After the discomboulating experience of agreeing with the Alan Partridge of human rights advocacy, Craig Murray on vacuous celebrities endorsing brutal autocrats in Central Asia, my eyes traveled east to Kyrgyzstan.
Despite the impression the The West Wing may have given, allowing academics or intellectuals to hold Executive power has a poor track-record: be it Gabriele D’Annunzio’s attempts to establish a Republic of Poetry, or Lithuania and Estonia’s inter-war experiences under Augustinas Voldemort Voldemaras and Konstantin Päts respectively.
High hopes were held for Kyrgyzstan after George Galloway’s saddest day in 1991 when physics professor, Askar Akayev turned-down offers from Moscow to serve as a loyal Vice President of the Kirghiz SSR. Fortunately for proper noun Scrabble-enthusiasts, he stood for and was elected as President of the renamed Kyrgyz Republic.
With pledged support for private property and the economics of Adam Smith rather than Karl Marx, Akayev proceeded to win two subsequent elections, albeit with allegations of electoral fraud. Yet, Krygyzstan chuntered along as a down-at-heel country but with the trappings of functioning democracy and minus the demonic nastiness of many of its adjacent countries. Some much needed income came from the leasing of airbases to both the USAAF and Russian Air Force, at Manas and Kant respectively.
Akayev tried one rigged election too many in March 2005 when events quickly passed out of his control, leading to less than five thousand street-protesters effecting his deposition with no loss of life. Into the breach stepped Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a former manual worker who had resigned as Prime Minister in 2002 following the shooting dead of five protesters at the southern town of Aksy.
Unfortunately, the same water which refreshes tulips can also refresh weeds, and Bakiyev soon became dogged by allegations of greater nepotism and authoritarian rule; including a ‘people court’ declaring him to be being responsible for the Aksy shootings.
On 6 April, street-protests started at Talas, in the extreme north-west: amongst other reasons, there was discontent at the predominance in Government of officials from Bakiyev’s home-area around the eastern Fergana Valley. The heavy-handed response from the Government and security forces rallied an greater group which stormed the regional Governor’s residence and briefly help him hostages: support for the protesters went viral faster than for LibDems, and protests had reached the capital at Bishkek the next day.
Bakiyev made a drastic error of judgment when he neutralized any moderating influence by ordering the mass-arrest of opposition politicians, including former Prime Minister and Presidential candidate Almazbek Atambayev, former Parliament Speaker Omurbek Tekebayev and his aide Bolot Cherniazov; and attempting to suppress protests with brute force not even used in 2005.
After the deaths of dozens of protesters and injuries of scores of riot Police (the accompanying photograph shows a remarkable image of the latter looking bloodied and besieged by largely unarmed protesters), Bakiyev retreated to his home-base in Jalal-Abad before being declared persona non grata by the interim President Roza Otunbayeva; who was also a former ally of Bakiyev during the Tulip Revolution, as well as former Foreign Minister and Ambassador toboth the USA and UK.
I imagine the temporary suspension of troop flights from the Manas airbase was to placate any fears that Bakiyev was to receive armed-support. Bishkek residents do have grateful memories for the assistance given following the crash of Itek Flight 737 in August 2008.
Opportunity knocks for Moscow which, although an unpopular and repressive government in its backyard has been overthrown by less than five thousand protesters for the second time in five years, could make use of the democratic process to influence pro-Moscow elements.
It is not outwith the realms of possibility that Moscow was quite happy to see Bakiyev go as punishment for accommodating the Manas airbase despite Moscow’s having offered him $2 billions in aid. That said, Otunbayeva has assured Washington DC that current leases on the Manas airbase will be honoured.
Whatever happens, Otunbayeva has made it clear that her interim Government will initiate new elections by the end of the year. The Kyrgyz have a second chance to get it right.