Kyrgyzstan: what will happen to the tulips?

As another “colour revolution” is overthrown in Kyrgyzstan, Boris Dolgin reflects that it changed nothing. Will the country be able to sort out a more nuanced relationship with the USA, Russia and China?
Boris Dolgin
8 April 2010

How should we interpret the current disturbances in Kyrgyzstan?

Should we be requiring that power be handed on democratically?  Bakiev’s government came to power by a route that was far from democratic.

Riots in Bishkek

Do the people have an inherent right to rise up against the government?  There is no such real entity as the people, but there are minorities who manage at a particular time to grab the initiative.

Fyodor Lukyanov focused his recent analysis of colour revolutions particularly on Kyrgyzstan. He considers that what we are now witnessing is the end of the era of stability in Central Asia.

When Kurmanbek Bakiev seized power in the “tulip revolution”, he abandoned the post-Soviet system of checks and balances. He got rid of any of his revolutionary supporters who showed signs of independent thinking and operated on the divide and rule principle (which, in its own small way, suggests an analogy with Stalin). Pressure on the media and NGOs increased significantly: access to websites was limited, people were beaten up and murdered. Power became even more concentrated the hands of the president and his relatives than under Askar Akayev. But just as we might have started to regret Akayev, the ex-president made yet another stupid remark, a timely reminder of how things really were under his rule. 

Akayev was smart enough to avoid saying that the latest version of sovereign democracy – consultative democracy – was the peak of political creativity, though actually imprisoning members of the opposition, pressure on the media, etc, started in his time. He had the good sense to leave the country at the right time. Bakiev, on the other hand, has returned to his home territory in the south, so there is a danger he may think that all is not lost. He may start exploiting the North and South division  (the new “revolution”, unlike the last one, began in the North).

Clearly the problem is not just Bakiev himself. The desire to simplify the political system seems to be unavoidable in countries where it’s not yet well established. Kyrgyzstan’s new government must stop the violence and bring order to the streets. But it then needs urgently to reform the political system in such a way that it cannot be reduced to a mere vertical of power.  

Boris Lvin has raised in his blog the question as to whether Kyrgyz politicians are considering changing from a presidential to a parliamentary system. It would perhaps be more realistic to hope for a parliamentary-presidential system – compare the experience of Poland and Ukraine as opposed to Belarus before Lukashenko.

The nature of the deal to be negotiated with Bakiev and his circle is crucial. It must function as a precedent: future rulers must not feel they are above the law, but should also not fear the hand-over of power.

The more complex questions are how to create a functioning economy in Kyrgyzstan and how to construct relations within the big triangle (USA, China and Russia) and with its neighbours.

Russian government reaction indicates that they are hoping for good relations with the new Kyrgyz government.  There’s bound to be some “ducking and weaving”, as there was in the Bakiev and Akayev periods, but what should be avoided is the way loyalty is sold lock, stock and barrel each time there’s a change of government.

Even if Russia and the USA were prepared to be less heavy-handed in their relationship with the country, it's far from certain that China will be prepared to do so.

Russia's president and prime minister have shown great understanding in their comments on the situation in Kyrgyzstan.  Dmitri Medvedev noted that the protest suggests quite how discontented the people are with their government. Vladimir Putin said straight away "what goes on in Kyrgyzstan is their own business. But I appeal to the government and the opposition to show restraint and not resort to violence… Especially, of course, the government, as they control the organs of repression." He also said: "When President Bakiev came to power, he criticised the deposed President Akayev for nepotism very harshly. I have the impression that Bakiev is making the same mistake."

Putin's words apply equally to the situation in Russia and should not be used to back up government media propaganda and the financing of anti-Orange projects.

It seems odd to sympathise with revolutions, when the masses will inevitably resort to violence in expressing their discontent. But this is no justification for unprovoked violence by the state and its unwillingness to listen. A government that lives by the gun will fall by the gun. And that cannot be very productive.

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