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Central Asian Regional Peacebuilding Festival

By Events, Projects

Central Asian Regional Peacebuilding Festival

The long-awaited Central Asian Regional Peacebuilding Festival is finally here! With a year-long delay, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the final visibility activities within the “Strengthening resilience to radicalisation and disinformation in Central Asia” (Phase II) took place online on Zoom during March 23-26, 2021.

The 18-month project that started in October 2019 and is implemented by Internews and financed by the European Union aimed to strengthen the resilience of citizens to radicalisation narratives and disinformation leading to violent extremism through support to media, civil society organisations, government institutions, religious leaders and active citizens in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. It was a follow-up intervention, which built on lessons learned from the implementation of the previous project “Contributing to stability and peace in Central Asia through media literacy, improved reporting and regional cooperation” (Phase I).

The online festival gathered journalists, experts, religious leaders, educators, think tanks, government officials, young leaders and representatives of different communities of Central Asia. They came together to discuss their experiences in implementing content and social projects, results and challenges, and how their projects influenced their lives and lives of their story subjects.

The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC) in cooperation with Internews office in Kyrgyzstan during the 23rd and 24th of March organised a series of online sideline events which were livestreamed through Three Dots Fest social media platforms to four Central Asian countries.

The first event, “Media and Access to Information in Supporting Development, Preventing Radicalisation and Guaranteeing Social Inclusion”, took place on the 23rd of March and featured opening remarks by MEP Niklas Nienass from the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance and DCAS member. During the panel discussion, Boris Iarochevitch, Head of Central Asia Division of the European External Action Service, Indira Aslanova, Director of Centre for Religious Studies, Farhod Rahmatov, Internews Project Director in Central Asian and Andreas Marazis, European Neighbourhood Council (ENC) Head of Research for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, shared their insights and key messages. The discussion was moderated by Shada Islam, ENC External Advisor and Founder of New Horizons Project, and featured comments from Jack Parrock, TV and radio correspondent for Euronews.

Nicklas Nienass opened the discussion by highlighting the relevance of the topic of media and information, especially in the fight against disinformation and against radicalization, where it is essential to have access to clear information and accurate facts. He pointed out the importance of individual responsibility in delving into details and check if we have our facts straight. Mr. Nienass also underlined the significant role that members of the civil society have to play in this issue, as they have access to facts and can push for media freedom and access to information for everyone.

Boris Iarochevitch emphasized the importance of media pluralism, access to information and quality education, including in rural areas as well as for girls and women, as a response to violent extremism. In order to have accessible information, Mr. Iarochevitch advocated for an affordable, open and secure digital infrastructure, which should be combined with the necessary digital literacy and skills. Based on the latest discussions with Civil Society Organisations (CSO), the EU is well aware of the urgent need to develop digitalisation in Central Asia, and the important role that can be played by CSOs in raising awareness on this issue. These three key aspects are present in the recent EU strategy for Central Asia from 2019, and more recent issues such as media literacy and extremism will be taken into account in the next stages of EU-funded programmes.

Mr. Iarochevitch also underlined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the disproportionate footprint that has left on various vulnerable groups such as labour migrants, women and people from rural areas. As freedom of expression was negatively affected around the world, some Central Asian governments also took advantage of it to adopt restrictive laws under the pretext of stopping fake news, while the population has only limited access to information, and even less so to science-based information.

Indira Aslanova explained the results of her latest research on meanings and values that are spread by extremist groups and the responses they triggered. Among the findings were the fact that youth are more affected when the extremist narrative used correlates with values that are shared by the reader, such as wishing good or helping others. Considering such results, Ms. Aslanova argued that PVE and CVE communications should be based on both a better correlation to the values of contemporary Central Asian youth, and on the creation of alternative narratives to challenge the attractiveness of the radical ones, and compensates the need for self-identification and success.

The different channels that are used are also particularly important as they are very specific to Central Asia according to Ms. Aslanova (for example the use of application with high encryption like Telegram), which is why it is essential that PVE and CVE communications redirect the audience to a reliable and local source of information.

Ms. Aslanova also suggested to strengthen ties between the different communities such as children/parents and youth/society in order to influence the resilience to those narratives, as well as for local authorities to develop a local agenda so that people can have an alternative way of filling the void and foster involvement within the community, while counterweighting the feeling of being left out by the government.

