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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 13:05 GMT
Central Asia's independence generation
Children in Almadin question Muratbek Imanaliev
Kyrgyz children are free to hold MPs to account
As part of the BBC's Generation Next season, Chris Ancil visits the central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan and meets the children who have no memory of life under the former USSR - the so-called "independence generation."

In the small Kyrgyz town of Alamidin, close to the Kazakh border, a classroom of school children gather with an air of anticipation.

The BBC World Service is hosting a forum with the local opposition MP Kanibek Imanaliev.

The young people hold Imanaliev locked in a passionate debate for over an hour.

Only 15 years ago, any opposition to government in Kyrgyzstan - then part of the USSR - was banned by the ruling Communist party, and all so-called anti-Communist liberal thinking and expression was strongly controlled by the omnipresent security forces, the KGB.

But in Almadin, the "Independence Generation" feel no such restraints, openly discussing matters close to their hearts - including demanding to know where the books he promised the school in his campaign speeches are.

Uzbek tensions

But things are different on the other side of the vast and beautiful Ala Tau Mountains, in the southern capital of Osh, which, as a result of the borders created with neighbouring Uzbekistan in the Soviet era, has a predominantly young and Uzbek population.

Osh and the surrounding Fergana Valley have become a potential hotbed of regional instability in recent years, brought about by high levels of unemployment in a young population, ethnic diversity, and strong debates about the use of the local natural water resources so crucial to the region's economy.

It was because of Stalin and Gorbachev that the Soviet Union collapsed
Abro, 16
In May 2005, eyewitnesses reported that Uzbek security forces had shot dead hundreds of people in Andijian - an event that led to hundreds of Uzbeks seeking asylum around the world.

Recently, young Uzbeks in Sweden, Afghanistan, the UK and Kyrgyzstan discussed their similar yet different lives and experiences living around the world in a live BBC discussion.

Shokhrukh, who now lives in Sweden, explained his feelings towards his home country.

"There is huge difference between life in Sweden and life in Uzbekistan," he said.

"Sweden is a developed country, everyone is wealthy and free - but most importantly there is a democracy here.

"There is a democracy in Uzbekistan, but only on paper. There is nothing in practice. If you try and express yourself freely, you will definitely be imprisoned."

'Life is never easy'

Although these young people live very different lives in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, northern Afghanistan and Europe, it seemed that their hopes and dreams for the future were very similar. Continuing their education, finding a good job and having a family were all very important.

Mohira Asadova signs autographs
Mohira Asadova (centre) is a massive star in Uzbekistan
But also - as with many young people - there was a dream among many to be a famous pop star, living a life of luxury and performing to adoring fans.

And at Mendeleyev School, in the wintry trading town of Nookat near Osh, some of them got to meet one - Mohira Asadova, one of Uzbekistan's most celebrated singers.

"Life is never easy," she told them.

"It is a struggle, whatever your profession. But without a struggle, you will never achieve your aims.

"By learning to analyse your daily achievements, each night before bed, your life will be more fruitful."

The school hall had been colourfully decorated for Mohira's visit, with posters on the wall celebrated the virtues of music bringing the people of the world together.

The "Independence Generation" revelled in this opportunity to meet a superstar and dance and sing along when Mohira performed later.

But this celebration of performing arts would have been inconceivable for elder siblings of these pupils.

Costs and benefits

It is perhaps surprising then that, like most of the other pupils, 16-year-old Abro, head boy at the school, has a remarkably vague understanding of Kyrgyzstan's recent history.

"It was because of Stalin and Gorbachev that the Soviet Union collapsed" he said.

Ulmas working at the bazaar in Osh
Ulmas has worked every day since he was 13 to look after his mother
Whilst some of the older generation might now view the Soviet era through rose-tinted glasses, there does seem to be an argument that many young people have been told only of the system's ills.

The costs and benefits of the fall of the USSR can be seen in two pupils - 15-year-old Mahmira Dildora and Ulmas, also 15.

Mahmira is a strongly religious Muslim and is very much aware of how Soviet rule prevented her mother from observing Ramadan. She enjoys her religious freedom and the fact that nowadays, as you drive around Kyrgyzstan, you see newly-built mosques and churches in most towns.

But for Ulmas, who has worked every day for two years in the vast trading bazaar in Osh, life is hard without the support of the state.

Ulmas is the only source of income for his mother, with whom he lives in the small house they share with his aunt's family.

Despite this, he maintains an optimistic outlook on life.

"I used to hope that my parents might to be able to, one day, buy me a toy for my birthday," he said.

"Now I wish to buy myself a bicycle and then a car. But in order to achieve this you have to work hard."

It is never easy to be a teenager anywhere. Young people growing up in fast-changing yet still mainly traditional societies, with fragile economies and authoritarian regimes facing even bigger challenges.

But if the Kyrgyz and Uzbek teenagers that I met during my trip are anything to go by, they seem ready to face the new world.


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