Kyrgyzstan Time UTC/GMT +6 hours
Capital City Bishkek
Currency Kyrgyzstani som
National Day 31 August
ONE OF HIS COUNTRY’S best-known civic activists, the new Ambassador of Kyrgyz Republic Edil Baisalov has spent his career bravely advocating democratic reforms and promoting the rule of law. He arrived in London on 31 July, which gave him a good opportunity to settle in. “Arriving during this slow period helped me to learn the ropes before I was properly introduced to the diplomatic community.” He also had a chance to get to know the capital. “I have enjoyed long bike rides and jogging through the streets. This is a great city and I have enjoyed discovering something new every day.”
Mr Baisalov came of age as Kyrgyzstan achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. He recalls his parents being quite critical of the Soviet order. (His father’s family was first devastated by the purges of Kyrgyz tribal leadership when their herds of horses were expropriated during collectivisation. Those who survived were later killed in World War II. “My father was orphaned; he lost not only both his parents, but all his brothers and uncles.”) He explains: “I grew up a Soviet boy in a small, remote, high-altitude town on the Chinese border. I was always curious about politics and how decisions made in faraway capitals can impact one’s life. Back in the Gorbachev era, many of the parliamentary sessions were broadcast at night, and I would stay up until the early hours following every word.”
When Kyrgyzstan became independent, he said “Suddenly all kinds of opportunities opened up: I went to Turkey to study, and then on to the US as an exchange student.” But in the back of his mind, he didn’t want to leave Kyrgyzstan. “Life was much more exciting there with all these great, historic shifts taking place.” He studied Business Administration and International Relations at the American University of Central Asia, and Political Science at Kyrgyz State National University.
He became active in business, attracting foreign investment from Switzerland and facilitating numerous deals. But his interest in politics remained, and he soon became the head of the largest grassroot civil society coalition in the country. “Our pressure group advocated democratic reforms, monitored elections and publicised human rights violations. Active and outspoken, we were soon at the forefront of sweeping events, similar in nature to the democratic revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia.” Now a defender of human rights and public commentator with a large following, Mr Baisalov played a key role in bringing down the authoritarian governments in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and 2010. His voice was persistent in the fight against corruption and organised crime, often at great risk to his safety. From 2008-10 he lived in Sweden as a UNHCR refugee.
The Ambassador briefly served as Chief of Staff to the Head of the Interim Government in 2010, acting as her special representative on his country’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2012-13. He also worked as the deputy Social Development Minister, responsible for children, the disabled and elderly.
Now as Ambassador in the UK, he wishes “to celebrate the independence of [his] people and increase the British public’s awareness of [his] country. Winning their sympathy and gaining recognition and respect are worthy goals by themselves. Of course,” he continues, “there is pressure to achieve quantifiable results by attracting investment, increasing trade and tourism numbers. I fully embrace these goals.” He also recognises that being an ambassador in London is “much larger than just representing your country in the UK. London really is a world capital. We shouldn’t think of our work only in bilateral terms, but remember that we must deal with the high concentration of global business, finance, media, cultural powerhouses and influential players all in this one great city.”
From day one, Mr Baisalov has been closely following Brexit. “I was quite disappointed by the results of the referendum. In Kyrgyzstan, the EU is perceived to be an important partner in promoting democracy, the rule of law, transparency and accountability. As a former human rights activist, it’s especially important to me.” But going forward, he says, “the British people have spoken, and we respect their decision.” He also notes that these developments naturally make his new role rather more exciting. “If the UK does decide to leave the EU, it must run its sovereign relations from London, and not delegate the various functions to Brussels as has been the case in the past. This is a time of great opportunity to renew and strengthen the UK and Kyrgyzstan’s relations!” he declares.