Farhod Rahmatov shared, in his views, two key elements that make an extremist propaganda successful. The first one is the highly effective and widespread use of social media, resulting in the misinformation of the local communities, which is then developing biased perspective on sensitive social, political and religious issues. The second key element is the targeting of young generations, as they represent half of the population in Central Asia, while still feeling ostracised, overwhelmed or marginalised by the society, feeling that is exacerbated by the lack of quality alternative narratives and content and critical media skills to access, engage and use reliable and verified information among the general population.

According to Mr. Rahmatov, within the current period, filled with uncertainty and instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is getting increasingly important to ensure that people can access trusted sources of high-quality information in order to counter misinformation, disinformation, rumour, xenophobia, and stigma towards migrants and their families, refugees and ethnic minorities. To produce information that will reach the youth, it needs to be clear and understandable, but mostly easily transferable to an online format.

Andreas Marazis came back on the findings of the recent ENC study on “Socio-Economic impact of COVID-19 and Media Consumption among Vulnerable Communities in Central Asia”, which shows that vulnerable communities have difficulties to access suitable information and are less likely to develop resilience when faced with the promotion of extremist narratives on social media.

Mr. Marazis shared three key recommendations based on the findings of this research. First, the EU should facilitate dialogue and cooperation among governments, NGOs and independent media in an effort to counter disinformation and provide accurate and science based-news, including by funding research-based data collection with regards to vulnerable communities and their needs and challenges at a regional and national level. Second, the difficulty to reach out to vulnerable groups should be taken into account. More cooperation among local NGOs and independent media outlets is essential in increasing the engagement with vulnerable communities and the understanding of their needs and challenges. Finally, a major barrier to accessing COVID-19 information for different ethnic groups is the lack of information in languages other than Russian and the national languages.

Jack Parrock highlighted the key role journalists play in preventing violent extremism, and that content producers from Central Asia and from Europe need to cooperate more often, to learn from each other, to exchange better practices in PVE. Radicalization and violent extremism are considered highly sensitive issues to cover in the region by independent journalists, as the religious spectrum in countries of Central Asia is itself complicated. Mr. Parrock also touched upon the subject of ethics while covering specific issues such as hostage situations, which journalists face more often in Central Asia than in Europe.

To close the first session, Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, ENC Managing Director concluded by highlighting that what we learnt during the pandemic is that people feeling marginalized and left behind are at higher risk of being manipulated and radicalized, and that violent extremism often comes from poverty and social exclusion. According to Mr. Doveri Vesterbye, this only strengthened the argument on the importance of building bridges, reaching to people in different languages and fighting social exclusion via education, media literacy and digitalisation.

The second event was dedicated to the screening of “Shards” an interactive film project developed by a production studio in Kyrgyzstan and the Association of Religion Study Centres in Kazakhstan. The project aimed to develop resistance to radicalisation among young people via an interactive film with variable endings, wherein the viewer’s choice (“Yes” or “No”) affected the storyline. Following the screening of the movie, a short Q&A session ensued between Andreas Marazis and Azim Azimov, founder of Media Kitchen production studio, winner of regional and international advertising festivals, film director and screenwriter.

When asked about the rationale behind the movie, Azim Azimov explained that the interactive part was interactive was to include an educational purpose to the movie. Instead of just having a model to follow, each person in the audience can question whether they would have done the same or not when facing the same issues as the main character on her path to radicalization.

Mr. Azimov stated that the charecters and the story on the movie were fictional, however based on real-life events. Meetings with gurus ‘saving’ peoples lives, or the process of recruiting in hospitals when parents need help for their children for example, are depicting existing channels of radicalization used by individuals who are part of extremist organizations. In order to adequately represent how radicalization works, Mr. Azimov worked used a documentary and ideas taken from real life by using interviews with people imprisoned for extremism.

Andreas Marazis highlighted the importance of using various channels of communication such as movies, art and social networks, in an effort to reach out to a broader audience and pass the right message.

Finally, Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, wrapped the session up by stating once again the importance of such initiatives stemming from real life events, showcasing how a normal person becomes the victim of an extremist organization and then how this person becomes himself the perpetrator of violence, making others the victims to his/her actions.

Mr. Doveri Versterbye highlighted that five years ago in Brussels we did not know how this process of radicalization works, but now it is everyone’s responsibility, not only the government, but also CSOs, journalists and the broader audience have a role to play, in engaging with one voice and helping people to stop this process along the way.



