Beate Eschment: “Online conferences do not replace personal conversations at all”

Beate Eschment's focus of interest and research is Central Asia, currently especially Kazakhstan and the interethnic relations there.

What impact does the pandemic currently have on your work?

For me personally, the lockdown had a positive effect on the one hand because it allowed me to work on my publications in concentrated form in the quiet environment at home. On the other hand, I am increasingly missing the professional exchange with my colleagues. Online conferences etc. are very helpful tools, but for me they do not replace personal conversations at all.

How has Covid-19 influenced your research topic?

Direct personal contacts are also very important for my research, as are observations on site - in other words, field research. Since it is currently impossible to predict when a stay in Kazakhstan will be possible again, I had to postpone a planned publication project, for which I would have had to conduct supplementary talks in Almaty, and look for topics that I can work on with the material already available. There are many issues that can be easily discussed in a personal conversation, whereas e-mail and Skype are often too impersonal for that.

In your view, what are the most important long-term effects of Covid-19 in your region?

This is not yet clear in detail. Above all, the economic consequences will hit the five Central Asian states hard. Particularly the two poorest, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which will also lose the remittances sent by many of their citizens who are labour migrants in Russia, probably for a long time to come. Uzbekistan is in a better position, but has been looking for foreign capital and know-how for the past three years, which will become more difficult with a weakening world economy. But even Kazakhstan, which is much better placed economically, but heavily dependent on oil exports, could run into major problems if the oil price does not recover soon.

Politically, the coronavirus has set a lot in motion, but in my opinion the long-term effects are not yet predictable. Just for the sake of completeness: allegedly, there has not been a single case of Covid-19 in Turkmenistan so far, which seems very unlikely.

Looking at your discipline, how will the experience of the pandemic change how research is done in general?

Central Asian studies have so far been strongly based on field research. If the restrictions on travel and contacts remain in place for a very long time, we will have to switch to other topics and sources. But I still have the hope that we can travel again soon.

Beate Eschment is a Central Asia expert and researcher at ZOiS.