Over 150 guests listened as Her Excellency Roza Otunbayeva recounted the “darkest days and nights” of the 2010 uprising that precipitated Kyrgyzstan’s recent and remarkable democratic transition, “We allowed hate to take root in our hearts,” she said, adding that all citizens of Kyrgyzstan must accept blame for the country’s recent history of inter-ethnic violence.
A distinguished audience joined His Highness the Aga Khan and Secretary General John McNee in welcoming President Otunbayeva as the first speaker in the Annual Pluralism Lecture Series for her lecture, “Prospects for Democracy and Pluralism in Central Asia: Lessons from the Kyrgyz Republic.” Speaking as Chairman of the Global Centre for Pluralism’s Board of Directors, His Highness said, “As a leader, President Otunbayeva understood the democratic aspirations of her people, guiding the country, in all its diversity, through Central Asia’s first peaceful and constitutional transition of power – a remarkable achievement for governance inside and outside of Kyrgyzstan.”
Although much progress has been made, Madame Otunbayeva emphasized that Kyrgyzstan is still struggling to navigate its ethnic diversity. She highlighted Canada’s bilingualism, noting that language policy remains contentious in her country. Corruption and the quality of the judiciary are also problems. “Miracles do not happen overnight,” she said. Increased international investment and development will contribute, she hoped, to the country’s long-term prospects for peace, prosperity and pluralism.
Following the lecture, Madame Otunbayeva answered several audience questions, ably assisted by Huguette Labelle of the Centre’s Board of Directors. The Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson, another Board member, thanked President Otunbayeva on behalf of His Highness and the Centre, presenting her at the close of the evening with an inukshuk – an Inuit sculpture signifying “you are on the right path” – as a remembrance of the occasion.