High Level Roundtable Discussion: “Uzbekistan opening? Warming to Democratic Reform and Neighbours”

By Events

“Uzbekistan opening? Warming to Democratic Reform and Neighbours”

On 14 June 2018 the European Neighbourhood Council (ENC), in cooperation with the Europe-Central Asia Monitoring (EUCAM) programme of the Centre for European Security Studies (CESS) and with the support of  the Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI) organized a high level roundtable discussion entitled “Uzbekistan opening? Warming to Democratic Reform and Neighbours”

The roundtable discussion focused on future EU-Uzbekistan relations and identified the priorities of democratic reform within the country. It featured views from EU officials on the scope for deepening bilateral relations and analysis by experts from Central Asia of the depth of current political transformations and the spheres that offer the most potential for international and regional reengagement.


Opening remarks underlining the importance of the discussion were delivered by Iskra Kirova – Senior Policy Analyst at OSEPI, Samuel Doveri Vesterbye – ENC Managing Director, and Jos Boonstra – EUCAM Coordinator (CESS). The keynote speeches were given by Amb. Peter Burian – European Union Special Representative for Central Asia and Alisher Ilkhamov – Programme Officer, Open Society Foundations (OSF). These focused on the future prospects for EU-Uzbekistan relations in the light of the country’s new open stance towards reform. The speeches also included insights on the EU’s future role in the country.

The first panel featured contributions from Alisher Siddique – Director of RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service; Zaynab M. Dost – Head Deal Reporter / Relationship Manager for CEE and FSU; and Sevara Khamidova – EUCAM Fellow. The discussion was moderated by Jos Boonstra – EUCAM Coordinator (CESS) and included viewpoints regarding the status of the media within the country, the developments in the field of education, and the role of civil society.


The second panel considered Uzbekistan’s domestic and foreign policy in relation to its neighboring countries and new possibilities for regional cooperation. In particular, inputs regarding the country’s current and future relations with Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan were presented by Diana Mamatova – former Central Asia Program (CAP) fellow; Sergey Marinin – EUCAM Fellow; and Nushofarin Noziri – EUCAM Fellow. The conversation was moderated by Andreas Marazis, ENC Head Researcher for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The Impact of Customs Union on Environment and Consumer Protection in Turkey

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EU-Turkey Economic Relations: European sentiment in Turkey among opinion-shapers and youth leaders

The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC) in cooperation with Kadir Has University (Istanbul, Turkey)  and with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) Turkey, the Swedish Consulate in Istanbul and the Economic Development Foundation (IKV), organised a lecture entitled “EU-Turkey Economic Relations”, which took place on the 18th of February 2019 at Kadir Has University in Istanbul.

The event is part of a series of lectures organised in Turkey by ENC in cooperation with local academic institutions and is the 2nd phase of a project entitled Future values training: European sentiment in Turkey among opinion-shapers and youth leaders“. The project is rooted in the growing need to exchange ideas with Turkish public intellectuals, journalists, youth leaders and influential civil society members concerning Europe’s new ideas on societal development, private sector changes and the European Union’s (EU) global policy priorities and innovative strategies. The four young Turkish experts who visited Brussels for a week-long trainings and exchanges in December 2018 are delivering public lectures in Turkish in four academic institutions located in Istanbul, Ankara, Adana and Eskisehir in front of a large audience of young university students.

Prof. Dr. Mitat Celikpala, Dean of Faculty of Economics, Administrative and Social Sciences at Kadir Has University and Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, ENC Managing Director with their opening remarks opened the floor for discussion. Prof. Dr. Haluk Kabaalioglu, Vice-chair at IKV, introduced the students to the lecture’s topic with his keynote presentation before giving the floor to Melis Bostanoglu, Junior Researcher at IKV who delivered the first lecture.

For the lecture summary of Ms. Bostanoglu in English check the link below:

  The Impact of Customs Union on Environment and Consumer Protection in Turkey

The second lecture is scheduled to take place at çukurova University in Adana on the 22nd of February 2019 focusing on Climate Change & Sustainability in Today’s Turkey”.

The future of Europe and foreign policy in the Middle East

By Events

The Vision of King Abdullah II

for Building a State of Citizenship and the Development of Society

On the 4th of April, our ENC’s Managing Director, Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, was invited as a speaker to the University of Petra in Jordan to speak about the future of Europe and foreign policy in the Middle East.

The two-day event, entitled “The Vision of King Abdullah the Second for Building a State of Citizenship and the Development of Society”, was co-organized by the university of Petra, the Jordanian Prime Ministry and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Speakers included the Prime Minister of Jordan, Mr. Omar Razzaz as well as leading experts and academics from the region, including representatives from Bertelsmann Stiftung and European universities.


