[Marxism] Lee Sustar on Kyrgyzstan
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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
By LEE SUSTAR
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
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
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