[Marxism] Lee Sustar on Kyrgyzstan

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Apr 2 13:02:39 MST 2005

Counterpunch Weekend Edition
April 2 / 3, 2005
What's Driving the Uprising?
Off the Script in Kyrgyzstan


Chicago, Illinois

A mass uprising that chased the authoritarian president of Kyrgyzstan out 
of his country March 24 went beyond Washington's scripted "people power 
revolutions" in the republics of the former USSR. But newly empowered 
opposition leaders quickly closed ranks against the protesters.

The new government--based on a rigged parliamentary election that sparked 
the protests to begin with--has dispersed protesters who demanded an 
election rerun, promising only to move forward presidential elections 
previously scheduled for October. The new parliament--dominated by 
supporters of ousted President Askar Akayev, including his daughter and 
son--will hold power.

Demonstrations began after the March 13 vote to protest the exclusion of 
opposition candidates from the ballot. Then, 30,000 protesters stormed the 
presidential building known as the White House, in the capital city of 
Bishkek. Akayev fled.

Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country of just 5 million people, lacks the oil 
and gas of its Central Asian neighbors. However, its border with China and 
proximity to Afghanistan give it an outsized strategic importance. Both the 
U.S. and Russia maintain air bases there and contend for influence.

As in Georgia's "Rose Revolution" in late 2003 and Ukraine's "Orange 
Revolution" last winter, U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) lavishly 
funded the opposition, printing its newspapers and training its candidates. 
Washington apparently had aimed for a smoother transition later this year 
by holding Akayev to his word about not seeking a third presidential 
term--and backing a pro-U.S. candidate.

Thus, both the divided opposition and U.S. officials appeared to be as 
stunned as Akayev by the uprising. "The U.S. has not endorsed this change," 
Pakistani journalist and Central Asia expert Ahmed Rashid told Socialist 
Worker. "This has been a big shock. They said, 'We want calm.'"

Boris Kagarlitsky, the Russian author and activist, agreed. "On the one 
hand, the U.S. State Department is definitely involved," he said in an 
interview from Moscow. "On the other, I'm sure they didn't want to get rid 
of Akayev. They wanted to prepare the ground to replace him [following 
presidential elections] one year from now, but it got out of control."

The post-election protests were fueled not only by political frustration, 
but by the poverty that grips at least half the population. Looting across 
Bishkek targeted the big retail establishments owned by Akayev's son, 
highlighting the resentment against the tiny circle of family members and 
cronies who dominate the economy.

The opposition, however, are former ruling-class insiders cast aside by 
Akayev. They promptly split upon seizing power, with both the outgoing and 
newly elected parliaments claiming power.

Felix Kulov, former mayor of Bishkek and head of the ex-KGB security 
forces, quickly emerged as a major player. Freed from prison by the 
protesters, he took control of the security services--and immediately 
threatened to arrest members of the outgoing parliament if they organized 
further demonstrations.

With tensions mounting, a deal was cut in which the old parliament was 
dismissed. Kulov, whose base is in Bishkek and the country's North, kept 
his powerful security ministry. The post of prime minister and acting 
president went to Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who comes from the impoverished South. 
Another key player--and Washington's favorite--is Roza Otunbayeva, a former 
foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S. and Britain who has taken 
control of the foreign ministry.

The infighting reflects the clan and regional character of politics in the 
country, where the population is 60 percent Kyrgyz, a Turkic people, with 
large minorities of Russians, Uzbeks and Uighurs comprising most of the rest.

Ironically, Kyrgyzstan was Washington's earliest and closest ally in 
Central Asia following the collapse of the USSR in 1991. As head of the 
country at independence and subsequently elected, Akayev followed every 
neoliberal prescription of the International Monetary Fund and welcomed the 
establishment of Western NGOs. After the September 11 attacks, Akayev 
immediately granted the U.S. an air base, funds for which reportedly 
account for 5 percent of Kyrgyzstan's Gross Domestic Product.

Yet U.S. support for "democracy" in Central Asia, as in the Middle East, is 
highly selective. Washington had little to say when the dictatorial regime 
of Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan held sham parliamentary elections last year. 
"The 'war on terror' has strengthened repression [in Central Asia], and the 
alliance with the U.S. has strengthened the regimes," said Rashid.

But as Akayev became increasingly authoritarian, Washington began hedging 
its bets, using NGOs to funnel money to the opposition. In response, Akayev 
edged closer to Moscow. He allowed the Russians to establish an air base 
just 70 miles from the U.S. one and refused to allow Washington to base 
AWACS surveillance aircraft in Kyrgyzstan. "Akayev understood one thing," 
said Kagarlitsky, "that the Americans are very clearly looking for new 
friends, especially since their old friends in power are getting shaky."

The U.S. and Russia will continue to maneuver to suit their aims--and 
ignore the demands of those who took to the streets. "They have stolen the 
peoples' victory," Alla Shabayeva, a protest organizer, told the Christian 
Science Monitor. "This new government is turning out just like the old one. 
If they don't do what the people want, we will stage a second revolution."

Lee Sustar is a regular contributor to CounterPunch and the Socialist 
Worker. He can be reached at: lsustar at ameritech.net

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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