During Mr. Doveri Vesterbye’s speech, he discussed the EU’s advantages and challenges, what kind of measures are being taken to solve the problems, and how it impacts the Middle East and Jordan. The three most prominent problems in the EU are the rate of the demographic slowdown, tax evasion, and the rise of populism and protectionism within the EU and in third world countries. These three problems were analysed with the support of data visualisation (see image below).

children per woman

Another important issue, discussed during the lecture, was the discrepancy (gap) between perceptions of threat related to migration and the real dangers of illegal migrations. This was described by Mr. Doveri Vesterbye with the support of a recent study by the European Neighbourhood Council, in which academics and policy experts from across the European Neighbourhood Policy region express their views on the average European citizens’ capability to distinguish between refugees and illegal migrants. When asked about their own perceived threat of migration, experts and academics showcase a significantly lower margin of threat with regards to migration. A majority of experts and academics reported a slight to moderate concern about migration, whereas only 28 percent reported to be “very” concerned. When asked about whether the general European public is capable of distinguishing between refugees and illegal migrants, an overwhelming 68 percent answered no.


Due to the connected geography of Europe and Jordan, political decisions concerning trade, migration and anti-radicalisation are more likely to have a spillover effect. Since the signing of the 2016 agreement between the EU and Jordan (and the updated version, known as the EU-Jordan Compact from 2018), the EU is making an effort to build stronger relations with Jordan and other regional partners on trade, development, counter-terrorism, good governance, transparency, refugees, and anti-conflict policies. Mr. Doveri Vesterbye noted the importance of the business community in order to take steps to create more economic symmetry to promote increased Jordanian exportation and for Jordanian companies to take advantage of the favourable ‘rules of origin’ changes, which allow for more exported Jordanian goods to reach European consumers. Another important component which was discussed was the need for further trainings and capacity building support between EU and Jordanian companies in order to better train new technology sectors in terms of innovation and also to enhance civil society and university partnerships.


Understanding Future Values: Youth and Interaction across the EU and Turkey

By Events, Projects

Understanding Future Values – First Preliminary Meeting

On the 6th of May, European Neighbourhood Council (ENC) and Public Policy and Democracy Studies (PODEM) presented their new project on EU-Turkey student mobility and values in a preliminary meeting to a closed group of experts. The on-going project, entitled Understanding Future Values: Youth and Interaction across the EU and Turkey, helps gather and analyse relevant research and data on youth perceptions and socio-political values, including its significance on EU-Turkey relations today. The fourteen-month long project assists in the creation of dialogue platforms among civil society groups, while better understanding how student exchange programs like Erasmus+ impact Turkish and EU students’ social beliefs, value-sets and youth priorities. Measured through interviews and questionnaires, the study examines cross-comparative data from multiple EU countries and Turkey concerning cultural beliefs, prejudice, youth employment aspirations, as well as concepts like democracy.

other photo

During the preparatory meeting in Brussels, PODEM and ENC invited ENC Academic Council Members, National Erasmus+ Offices, EU officials and several relevant universities from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany. Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, ENC Managing Director, and Aybars Gorgulu, PODEM Executive Director, presented the research project, while discussing methodological frameworks and questionnaire options with invited academics and experts. Andreas Marazis, ENC Project Manager and Senior Researcher, led the discussion regarding practical surveying and interview implementation and privacy. ENC Academic Council Members Dr. Dimitris Bouris, Dr. Branislav Radeljic and Dr. Panagiota Manoli contributed with detailed feedback about the project’s research design and methodology.


Several studies that link youth perception with student mobility demonstrate the beneficial effects of cultural exchange and cross-country exposure, both inside and outside of the EU. Due to the limited amount of detailed and recent studies on how the European youths perceive Turkey and vice versa, this project aims to complement larger studies by focusing on specific components of values and youth priorities.

Shaping the European Future: Present and Further Challenges for the Representative Polity

By Events, Projects

Shaping the European Future: Present and Further Challenges for the Representative Polity
European sentiment in Turkey among opinion-shapers and youth leaders

The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC), in cooperation with  TOBB Economics and Technology University (Ankara, Turkey), and with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) Turkey, the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Turkey and the Economic Development Foundation (IKV), organised a lecture titled “Shaping the European Future: Present and Further Challenges for Representative Polity”, which took place on the 5th of March 2020 at TOBB Economics and Technology University. 

