It’s all too easy to assume that the Central Asian cluster of post-Soviet republics often ending in the suffix ‘stan’ can be grouped as a semi-homogeneous whole.
The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – as they are known – certainly share a great deal of history, not least of which is their formations following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
But the countries which make up this region of almost a quarter of a billion people – Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Russia, Moldova, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Belarus and Azerbaijan (alongside ‘associate states’ Turkmenistan and Ukraine) – are far from interchangeable.
In fact, the confederation is home to a startling array of customs, traditions, languages and viewpoints which can be bewildering to an outside observer.
Fortunately for Tangiers International, ‘outside observer’ is not the way it does things.
Our field agent in the region is responsible for facilitating medical cases and locating claimants as well as interpreting and translation services across the CIS.
Born in Uzbekistan to a Crimean Tatar mother, she is an expert in overcoming the bureaucratic – and cultural – hurdles which exist there.
Working with Tangiers since 2011, she knows more than most that, despite superficial similarities, the CIS region is often characterised by a fierce sense of national pride from its respective members.
She said: “Of course, they are united by often being called ‘stan countries’ but if you start comparing them to each other, it’s easy to offend people.
“Each nation is quite different and they are very proud people with unique customs.”
Working in the CIS brings challenges which our agent – who now lives in Crimea – has to overcome on a regular basis, from negotiating the demands of local customs to satisfying the requirements of global insurers.
“It’s very interesting to deal with the people here,” she explained. “Depending on who you’re speaking to, you cannot just say ‘I will give you this and you’ll give me something in return’. No, it’s a long process which involves understanding their particular culture, modifying your approach on the spot and eventually succeeding and hitting the target.
“For example, if you’re working with an injured claimant, it can be difficult to persuade them that you are interested in their case and that you’re trying to help them. They might ask ‘Why do you want all of these papers? You can see well enough that I am injured and suffering’.
“At times they are not aware of their rights. Sometimes, even that they have insurance.”
These difficulties also extend to medical protocols such as issuing a certificate of maximum medical improvement.
“In some of these countries, it’s not usual to provide these certificates so it can take some negotiating in order to get hold of what we need.”
But despite the difficulties, our agent explained that the natural warmth shown by the local people she meets in the region made working there a rewarding experience.
“I would say that hospitality is probably the main feature of these countries. You will walk down a street and be invited to every house as a guest. And a guest is someone to be treated in the highest regard.
“And what I’m delighted about at the moment, is that these countries are getting international tourism – opening up more to the outside world so people can experience the rich cultural diversity that the CIS has always stood for.”