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What is the difference between the market and the bazaar? Is the difference only in the origin of the words, or do they define any relationship specificities unique to culture of their origin? Will the laws and rules that govern market relationships in the West are also applicable to the Central Asian region where everyday life and social relations revolve around informal practices and transactions? In order to answer these questions, it is important to understand how national and international laws, norms and (written and unwritten) rules come to interplay and shape the business environment in the five post-Soviet republics of Central Asia.

The Central Asian Law project, entailing the collaboration between 6 European universities and 6 Central Asian partners, aims to address these questions.

Over the last two decades, economic relations between the EU and the five post-Soviet Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) have evolved around two parallel and contradictory patterns. On the one hand, due to the efforts of the EU, economic relations and inter-dependence have increased and the presence of EU companies in the region has expanded significantly. On the other hand, inconsistent business ethics standards – and the peculiar way in which rule of law is interpreted and applied in the region, also called “the local way of doing business” have hindered and limited the role of foreign companies in the region. Building on recent political developments leading to the opening up of previously closed and inaccessible countries, Central Asian Law is a research and training programme that aims to promote greater understanding and explanation of the interconnections between legal cultures, local business environments and governance in Central Asia. This will enable the Central Asian Law team to:

1) produce new empirical knowledge on legal cultures and business ethics in the region;

2) engage with, and challenge, existing theoretical paradigms within socio-legal studies, law, economic and business sciences, Central Asian studies (post-Soviet studies, more generally) and governance scholarship;

3) provide strategic intelligence for business actors interested or already operating in the region;

4) inform international organizations and decision makers in the EU and Central Asia on possible ways to improve the business and investment climate, the rule of law and governance in the region.

The project will be conducted in 4 phases. The first phase will focus on increasing the capacity of the research fellows from Central Asia at designated secondment institutions. This will be followed by teams of seconded fellows and local researchers working on institutional and socio-legal context analysis, thus charting the region’s legal environments and analysing formal and informal business practices. Capacity building will continue on in the second phase with secondment of EU researchers to non-EU partners. This phase will also include further work on research design and preparation for data collection. The next stage of the project will concentrate on carrying out national surveys on legal cultures, corruption and business climate in Central Asia. The final fourth phase will be the interpretation of the collected data and evaluation of implications, which will also include the dissemination of the project results.