The event is part of a series of lectures organised in Turkey by ENC in cooperation with local academic institutions and is the second phase of a project titled “Future values training: European sentiment in Turkey among opinion-shapers and youth leaders 2019-2020“. The project is an extension of an existing ENC training and public lecture programme, which took place between the fall of 2018 and the following spring, in which four Turkish opinion shapers successfully underwent training and meeting sessions in Brussels, after which each opinion shaper gave a university lecture in Turkey to students and academics. The project is rooted in the growing need to exchange ideas with Turkish public intellectuals, journalists, youth leaders and influential civil society members concerning Europe’s innovative policies and progressive thematic priority areas related to their own work. Thematic priority areas are defined as privacy/technology, renewable energy, foreign-policy, free media, trade, civil society (good-governance/efficient-governance/feedback-governance), European peace theory/conflict-resolution, migration/demographics, anti-corruption, the-importance-of-institutions; and how each of these thematic priority areas relate to Turkey (EU-Turkey) and the EU’s Global Strategy (GS) and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).


Prof. Dr. Ihsan Sezal, Dean of the Economics and Administrative Sciences at TOBB Economics and Technology University, chaired the lecture and opened the floor for discussion. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Cigdem Nas of the International Relations Department at Yildiz Technical University, delivered the keynote speech by sharing her views on the EU’s recent internal developments, noting that it is at a critical juncture in its history. The Professor, who is also the Secretary General of the IKV, gave the example of Brexit, the first time a member state is withdrawing from the Union, to underline that even a successful peace  project can be questioned. The EU has to rise up to the challenges present at its very core, notably a return to nationalism, populism, nativism, xenophobia, and protectionism. Addressing its foreign policy weaknesses is also of the utmost importance to prevent a deviation from common values in the long run. She pointed out that the credibility of Turkish membership in the EU has declined, calling into question the EU’s policies towards that country, fostering disillusionment with the European project. Human rights violations along the Turkish-Greek border have further painted EU principles in a bad light. In spite of this, Prof. Dr. Nas believes that respect for human dignity, the rule of law, justice, transparency and accountability are still universal, and the fight for these values will go on both inside and outside the Union.


Ms. Selvi Eren, Junior Researcher at IKV, delivered a lecture on the diverse challenges facing representative democracy in the EU, which has come under pressure from both the supranational and the national level. Ms. Eren focused on the Eurosceptic populist views which seek to reshape the structure of the integration project according to their own agenda. Attitudes to the European integration project, Ms. Eren emphasised, are not only deeply nuanced, encompassing a wide spectrum from pro-EU to anti-EU stances, but their core arguments also diverge on social, environmental, democratic and governance issues. Ms. Eren stressed the need to address these multi-layered challenges within the scope of the representative polity to effectively discuss the future of Europe. The lecture also discussed the “Brexit effect” on the integration project, the breaches of European values by individual member states and public opinion on the EU.

The fifth lecture is scheduled to take place at Cukurova University on the 6th of March 2020 and will focus on European Common Security and Foreign Policy and Turkey with guest speaker Dr. Ozan Kuyumcuoglu, Research Assistant at the International Relations Department of Istanbul Bilgi University.

Online Fellowship: Strengthening Resilience to Radicalisation & Disinformation in Central Asia

By Events, Projects

Online Fellowship Training Programme: Strengthening resilience to radicalisation and disinformation in Central Asia

The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC), in cooperation with Internews, organised a one-week online fellowship training programme from 26 to 30 of October 2020, dedicated to “Strengthening resilience to radicalisation and disinformation in Central Asia”.

The Phase II of this project is funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by Internews as a follow-up intervention which builds on lessons learned from the previous project “Contributing to stability and peace in Central Asia through media literacy, improved reporting and regional cooperation” (Phase I).

The 18-month long project places an emphasis on strengthening citizens’ capacity in countering violent extremist narratives and disinformation campaigns that lead to radicalisation through supporting  media, civil society organisations (CSO), government institutions, religious leaders and active citizens in Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. 

The trainings involved a wide range of speakers, such as representatives of EU institutions and experts dealing with Central Asia and media studies, all from different backgrounds, who shared their expertise with the 30 Central Asian fellows who participated in the sessions, debating the most pressings issues for journalists and civil society representatives working across the region.

