Mapping Global Populism — Panel XIV: Tracing the Pathways of Autocracy and Authoritarianism Across Central Asia 

A rally on the main square of Bishkek. Photo: Omurali Toichiev.

Date/Time: Thursday, June 20, 2024 — 10:00-12:00 (CET)


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 Dr. David Lewis (Professor of Politics at University of Exeter).


Autocracy’s Past and Present in Kazakhstan,” by Dr. Dinissa Duvanova (Associate Professor at Lehigh University).

“Nationalising Authoritarianism in Uzbekistan,” by Dr. Diana T. Kudaibergen(ova) (Assistant Professor at Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge and Fellow in Sociology, Homerton College).

Autocracy in Turkmenistan and The Role of Media in Cultivating Personality Cult,” by  Oguljamal Yazliyeva (Ph.D. Researcher in International Area Studies at the Department of Russian and East European Studies of the Institute of International Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University, Prague).

“Clan Politics: Kyrgyzstan between Informal Governance and Democracy,” by Dr. Aksana Ismailbekova (Postdoctoral Researcher, Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient).


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Brief Biographies and Abstracts

Dr. David Lewis is a Professor of Politics at the University of Exeter. He teaches and conducts research on international relations and peace and conflict studies, with a focus on the politics of authoritarian states. His regional research primarily covers post-Soviet politics, particularly in Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. From 2019 to 2022, he was on secondment as an ESRC-AHRC Fellow at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London. He is also a Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London and was awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours List 2023.

Dr. Lewis completed his PhD in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics and subsequently worked in political risk analysis in the private sector. He also spent several years with the Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group, focusing on research programs in Central Asia and South Asia (Sri Lanka). Before joining the University of Exeter in September 2013, he was a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford.

Autocracy in Turkmenistan and The Role of Media in Cultivating Personality Cult

Oguljamal Yazliyeva is a Ph.D. researcher in International Area Studies at the Department of Russian and East European Studies of the Institute of International Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University. Her research interest is Central Asian Studies, focusing on Turkmenistan, Mass Media, Education Policy, Languages, and Translation. Previously, she was the director of RFE/RL’s Turkmen service, based in Prague, Czech Republic. She worked at Turkmen State University as vice dean of the Faculty of Law and International Relations, Dean of the Faculty of International Business and Management, and Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages at Turkmen State University, Turkmenistan. Yazliyeva received a Hubert Humphrey Fellowship from the US Department of State in 2002 and spent a year at Penn State University working on her research project on higher education policy in Turkmenistan. Oguljamal Yazliyeva holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Linguistics and a Post-graduate degree (Candidate of Sciences) in Contrastive Linguistics from the Turkmen State University. Email:

Abstract: Since its independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkmenistan has evidently demonstrated a high tendency toward autocracy. It established a national development model, recycling old Soviet systems of authoritarian control. On the other hand, its autocratic evolution runs deep. In this connection, it is essential to consider Turkmenistan’s historical conditions and look at the evolution of Turkmen’s political culture from “serdars” and “khans” (tribal leaders) up to presidents. This approach may be justified by the fact that the political culture of "one-man rule" in contemporary Turkmenistan takes its roots from the tribal traditions of the Turkmen people’s ancestors. In the process of consolidating autocracy, the media has a central position and plays a crucial role in building the personality cult of the state leaders. This paper assesses the development and preservation of authoritarian political culture in Turkmenistan through a close examination of building personality cults. The analysis suggests that authoritarian political powers control the media system totally and use it to bolster the glorification of the state leaders. Consequently, the historical legacy and behavioral patterns of Turkmen society contribute to the evolution of the authoritarian political culture created and developed in Turkmenistan.

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