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Kyrgyzstan revolutions and power politics.

posted 11 Apr 2010, 14:01 by Admin uk   [ updated 11 Apr 2010, 14:09 ]
By Heiko Khoo and Daniar Kasygulov

The recent riots and the overthrow of the President Bakiev of Kyrgyzstan are an expression of profound discontent by the masses with their lot. Thousands of people took to the streets to vent their anger at being cheated and lied to by their government and President. President Bakiev, his family and their entourage systematically plundered state assets, while over a half the population live in poverty. This was reflected in the rapid turn in events that briefly brought this forgotten corner of the world to the headlines.

Kyrgysztan … some background.

Kyrgyzstan’s population is 5.2 million of whom 3.3 million are rural; half of them are designated as poor, often lacking running water, public sewerage, health and education. Agriculture accounts for 30% of national production, and livestock breeding is the mainstay of the agricultural sector, but the resources needed to protect pastures, prevent livestock diseases, gain knowledge of resource management and access to markets are all lacking. Its industrial economy is weak, although Kyrgyzstan has one of the largest proven gold reserves in the world and is a major producer of hydroelectric power. The country is completely dependent on former Soviet States for oil and gas supplies.

The five Central Asian Republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) cover a landmass larger than India. From the time of Alexander the Great this was the gateway for east west land trade. It was eclipsed by the rise of maritime trade and power in the 14th and 15th centuries. Tsarist Russia vied with the British for influence in the region from 1735. By 1880 through settlements and repression, the Tsarist empire extended its control to the borders of modern Afghanistan and Iran, and gained dominance of the Caspian Sea and its markets, governing through a single administrative entity called Turkistan. 

Following the Russian revolution requisitions inflamed Turkic revolts known as the Basmachi movement, Lenin’s government made concessions to these peoples and the New Economic Policy reduced hostility to the Bolsheviks. Resentments based on localised interests as well as religious and ethnic conflicts were partially contained under Stalin by subdividing Turkistan into five artificial republics, which were based on bureaucratic administration and control.

There was significant investment in industry in the post war era and Kyrgyzstan was an important agricultural producer in Soviet times. Workers from European parts of the USSR migrated there to work in agriculture and industry. The republic developed rapidly and had an advanced education, science, technology, public health and welfare system. In 1991 it was ranked 31st in the world in Human Development Indicators, just below Czechoslovakia according UN surveys.

The early post Soviet years were a disaster for Kyrgyzstan; GDP fell by 68% between 1992-1995, industrial production fell by 92%. Per capita production fell dramatically from US$1160 in 1991 to US$700 in 1995. (Economic Migration in Post-Soviet Central Asia: The Case of Kyrgyzstan Rafis Abazov) With the collapse USSR mafia type structures vied for control of newly privatized assets, economic resources and power, and found powerful backers in international embassies and institutions.

The Revolutions of 2005 and 2010

In recent days there were dramatic TV scenes and photographs of revolt and of the wounded and dead. Civilians stormed key buildings, armed fighting with state forces broke out and the President fled to safety. It looks, sounds and feels like a revolution, but is it?

As in a tragi-comic theatre, the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiev in the last few days, took almost exactly the same form as the ‘Tulip revolution’ that saw his star rise over Central Asia in 2005. In that ‘revolution’ the masses also rose up and overthrew the old leaders. The 2005 revolution gathered its forces in protest against rigged elections, state control of the media, and the accumulation of economic resources in the hands of the ruling clan around the then President, Askar Akayev. The revolt centred on an opposition led protest on March 24th 2005 in which Presidential Palace was stormed and the police and army remained ambivalent. Déjà vu.

New brooms swept away the old and brought ‘democratic forces’ to power, although rumours were spread that behind this ‘mass revolution’ lay the invisible hand of Uncle Sam. A tale vigorously denied by Washington, senior officials claimed they are not in ‘the revolution business’. However a cosy relationship to the US certainly prevailed under President Bakiev.

The present ‘revolutionary’ form of events conceals behind it the hand of powerful counterposed international interests, these assume overwhelming dominance in the character and outcome of these movements. Just as a war dragging the armies of powerful nations into conflict can break out over an incidental matter, so the spark for the current conflict was genuine social discontent. However, Russian controlled media campaigns and Russian energy price hikes in the run up to this weeks ‘revolution’, might lead one to look towards Moscow to discover the invisible hand in these events. Vladimir Putin denies this, and we all know Putin is an honourable man.

Moscow and Beijing have more than passing geo-strategic interests here and both have been studying the colourful theatrical methods employed by the USA. All these powers are involved in the ‘Great Game’ for influence and control. One wild card in this game is the potential for Islamic fundamentalism to gain a foothold.

A famous communist characterised revolution as the ‘forcible entry of the masses into governing their own destiny’. The primary characteristic of this ‘revolution’ was actually the absence of the masses from participation. A study of the images, videos and reports from Kyrgyzstan reveals that nowhere does one find mass involvement in the ‘revolution’ of 2010. Bishkek is a city of 900,000 inhabitants, but even after President Bakiev fled the capital fewer than 10,000 people attended the mass funeral for those killed. There are no reports of any protests with more than ten thousand participants over the last days.

Russian TV reports indicate that murky forces were at play in the killings, demonstrators claim that those killed were killed by snipers from the rooftops, not by regular Kyrgyz forces, and that the police units which fought them, were composed of mercenaries from different regions of the former USSR.

But if this was not a revolution why did the regime fall? This is not the first, nor will it be the last regime, that is so weak that small protests are enough to bring it down. The state apparatus is split in its loyalties towards various clans and cliques backed by Washington, Moscow and Beijing, as well as by the interests of the rulers of the Central Asian Republics. The ruling groups conspire and balance between these powers, organising, instigating and leaning on ‘revolutionary’ movements to gain control of the state.

It is precisely because broad layers of the people understand that ruling cliques use them as fodder, that the masses were largely absent from ‘their revolution’. Their legitimate anger and frustration will find a genuinely revolutionary form; when through all the fog, intrigue and great power politics, a force emerges inspired by the vision of a democratic socialist federation of the peoples.