The fellows started their week with an introductory session by Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, ENC Managing Director, on how the EU works, namely foreign policy and inter-institutional cooperation. Andreas Marazis, ENC Head of Research for Eastern Europe & Central Asia, followed by discussing EU-Central Asia Relations with the fellows. The first day of training continued with Jana Weber from Friedrich Naumann Foundation Brussels who outlined the main points on how EU Advocacy works. The first day was concluded with an exchange of views with EU official, Claes Andersson, who focused on how the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) and how the instrument fits into the new Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI).

Throughout the rest of the week the fellows had the chance to exchange views on media ethics and the role of journalism in preventing violent extremism and radicalisation. The fellows listened to the insignts of Aidan White, founder of the Ethical Journalism Network, Jack Parrock, journalist from Euronews, Vitalba Crivello from the European Parliament Research Service European Science Media Hub, and from Nafisa Hasanova from Reporters Without Borderswho provided interesting views on the different ethical conflicts and difficulties that journalists face when dealing with complex and sensitive topics, media owernership concentration and the disinformation “epidemic”.

The group also had the opportunity to learn more about different ways to access funding for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), namely from a top grant-giving organisation supported by EU member-states, the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) with Kristina Vaiciunaite, expert working with the Eurasia Programme and Vittoria Zanellati, Programme Officer at the European Partnership for Democracy . The speakers offered an overview on how to sucessfully apply for projects in the region and best practises on local media associations of journalists, among other things.

The last training session featured insights from Karin Heremans, an expert on radicalisation and is the leader of the education working group at the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), a European Commission initiative that brings together practitioners from across Europe who aim to prevent extremism, who briefed fellows on the European Commission current main guidelines on how to deal with radicalisation, through education, prevention and an hollistic local community approach.

The fellowship week was concluded with a public online round-table discussion dedicated to Terrorist groups’ violent narratives and their growing traction among local populations: Lessons from Italy, Western Balkans & Central Asia”  which was organised by the European Neighbourhood Council (ENC) in Brussels, in cooperation with Internews Central Asia’s office in Bishkek and the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD) and provided a stage for PVE experts from Europe and Central Asia to share findings from their latest research projects and effective practices in countering violent extremist narratives.

Report Launch Event: Socio-economic Impact of COVID-19 & Media Consumption in Central Asia

By Events, Projects, Research

Report Launch Event: Socio-economic Impact of COVID-19 and Media Consumption among Vulnerable Communities in Central Asia


The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC) in cooperation with Internews, released its new study: “Socio-economic Impact of COVID-19 and Media Consumption among Vulnerable Communities in Central Asia”. The report is part of the “Strengthening Resilience to Radicalisation and Disinformation in Central Asia through Independent Media (Phase II)” project, produced with the financial support of the European Union and implemented by Internews.

To mark the launch of the report, ENC and Internews organized an online event that took place on Friday, 11th of December 2020, featuring key opening remarks by Ambassador Peter Burian, European Union Special Representative for Central Asia, Marc Fiedrich, FPI2 Head of Unit at the European Commission, and Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive at Internews. The panel consisted of Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, ENC Managing Director, Andreas Marazis, ENC Head of Research for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and Shairbek Dzhuraev, Co-founder and President of Crossroads Central Asia. Ilhan Kyuchyuk, MEP from the Renew Europe Group and Rapporteur for Uzbekistan in the European Parliament wrapped up the event with his closing remarks.

Amb. Burian started by highlighting that post-COVID-19 recovery, while being very challenging, is also a unique opportunity to build back better. The importance of the ENC and Internews report is therefore crucial, as it helps the EU rethink its approach and better apprehend groups that were never focused on before. This societal participation is crucial in contributing to sustainable and inclusive governance.

A major constraint in standing up to the crisis is the uneven digitalisation happening in Central Asian countries, which undermines both governmental and societal efforts to address the pandemic. Among implications of this digitalisation is the limited access to reliable information due to the inability of state agencies to provide official data on time and attempts to conceal the scope of the problem. However, increased digitalisation can mitigate the effects of the crisis, especially for people living in rural and remote area.

Labour migrants, for example, which is one of the communities ENC and Internews focused on, were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, as they are not part of any social protection from their home nor host countries. This creates grievances and ground for radicalisation, and explains that, whereas most people joining ISIS from other parts of the world do so because of ideological reasons, recruits from Central Asia are lured based on economic incentives and misinformation.

