Kyrgyzstan: A year of change

27.03.06

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov.) - Officials and
the opposition in Kyrgyzstan are celebrating the first anniversary of the
people's Tulip Revolution.

A year ago, the interior troops that guarded the house of government in
Bishkek left open the northern gate of the surrounding iron fence. The Tulip
opposition, which was passing by, took a chance. The year that ensued has
commonly been described as "a year of change." The power in the republic
fell into the hands of the opposition like a ripe apple.

However, today the former allies are celebrating the first anniversary of
the revolution under different slogans. The authorities describe the
revolution as "the people's," whereas the opposition thinks "tulip" sounds
better. The difference is that some call for carrying on the principles of
the revolution, while others think that the revolution actually accomplished
nothing at all because its ideals were betrayed and that they should
continue in their revolutionary efforts.

The result is another impending crisis of power.

A year ago, everyone in the former Soviet states, and especially in Central
Asia, waited for the Velvet Revolution in Kyrgyzstan as a kind of democratic
experiment. If successful, the revolution would have spread to the
neighboring Central Asian states, primarily Kazakhstan, according to
Valentin Bogatyrev, the head of the Institute of Strategic Studies under the
Kyrgyz President.

The Untied States spent more than $700 million, according to American
experts, on creating non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that prepared for
the revolution in Kyrgyzstan.

Power changed hands, but the new leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev turned out to be
even more pro-Russian than his predecessor. Washington became completely
disillusioned with the Kyrgyz experiment.

The new government inherited the country with a foreign debt that equaled
70% of GDP, a stagnating economy on its deathbed, sweeping unemployment, the
majority of population living below the poverty line and a totally corrupt
and criminalized society.

The republic has not yet overcome the social, political and economic crisis,
some Kyrgyz sources said. The situation remains complicated because of the
erosion of power and attempts to establish new forms of authoritarian rule.

Nur Omarov, a Kyrgyz political scientist, said the new authorities cut short
an all-out destabilization process, but Bakiyev unwisely decided to postpone
the constitutional reform (aimed to convert the presidential republic into a
parliamentary one), which is fanning public disappointment and political
instability.

Omarov said the year of change showed that "people no longer want to remain
hostage to the games of unenlightened politicians and unlucky leaders." Most
importantly, the new authorities failed to fulfill their pledge to solve
social problems. The life of the bulk of the people has not improved
noticeably, which is breeding social tensions.

Muratbek Emanaliyev, Doctor of Political Sciences and former Foreign
Minister of Kyrgyzstan, said the new government did not make public a
clear-cut program of political, economic and social development, which
undermined its image and complicated its goal of overcoming the crisis.

The authorities continue to react to problems, spending too much time on
reshuffles and the redivision of power, often to the benefit of the local
elites, which will eventually provoke a war of clans at the top. The
republic could still fall into further dissolution because the crisis
between the powers-that-be and the people is growing.

The new government has not drafted a clear-cut foreign policy either. It
"lacks professionalism and requisite knowledge," according to one source,
especially with regards to the development of political interaction with
Russia, the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec) and the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization. Meanwhile, a "big game" is becoming imminent
between political heavyweights, such as China, Russia and the U.S., as well
as Kazakhstan, which is quickly gaining political weight.

Republican experts are worried that Russia, on which Kyrgyzstan pins its
hopes of economic reconstruction, remains undecided. The visit by Gazprom
CEO Alexei Miller and the organization of interregional cooperation with
Russia's Penza Region were good, but insufficient moves for Kyrgyzstan, said
the Institute of Strategic Studies' Bogatyrev.

According to former Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Emanaliyev, Russia is keeping
the lead in the republic thanks simply to historical reasons. But the
realities of the republic have changed and new players have appeared in the
region. Moscow should not disregard these facts, provided it wants to
maintain its presence in Kyrgyzstan.