Kyrgyzstan was once seen as one of the post-Soviet states best positioned to build democracy and foster a market economy. It is now mired in corruption, political dysfunction, and economic stagnation. Pelkmans paints an earthy portrait of how people in one Kyrgyz city, a former mining town of 20,000 inhabitants, have coped. Half of them have fled. Those who stayed have adopted a variety of credos to help them understand their new world. Initially, many hewed to neoliberalism, which promised a future of democracy and prospering markets. When those dreams failed to materialize, people drifted to alternatives, including nationalism and religion, with conservative Islam (ushered in by Tablighi Jamaat, a proselytizing group that encourages personal piety), Pentecostal Christianity, and shamanistic spiritual healing all enjoying a surge in popularity. Pelkmans focuses on the swift cycle in which these belief systems gained purchase over people and generated enthusiasm and energy, which then deflated when prophets failed and outcomes disappointed. He is interested in not merely the force of ideas but also what determines their influence, durability, and decline.
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