Marc Fiedrich agreed that the pandemic has brough the issue of disinformation into all societies around the world, and that working on this issue will help us understand how manipulation of information is being used and what challenges the media are facing in Central Asia. To ensure that information is not used to undermine democratic institutions or to advocate violent extremism, it is important to support the media and civil society organisations (CSOs) but also government institutions, religious leaders and active citizens. Mr. Friedrich highlighted the importance of the report as a way to further nuance our appreciation of the different problematics in Central Asia.

Jodie Ginsberg emphasized that access to trustworthy and accurate information is not just a public good but can genuinely save lives, which is why this report is particularly important today. Ms. Ginsberg stated Internews’ ambition that journalists and media from Central Asia will use this report as a reference point in their own projects covering vulnerable communities, as it highlights the important gap of evidence on how vulnerable communities have been affected by the pandemic. Stakeholders, including governments and the international community could also learn from it, and use it in their communication strategies by creating people-centred stories and make the voices of the vulnerable communities heard.

During the panel discussion Samuel Doveri Vesterbye presented the methodology of the study, a tailor-made and rapid online analysis methodology based on a quantitative data survey of approximately 2,000 respondents across vulnerable communities in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as well as 500 qualitative semi-structured in-depth interviews with all three vulnerable communities and 120 “elite” interviews with content producers (journalists and bloggers) across Central Asia. He also refered to the desk research and the consultations with academics and fields experts that took place in order to identify the different vulnerable communities and the research gap.

Moving on to the key findings of the study, Mr. Doveri Vesterbye elaborated on the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. The findings suggest that labour migrants and ethnic minorities were the most impacted groups, reporting high level of unemployment and labour uncertainty. Another very clear pattern is that women are a particularly exposed sub-division within already vulnerable communities, especially regarding unemployment and uncertain work status rates. In general, 20% more women reported unemployment compared to men. 

Andreas Marazis explained the study’s findings related to trends and patterns of media consumption in Central Asia, which revolve around three categories: the media preferences, the internet access to information restrictions, and the language preference and availability for information consumption. In terms of media preference, data from the vulnerable communities and content producers suggest that the two main sources are television and the Internet. With regards to the different platforms, social media (mainly Instagram and Vkontakte), and instant messaging applications (WhatsApp and Telegram) are the most used. On the issue of Internet restrictions, 36% percent of refugees and stateless persons reported Internet restrictions in their country of residence. However, for ethnic minorities in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, it goes up to respectively 56% and 50%. Finally, the findings show that vulnerable groups favour the Russian language, with the exception of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, thus revealing a linguistic gap in terms of local news.

Shairbek Dzhuraev  focused on the impact of COVID-19 on media consumption. The pandemic became an unexpected source of danger to our physical well-being in addition to a sudden change in our way of life (shutdown of offices, closing of borders, lockdown). There was a significant increase in news consumption, especially related to the virus (statistics, precautionary measures), followed by a reverse effect of disengagement and demand for non-COVID-19-related content. Instant messaging services, in particular Telegram, Instagram and Zoom, saw a major growth in usage as a result of the pandemic. In terms of trust, there were three important trends found. Firstly, in Central Asia, international media are more trusted on COVID-19-related matters. Secondly, there is a discrepancy between those considering online media or television as the biggest source of unreliable information. Finally, there is no consensus on what type of information is actually “fake news”. As a result, debunking disinformation became a priority for content producers.

As a conclusion, Ilhan Kyuchyuk highlighted the importance of focusing on vulnerable groups in Central Asia, as challenges of Central Asia become part of the EU challenges as well, and cited for example illegal trade, terrorism, migration and climate change. When hit by a pandemic, it is even more crucial that the EU helps and supports groups that were the most affected: it is both an ethical and pragmatic choice, as when vulnerable people are suffering, they can become victims of disinformation and radicalization.

You can watch the recording of the report launch event below

ENC study: the impact of COVID-19 on media consumption among vulnerable communities in Central Asia

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ENC study: the impact of COVID-19 on media consumption among vulnerable communities in Central Asia

