Life in the region of Batken can be hard.

Situated in the south west of Kyrgystan, Batken is one of the poorest regions in the country. The population spend most days trying to make a living and when they do get the opportunity to relax, they prefer to watch TV programmes from the neighbouring Tajikistan rather than campaign for local change. This means many issues facing the district remain unsolved. Fundamental rights of citizens – like access to basic services – are not protected and people feel far removed from the decisions that impact on their lives.

Radio Salam: engaging young people in local government

There are positive signs of change though.

For the local people, Batken means rocky soil, apricots and Radio Salam – a reputable radio station that is engaging young people about the future of Batken.

WFD started working with Radio Salam in October 2018 to launch a series of programmes with the aim of raising awareness of citizens’ rights and the responsibilities of local authorities, including how they make legislation and engage citizens in local government.

Radio Salam broadcast a weekly 15-minute session called “Voice of Batken” which aims to raise awareness on topics of relevance to local people. There is also a monthly 45 minute “Open Dialogue” discussion, which invites a local expert or member of the local authorities to answer questions from local people. The programmes have proved popular, not only among the local population but also with local councillors.

Head of Batken city Council, Mr. Almazbek Tashbekov said:

“We are grateful to Westminster Foundation for Democracy for launching this timely programme because we see the importance of this radio programme and can hear new aspects of councillors’ roles and responsibilities we had not heard before”.

Positive signs of change

Radio programmes in Batken do not just raise awareness on local government responsibilities but encourage citizens to speak up and voice their concerns.

A young activist Mr Nurlanbek Usonov used the radio programme to engage with the Mayor’s Office and ask why the building of the local community centre had been outsourced to a private construction company. As a result, local activists met with the representatives of the local authority and the Mayor’s Office took action to ensure the community centre is accessible to local citizens.

From learning about their rights and the roles and responsibilities of local councillors’ young activists are showing a high interest in the political life of their district. For example, the last session for local councillors in December 2018 saw more than 15 young activists participate. This was previously unheard of in Batken.

When the Minister of Labour and Social Development Mr. Ulukbek Kochkorov was invited to appear on Radio Salam, he responded to over 100 questions from local citizens on topics as broad as social security, migration, employment and social services in Batken.

One of the most pressing issues raised by listeners was the treatment of the children of migrants, who often stay with their grandparents or other family members while their parents earn a living in Russia or other countries.

Following the radio phone in, Mr. Kochkorov instructed local social care services to visit every household and make a database of the children of migrants. According to the new regulation that was introduced, parents can only leave their children with relatives.

Mr. Kochkorov thanked Radio Salam, saying:

“You are working with and for the population just like us MPs. We are grateful to you because every voice needs to be heard”.