The Kyrgyz government was overthrown last week, something I’ve not yet mentioned here. Partly for obvious lazy-blogger reasons, partly because I was moving house (again) at the time. Partly also because Edil Baisalov, a key figure in the interim government, is also something of a man-about-the-blogospere, and I’m not sure how to correct for the sense of him being a nice guy.
Mainly, though, because I have no answers to the main questions, and no confidence in finding them by churning through online wire reports. Is this a true change of regime, or just of personnel? What reforms will affect anybody beyond the political cliques? Which people are wielding the power, and which are just names on paper? What behind-the-scenes manouvering got this putsch accepted so quickly by the main powers inside and beyond Kyrgyzstan? Will there be any kind of military opposition in the South? How will Bakiyev’s supporters rebel, or run campaigns of protest and civil disobedience, or contentrate on the elections XXX is promising? When the election happens, who will accept the results?
I have a lot of sympathy for the now-victorious rebels. They’ve all tried to engage in democratic politics for many years, and been kept out of the way on trumped up grounds. It was worse under the Akayev regime — it used the old Soviet trick of forced hospitlization to keep Baisalov away from a political meeting, and excluded Otunbayeva from elections because — as ambassador to the US — she had been out of the country. Bakiyev’s government wasn’t much better: now Baisalov was banned from elections because he posted a photo of a ballot box. The assassination attempt in 2006 was just icing on the cake.
And yet, as Sean Roberts writes, it’s hard not to look at these events as just one more link in a chain of coups that will keep going for years or decades to come.
The news coming out of the country looks all too similar to that which we saw in Spring of 2005, only more violent. In general, the events of the last several days taken together with those of March 2005 suggest two things about this country in the twenty-first century – 1) that the Kyrgyz people, unlike most former Soviet citizens, are unwilling to allow a corrupt government to stay in power through its control of the political system and are ready to risk personal safety in order to prevent this; and 2) the elite of Kyrgyzstan has yet to demonstrate that it is capable of establishing a viable government that meets people’s demands and moves Kyrgyzstan’s development forward.
I’m cautiously optimistic about the possibility that this time round things will improve slightly. But it can’t be long until Bakiyev’s supporters attempt some kind of counter-protest, and it’s hard to build an open society while looking over your back for the next coup, especially when you don’t have any source of democratic legitimacy.