The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC), in cooperation with Internews Central Asia, presented the preliminary findings of their new study during an online event, which took place on August 6th, and was live streamed on Facebook. The study aims to provide a mapping of media and information consumption among three target communities (labour migrants, refugees/stateless persons and ethnic minorities) during the COVID-19 pandemic, while also identifying their vulnerabilities and risks of social exclusion.
Andreas Marazis, ENC Head of Research, Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, ENC Managing Director and Shairbek Dzhuraev, co-founder and director of Crossroads Central Asia shared early findings of their research on media consumption among vulnerable communities in Central Asia, the impact of COVID-19 and the link between access to information and poorer socio-economic conditions.
The first results arising from the quantitative data survey, which reached thousands of interviewees, showed that COVID-19 had a tremendous impact on the living conditions of these communities. Over 50% of labour migrants in the region are currently unemployed, a number which is due to increase over time, while poverty among refugees is becoming more widespread.
At the same time, the findings demonstrated that these communities lack coverage in most media platforms (TV, radio, press and online media) across the region and need to be more representated through different minority languages beyond Russian.
The results also indicate that the levels of uncertainty for all groups rose, including unemployment. However, labour migrants and refugees/stateless people are far more at risk of job uncertainty. Concerning income levels, refugees and stateless people reported the lowest levels, followed by labour migrants, whereas ethnic minorities reported the most financially secure status among the three groups.
The graphics below demonstrate some of these figures:
When it comes to media consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of internet is widespread among all communities with an absolute majority confirming online platforms as their preferred medium to access news and information, with the exception of Uzbekistan, where social media usage is low in comparison. Language concerns on COVID-19 information are also high among all groups and range between 10 and 20% of individuals within these communities desiring other languages than the ones available to obtain information.
Overall, there were varying degrees of trust towards government in terms of their handling of the new Coronavirus and availability of information, standing at 50/50 in most countries. However, many individuals simply did not have access to diverse and/or quality information, or the tools to access it.
ENC and Internews Central Asia will continue their research until the end of September 2020, looking into finalising the report by the end of October 2020.
You can access the video of the online event here.

Online discussion: The human dimension to EU-Uzbekistan relations: youth, exchange, and a better life

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Online discussion: The human dimension to EU-Uzbekistan relations: youth, exchange, and a better life

The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC), in cooperation with the Embassy of Uzbekistan to Belgium, organised an online discussion on 16 July 2020 dedicated to “The human dimension to EU-Uzbekistan relations: youth, exchange, and a better life”.

This discussion aimed at identifying common ground with Uzbekistan on the improvement of relations through fellowships, people-to-people contact, exchange and youth aspirations. Important notions like increasing the visibility of the EU, and a better understanding of the needs of young people were highlighted throughout the event. Uzbekistan’s new reform process was also underlined as key to advance the new Enhanced Parternership and Cooperation Agreement, a milestone in EU-Uzbekistan relations, and much needed to foster youth development, business environment and economic cooperation.


The debate was moderated by ENC Managing Director, Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, and featured remarks by Ilhan Kyuchyuk, MEP from the Renew  Europe Group and newly appointed Rapporteur for Uzbekistan in the European Parliament. Mr.  Kyuchyuk took this first opportunity to share his thoughts on the EU relations with the country since his nomination, noting that the current momentum is very positive seeing as reforms well on going ahead of the signature of the new Enhanced Parternership and Cooperation Agreement. While there are challenges, he noted that there is also a lot of room for the EU and Uzbekistan to “get to know each other better” and foster opportunities of cooperation in priority areas such as civil society engagement, education, sustainability, water management, labour migration, connectivity and radicalisation. He added that nothing is sustainable and stable without democracy and people-centered policies, which the ENC has been promoting through fellowships and training for Central Asian young academics.

Andreas Marazis, ENC Head of Research for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, presented his paper for the first time, which was the background to the discussion,  and provided some insights on the notion of good life in the region and the main results of his research. He noted that Central Asian youths rank family, wealth, economy, health, employment, social status and security as the main priorities for a good life, in line with European priorities too. In the views of Central Asians, this concept is closely interlinked with socio-economic development and better relations with European partners.

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The pannel also featured H.E. Ambassador Dilyor Khakimov, Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the EU, a representative of Akmal Burkhanov, chair of the Yuksalish (Progress) National Movement, Maciej Madalinski, Deputy Team Leader  for Central Asian countries and Mongolia at DG DEVCO, Gulnoza Ismailova, Vice Rector of University World Economy & Diplomacy and Sanja Valiev, Deputy Director of the Institute of Strategic and Interregional Studies.

All speakers agreed that the focus on youth is an absolute priority for Uzbekistan and Central Asia, underlining that the EU should support prosperity and resilience, living up to the new EU Strategy for Central Asia, both in urban and rural areas, promoting exchanges, people-to-people contacts, funding opportunities for civil society organisations, vocational trainings and women representation.

You can find the full discussion: here