Lessons from Kyrgyz uprising

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Maksud Djavadov

Jumada' al-Ula' 16, 1431 2010-05-01

Background

by Maksud Djavadov (Background, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 3, Jumada' al-Ula', 1431)

While political elites in Central Asia, Russia and the West try to outwit each other and benefit from the revolt in Kyrgyzstan, the people of the former Soviet Union are studying the Kyrgyz revolt from a different perspective: to emulate it.

While political elites in Central Asia, Russia and the West try to outwit each other and benefit from the revolt in Kyrgyzstan, the people of the former Soviet Union are studying the Kyrgyz revolt from a different perspective: to emulate it. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the power structures in the former Soviet republics did not change. With the exception of perhaps Tajikistan all the others ended up being ruled by ex-Communist and KGB bureaucrats. Kyrgyzstan was not an exception.

True, there was the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia (2003) and the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine (2005), but both the methods and the scenarios of these “revolutions” were orchestrated and methodologically implemented by foreign powers. They did not evolve indigenously or naturally. The leaders of both “revolutions” were part of the old power structure but separated from it due to personal interests which ran against the interests of others who dominated the state apparatus. The revolt which took place in Kyrgyzstan last April and swept away the corrupt rulers was different from other “revolts” in its methodology. The key difference in Kyrgyzstan was that it occurred spontaneously and its leaders and implementers were ordinary citizens, not ex-ministers or party bureaucrats. Unfortunately, the revolt has now been hijacked by elites connected to earlier regimes that had ruled Kyrgyzstan.

The uprising in Kyrgyzstan started as a protest against high heating and electricity costs in the city of Talas. It would not have followed this course if the central government in Bishkek had not backed the arrogant behaviour of Beishenbek Bolotbekov, the governor of Talas, against local protesters. As angry protesters reacted to Bolotbekov’s highhandedness by beating him up and occupying his office, local police forces attacked the protesters and wounded dozens. Protesters retaliated by attacking the local police station and capturing weapons to defend themselves against police attacks. In addition to the action of the regional police, President Kurman Bakiyev sent in the interior minister along with 200 soldiers from the Special Forces units to crush the rebellion. Unaware that protests in Talas had escalated, the interior minister entered the city thinking the town was still under the control of the authorities. When he accidentally ran into protesters, the minister was grabbed and severely beaten. Local opposition groups immediately took advantage of this escalation of violence and called for nationwide protests. The outcome of the spontaneous protests caught many Kyrgyz citizens and opposition leaders by surprise. The opposition did not expect that Bakiyev’s government would fall so quickly.

The political elites were not prepared to confront the revolt or take over the government. Opposition bureaucrats did not expect their quarrel with President Bakiyev to escalate into a full blown revolt. They thought that through pressure they could make a deal with him. However, people wanted radical change and wanted it immediately. The political elites did not want drastic change because they were not prepared for it nor did they know how to control its outcome.

Immediately after the collapse of Bakiyev’s regime, opposition leaders started issueing contradictory statements: at times pro-Russian and at others pro-US, in order to get help from some source of power that would enable them to establish authority. The problem was that neither the US nor Russia was prepared for this situation and had to think about what to do and whom to back and why. While the elites remained indecisive, the Kyrgyz people acted swiftly. However, their actions were not coordinated and lacked strategic focus, often leading to unnecessary violence. Segments of the society immediately became vulnerable to manipulation by internal and external forces that were pursuing their own interests.

The situation gave rise to many far reaching phenomena, the most crucial of which was security. When an average citizen begins to feel that there is not even minimal security, he becomes vulnerable to strategic compromises with those that can provide him some artificial “safety.” In Iraq, for instance, the US deliberately instigated violence in order to justify its own terror campaign ostensibly to control the violence. Insecurity caused by violence reached such a level that the Iraqi elites were willing to cut a deal with the occupiers without fully thinking through its consequences.

In Kyrgyzstan, regional dictators are fuelling ethnic and clan conflicts in order to discredit the phenomenon of revolution. Central Asian despots are busy portraying the revolution as mob rule and the primary cause of insecurity. They are scaring their people in order not to revolt. Forces which remained loyal to Bakiyev were sheltered by regional despots and in some cases even rewarded. The pilot who flew Bakiyev out of the country got a medal from Kazakhstan’s president.

The reason for the local despots’ success, however limited, in discrediting the Kyrgyz uprising is because the forces that hijacked its leadership and those actually implementing it did not have or create their own security apparatus. The “leaders” of the revolt are trying to create one but because they are detached from the people, they cannot attract them to be loyalty to the new authorities. The new leaders also cannot use their own security force to restore order because they have no legitimacy and those against whom they will use force are the ones who propelled them into power in the first place. Therefore, this situation propels the people who actually led the uprising and those that took advantage of it into uncharted territory.

How the security limbo will resolve in Kyrgyzstan is hard to predict as clashes are occurring daily. One of key lesson people of the former Soviet Union should learn from the Kyrgyz experience is that security structures to replace the despotic regimes must be immediately created and activated as soon as the despots are gone. Genuine alternative movements to despotic regimes must create their own security apparatuses that can assist in bringing about and maintaining change. In order to successfully advance toward revolution, the leadership and people must be truly connected and leaders must emerge from among the people. The hierarchy of interests and values of the leaders and people must be the same; this is necessary if the leaders want to avoid the dilemma of having to use force against the very people that will bring about the revolution. If force is used, it will result in the collapse of the revolution before it achieves its objectives.

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