Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Bowling in Bishkek

By David G. Young

Karakol, Kyrgyzstan, September 17, 2002 --  

The first thing you notice when you land at Manas Airport in Bishkek are the American fighter jets and transport planes lined up on the edge of the runway, ready for action thousands of miles to the south. But months before the arrival of the American bases, people in this once conservative Soviet country were going bowling at the new disco.

Bishkek's bowling alley is an exact replica of one in the United States. This, along with countless outdoor cafes with live American music give this tree-studded city more the feel of a Midwestern capital than a city on the Silk Road. Bishkek has come a long way in the ten years since the end of he Soviet regime.

But the most striking aspect of the new development is the focus on consumption rather than production. South of town, a shiny new Flamingoworld amusement park entertains people, and the new supermarkets and shopping centers offer the latest goods at Western prices. But other than paper pushing at government offices and international organizations, it is not obvious where all this money is coming from, especially given the very high unemployment rate.

Despite all the consumption-oriented development, the infrastructure is still fairly poor. Only the road leading to the presidential residence is in good condition, and the banking system is almost nonexistent.

If Kyrgyzstan is to become a fully modern, wealthy country, then its well-educated people will have to discover what they can best produce for the outside world. As things are, the country seems to be operating on borrowed time.