Thus in the beginning of Kyrgyzstan’s independence, by joined approval of those political elites, Akayev was promoted to the leading position. In 2005 the same political elite, among them Bakiev, Otunbayeva, Atambayev, Tekembaev, Tyrgynaliev, Beknazarov etc, protested against the Akaev regime. With the exception of Otunbayeva, 4 of the above mentioned received high positions within the Bakiev’s regime, until internal conflicts between them and Bakiev appeared. Now in 2010 all of the above mentioned together with Roza Otunbayeva oppose Bakiev’s regime.
Another pattern typical for the country is that as a result of the civic protests/revolutions or power changes it was mostly so called ‘jokers’,who ended up as leaders of the country, i.e. individuals without a well established political base and support. Akaev with his academic background in physics, before he got nominated as head of the state in 1991, was not politically evident or active. Similarly Bakiev, when he got nominated in 2005 by the opposition, was also not a long time oppositional leader. Before 2005 Bakiev held a high position within Akaev’s regime. According to Kyrgyz media sources in 2005 Bakiev, after he ended up in disagreement with Akaev, simply turned into the opposition. Roza Otunbayeva, despite her merits as representative of Kyrgyzstan on the international arena, had not even been living in the country until 2004. Nor was she politically active in Kyrgyzstan. Such a ‘joker’ position, without strong political base and support, does not make it easy for those who end up in a position of leader of the country to succeed in forwarding political and socio-economic transition, since in search for political support these ‘jokers’ must balance rival political elites. As time goes and Kyrgyzstan’s conditions also change, leading the country becomes more difficult for these ‘jokers’. For Akaev during his time in 1991, such a ‘joker’ position made him balance the political elites’ rival interests, until he became strong a president. For Bakiev in 2005, besides getting support and balancing between rival political elites, the new challenge included also balancing the geo-political interests of international actors (USA/Russia), actors which within their decade of presence in the country have developed their own political interest agendas. Now in 2010 for Roza Otunbayeva, as the head of the interim government, to all those above mentioned challenges is also added the challenge of dealing with the Kyrgyz population, which is no longer willing to continue living according the old way (with continued socio-economic problems) and that has experienced its power to get rid of unpopular regimes by the expression of violence. The situation is very sensitive, in the light of civic revolts continuing daily in different parts of the country, revolts which are due to localized identity. This problem of localism was reported during the events in 2005 by Scott Radnitz, i.e. protesters protest for “their candidate” (identified along regional or clan criteria) and are efficiently mobilized because of the strong “‘top-down” ties between certain elites and rank-and-file members. That is why it is particularly important that contemporary political elites do not end up once again in internal conflicts, but rather find a solution for socio-economic development in the country. It is also the duty of the international community and international actors (USA/Russia) to prioritize assisting the stabilization process in the country and for the time putting aside their direct political interests in the country. The necessity of stabilizing the situation in the country and of further socio-economic development in Kyrgyzstan must become the primary interest of local political elites and the international community, in order to escape the problem of escalation of regional clan hostility in the country, which in the beginning of 1990s led to civil war in neighboring Tajikistan.
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About the author:
Anjelika Mamytova is a PhD student at Kyrgyz National University. As part of her doctorate she conducted in cooperation with Stockholm University research on effect of market economy on formation of civil society in Kyrgyzstan (OSI/HESP CARTI Junior fellowship) and she is at the moment placed in Sweden. She is an expert on civil society, democratization and market in Central Asia and former CIS. Anjelika Mamytova conducted research on base of Uppsala University, Swedish Institute of Foreign Affairs and Women’s Foundation in Sweden. She is a fellow of NIAS Oresund Visiting scholarship, Institute of Humane Studies and OSCE CAYN program. She holds a BA and MA in Political Science from Stockholm University.
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