Open discussions across Kyrgyzstan about religion and democracy

As part of our 'Constructive dialogues on religion and democracy' project we held VIII round of Discussion Clubs in all regions of the Kyrgyz Republic. The goal of the Discussion Clubs was to create a public platform where the community and officials could have open and honest dialogue about religion and democracy in Kyrgyzstan. It is also a space where young people could speak openly, share their thoughts and discuss topics related to religion with experts, helping them to better understand freedom of religion and religious tolerance.

Students from various universities, civil activists, experts, government officials and religious leaders took part in the Discussion Clubs. Participants discussed topics such as the role of religion in the prevention of early marriage and domestic violence, information literacy as a tool against radicalisation among young people, religions in Central Asia: yesterday, today and tomorrow and the influence of religious and political leaders on the formation of public opinion.

In the regions of Talas, Naryn and Issyk-Kul, young people held Discussion Clubs on the topic of religions in Central Asia: yesterday, today and tomorrow. The purpose of it was to get acquainted with the various religions that existed and exist within Central Asia and their prospects in the future. And to help young people in Kyrgyzstan to build tolerance towards and improve engagement with other religions in the region and gain a better understanding of living in a multicultural and secular state.

"We believe that it is very important to analyse, discuss the current situation in the country related to religion. In this way we can be aware of what is happening in our country and we can understand in which direction everything is moving. For this we are conducting our Clubs" - said the regional coordinator Shirin Bakytova.

In Bishkek the Discussion Club covered the role of religion in the prevention of early marriage and domestic violence. Experts examined the role of women in terms of religions and how they forbids the practice of early marriage. Training was also provided to the club members by an independent expert, Rimma Sultanova, about how to protect women from domestic violence and to run advocacy campaigns to protect women in Kyrgyzstan.

In Tokmok, participants discussed the importance of information literacy among the population, the need to analyse, re-check and filter certain information on the internet in order to protect themselves and their friends from recruitment to extremist organisations.

Inga Sikorskaya, Programme Director of School of Peacemaking and Media Technology in Central Asia, was invited as an expert to lead the Discussion Club in Tokmok.

As a prominent and experienced expert in media and research, she talked to the youth about how “fake” and false interpretation of facts leads to misinformation and recruitment of young people into extremist organisations by appealing to their personal religious feelings.

"There are a lot of information online, our task is to cultivate ourselves as ‘media people’ to identify what is true or not, to learn what information literacy is," explained Inga Sikorskaya.

In Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken oblasts, clubs discussed the influence of religious and political leaders on the formation of public opinion. The purpose of this topic was to educate youth on building own opinion and developing critical thinking.

"This Discussion Club helped me to understand the importance of the critical thinking in our life. It is important to ask question ‘why?’ Why should other people decide about my future instead of me?" said Malika Kartanbaeva, one of the participants of Discussion Club.

Participants of the Discussion Clubs proposed their own ways of solving various problems regarding religion and democracy in Kyrgyzstan. They felt that the most important tool for solving such problems is the development of critical thinking skills in the younger generation and continue to have dialogue to resolve issues before conflicts arise. Participants expressed willingness to participate in further discussions, given its relevance and ability to bring different social groups together to discuss issues freely and openly.

Find out more about the project here.

This project has been funded by the European Union.