Day By Day

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Kyrgyzstan -- a problematic revolution

Here in the west the recent Kyrgyzstan revolution was initially hailed as a triumph for the democratic imperative emanating from Georgia and Ukraine. The US and EU endorsed the regime change and even Moscow seemed to acquiesce. But there were disturbing signs that not all might be going well.

I have noted some of these in earlier posts here, here, and here. Some observed that what was happening resembled a coup more than a real revolution. I opined that the Kyrgyz experience illustrated the limits of democratic reform more than it did the power of the imperative.

Martha Brill Olcott of the Carnegie Endowment sumarizes the difficulties:
The Tulip Revolution has been suffering a lot of bad press lately, fed in part by the frustration of Kyrgyzstan's young political activists from student groups and other nongovernmental organizations who had very idealized versions of what a transfer of power was likely to bring. Like Ukraine and Georgia, one faction of the split political elite took over from another. But unlike Georgia, power was not transferred from one generation to another. Unlike Ukraine, the worldview of the newcomers does not vary significantly from their predecessors', and the foreign policies that they will pursue will likely be identical.

The Tulip Revolution was also messier than its Georgian and Ukrainian predecessors, and in both the north and the south of Kyrgyzstan, crowds rushed government buildings, leaving a trail of civilian and government casualties -- including a few fatalities -- behind them. It was also messier politically, as President Askar Akayev swore in the legislature that the crowds had taken to the streets to protest. And once Akayev refused to resign formally, the interim government felt obliged to compromise with the new legislature rather than risk a constitutional crisis that could have resulted in civil war.

The result is that the interim government in Kyrgyzstan faces an uphill battle to demonstrate its democratic credentials.

She warns:
The Kyrgyz elite have the fate of their nation in their hands. Now that all the major factions in the Kyrgyz elite -- save Akayev and his most intimate associates -- have been brought into the interim government, it is time for the elite to appease the masses.

Well, that elite does not seem to be as united as she supposes. We now hear of this:
Usen Kudaibergenov, the prominent public figure instrumental in stabilization of the situation in Bishkek after March 24, was murdered at his own place, yesterday. Kudaibergenov had organized volunteer detachments in Bishkek to fight looters after the revolution. These last several days he tried to put an end to takeover of land in Bishkek to which the authorities were turning a blind eye. His assassination may aggravate tension in the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

Taybas news agency reports that what information is available at this point indicates that Kudaibergenov was assassinated for his political activities. Felix Kulov and he headed defense of the White House on March 24. Afterwards, Kudaibergenov set out to collar all looters who had ransacked Bishkek on the night on March 25. It was Kudaibergenov that organized defense and prevented the looting of the Central Department Store, National Bank and other financial establishments, Meerim, Ala-Archa presidential residence, 12 Fireplaces cafe, strategic objects, Detention Cell No 1, private companies…

Read it at

All of this raises the question of a democratic outcome is possible. Vera Tokombaeva is dubious. She writes:

Most Kyrgyzstanis see politics above all as the possibility of controlling different branches of society. When the biggest piece of the pierogi belongs to the former ruler, then redistribution is a serious threat. To put it another way, chances are good that the republic will repeat its mistake....

There were slogans about democracy and the market economy, but nothing more. Now new ideas could flare up – liberalism, nationalism, religion. Today small leaders are keen to establish their own rule. Moreover, there is the danger that a new, revanchist opposition of former 'Akayevists' will emerge, who would have to give back their property, or replace what they have squandered. In past weeks it has become only too clear that the new rulers have neither a concrete programme, nor an ability for compromise, nor even the readiness to give up their own ambitions in favour of a constructive solution. Never was Kyrgyzstani society so near to clan war - a war over land and pastures, as the nomadic tribes have been waging since time immemorial....

Read her original here. English excerpts here.

I fear that Ms. Tokombaeva is right. There is little chance that the Kyrgyzstan coup will result in meaningful reform of that nation's institutions. And if that is the case, there is little liklihood that the democratic imperative will spread to other areas of Central Asia. The democratic reform imperative seems to be reaching its limits. Still, I might be wrong -- there may yet be a miracle in Central Asia. We can always hope.

Stay tuned....


No comments: