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The CIS Brat Pack

A look at the children of leaders around the former USSR and their charmed lives. by Ioana Caloianu 14 June 2011

Despite their tender ages, they’re already rich and famous, leading lives to arouse the envy of their peers who weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Or with the genes of a Central Asian leader. Some pundits note their precocious successes and speculate about political dynasties being established by their authoritarian fathers. Others, like Christopher Bluth, a Central Asia expert at the University of Leeds, argue that they owe their positions to economic rather than political considerations. For these pampered few, “it is not a matter of being good at their jobs, their main role is to remain in there for a long time and make as much money as possible,” he told the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute’s Analyst magazine in 2009.  Either way, TOL brings you a list of the best, worst, and definitely most notorious offspring of leaders from Eastern Europe to Central Asia. 


The youngest entry on our list is 6-year-old Kolya, the son of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka by a woman who is not his wife. While most children his age spend their time playing with friends, Lukashenka junior spends his accompanying his father on diplomatic trips to the Vatican (where, according to his father, the pope cried at the sight of the child) and Armenia (where he sat on his father’s knee throughout a meeting with the country’s president, Serzh Sarkisyan), or to military parades, where he wore an uniform that matched his father’s. In response to the allegation that the quality time spent by the father and the son in the public eye is nothing but a PR gimmick, the president explained that the boy is “his tail” and that he cannot go anywhere without him: “He says, 'Papa, I'm going with you,' and that's it! I get in the helicopter – he follows." Who would have expected the man dubbed Europe’s last dictator to have so little authority over his 6-year-old son?


Maksim Bakiev
Another beloved son has a family name well known to Alyaksandr Lukashenka, seeing that his father is living in Belarus, where he was offered asylum after being ousted from the position of president of Kyrgyzstan in April 2010. Kurmanbek Bakiev’s 34-year-old son, Maksim Bakiev, had led the country’s Agency for Development, Investments, and Innovations, which manages foreign investments in the country as well as major state assets, including energy companies and gold mines – effectively controlling the entire economy of Kyrgyzstan. Although he saw his political career cut short by the uprising that ended the family’s profitable career, he probably won’t have to worry about (not) getting a job anytime soon: according to Kyrgyzstan’s prosecutor general, Maksim siphoned off state funds, which he then used to buy and sell shares on foreign stock exchanges. The Interpol fugitive was detained in the U.K. a year ago, moments after flying into the country in order to seek political asylum. He faces allegations of embezzlement and abuse of power in Kyrgyzstan.


Rustan Emomali
The offspring of most Central Asian leaders, however, look to be as secure as their entrenched fathers. Three months ago, Rustam Emomali, 23, the eldest son of Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, was appointed to head the Tajik customs service’s department to combat smuggling. Previously he directed a state department for the development of small and medium-sized enterprises, and in 2009, he was elected the head of the country’s Youth Union, an organization similar to the Soviet-era Komsomol. In addition, he is the owner of and a striker for the Dushanbe soccer club Istiqlol (Independence), and the deputy president of the national soccer federation. Known for his love of expensive cars, he is said to organize midnight races on the streets of Dushanbe. In an attempt to win the hearts, and presumably the future votes, of the local electorate, he organized a mass “circumcision party” in March with, according to Tajik television, “the aim of fulfilling parents' fervent wishes and pleasing their children." His siblings aren’t doing too badly, either: in 2009, the president’s eldest daughter, Ozoda, was appointed deputy foreign minister, while the teenage Zarina, another of the president’s seven daughters, landed a summer job as an anchor for Tajik television.


Another famous “first daughter,” Leyla Alieva of Azerbaijan, can boast of being the granddaughter and daughter of the two most recent leaders of her country as well as the wife of popular singer Emin Agalarov, son of Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov. The story of the glamorous couple sounds like a modern-day version of Romeo and Juliet (albeit without the tragic ending): despite her father Ilham Aliev’s strong opposition, the steadfast Leyla stood by the man of her dreams. After marrying him, she didn’t settle for just the role of housewife and mother of two. In addition to being the vice president of the Heydar Aliev Foundation in Russia, Leyla, 26, heads up a youth forum on intercultural dialogue in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, chairs the Azerbań≥ani Youth Organization in Russia (which carries out cultural exchange programs between Azerbaijan and Russia), and is the founder and editor in chief of the Moscow-based magazine Baku. She also launched the “Justice for Khojaly” campaign to publicize the fate of hundreds of Azeri civilians from the Nagorno-Karabakh city killed in February 1992 by Armenian and Russian soldiers. You may also remember her as the fetching young woman in the Azerbaijan tourism spots on CNN.


No such list would be complete without Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of the Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov. The 37-year-old’s biography would make a Renaissance man blush: philanthropist, UN ambassador, singer, fashion and jewelry designer, businesswoman, and, according to a 2005 cable by the then-U.S. ambassador in Tashkent, “the single most hated person in Uzbekistan.” This is connected with her business activities, mainly in Zeromax, a company involved in transportation, oil and gas, mining, agriculture, and private investment that she allegedly controls and that has annual sales of more than $1 billion. An unnamed source quoted by Foreign Policy in 2009 named Zeromax as “essentially one of the facades behind which Gulnara Karimova continues to tighten her grip on any and all available sources of income in the country by any means she deems necessary, with little or no regard for legal niceties.”


Her former husband, Mansur Maqsudi, would probably have a thing or two to say about the origins of Gulnara’s massive fortune. An American citizen, Maqsudi was the chairman of Coca-Cola in Uzbekistan and, as Gulnara’s husband, had boundless opportunities to surpass his competitors. Once he filed for divorce, his business was crippled and three of his relatives were imprisoned.


Of course, it is hard to tell whether the Harvard-educated fashion designer, known as “Guli” to her fans, had anything to do with her ex-husband’s problems. What is certain is that, while Karimova was spending time last year in Cannes as the co-chairwoman of a celebrity AIDS research benefit in Uzbekistan, an AIDS campaigner was jailed for distributing pamphlets on the prevention of the disease. For a deeper insight into the life and times of Guli Karimova, you can follow her (and an imposter) on Twitter.

Ioana Caloianu is an editorial assistant at TOL.
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