The recent events in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, have been somewhat difficult for outside observers to understand. Unlike the Orange revolution in Ukraine, where sustained, widespread opposition protests led to the overturning of fraudulent election results and a new government, a very rapid series of events following parliamentary elections caused Askar Akaev's government to fall in just a few hours. The aftermath of the Kyrgyz revolution/coup involved widespread rioting, a brief period where Kyrgystan had two rival parliaments, and still involves some tension over whether Akaev will attempt to reclaim his presidency from acting president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Elina Karakulova, a 21-year old Kyrgyz student at the American University of Central Asia, wrote to us with her thoughts on the March 24th revolution, which took the Akaev government out of power in Kyrgyzstan. Elina reflects on her decision not to join in the revolution, despite her frustration with Akaev's rule and the “family” parliament elected a few weeks ago. Her reflections shed a great deal of light on the complexities of the lemon/almond/pink revolution and the complex prospects for Kyrgyzstan's future.
Thoughts on the Kyrgyz Revolution
By Elina Karakulova
March 24, the day of the Kyrgyz revolution, I was discussing the Soviet ideology in my Political History of the Soviet Union class. We talked about anticommunist revolutions in the late 1980s. No one could imagine that in three hours a new revolution would burst in Kyrgyzstan, one of the former Soviet Union republics.
I learnt about columns of demonstrators coming from three directions to the Ala-Too central square in Bishkek from one of the local news lines. Because my University is very close to the White House and other official buildings, university administration cancelled all classes at 11am, fearing the seizure of the building by demonstrators like it happened the south of Kyrgyzstan two days before March 24. All students were ordered to go home.
And many students, including me, did go home, even though many of them were against the Akaev’s regime and did not support the newly elected ‘family’ parliament. Why did not they join demonstrators? I will answer why I did not.
I came to the Ala-Too square just to observe because I knew that I was witnessing historical momentum in Kyrgyzstan. I did not want to participate in the demonstration due to the following reasons:
First, I did not support the way it started in the south of Kyrgyzstan. The protests began from personal interests of individual candidates who boycotted parliamentary elections results. I agree that elections were not transparent and falsified in many districts. However, very soon the discontented candidates changed their calls for cancellation of the elections’ results to the call for Akaev’s resign. They saw that with the latter call they could gather more people. And they were right. Because impoverished Kyrgyzstani population has been suffering so dreadfully under the Akaev’s regime and feared it would continue for another five years, people mobilized under the motto “Akaev, ket!” – “Akaev, go away!”
Second, I did not support violence with which official buildings were taken over, police stations were set on fire and how militiamen and their families were threatened by an angry crowd in Osh and Jalal-Abad.
Third, I did not and do not support anyone from the current opposition forces merely because all of them are coming from the same Soviet nomenclature as Akaev does. I do not know any of their proposed policies that would differ from those of the previous administration. The fact that most of them were oppressed by Akaev does not make them strong oppositionists.
Finally, I did not identify myself with the crowd of politically unconscious young people on the Ala-Too square who did not know whom they were fighting for, but only knew whom they were fighting against. Such an approach to the change of power does not lead to reasonable actions because one always has to have a strong alternative to what he wants to change so radically.
When I came to the Ala-Too square I already heard about pro-governmental provocateurs in blue ribbons who tried to set off fighting in the initially peaceful demonstration. And after having looked at people who were on the demonstration I understood why they were so easily influenced by provocations and turned violent.
Most of the participants were young males coming from rural areas who were not there for the better politics but who were angry enough to overthrow a loathsome governor. Making such people fight is a piece of cake. However, provocateurs did not probably expect that the frightened in the beginning protesters would get mad so easily and would beat them to death in seconds.
I will never forget a bloody militiaman with a torn forehead and bruised eye who was running into my direction supported by other two men from civilians. When I saw his crippled gory face I started trembling and crying in hysteria I was not able to control. “What are they doing? Why cannot they do it peacefully? Why are they throwing stones at each other? This is WRONG!” – I cried. No one except for my friend nearby listened. The crowed was whistling and roaring oppressed by cordons of militiamen.
Few seconds later I heard something similar to muffled explosion – the crowd broke a 5 meter high iron fence heading to the White House. I wanted to leave immediately. My friend and I set of in a “marshrutka” (a mini bus). People in the marshrutka seemed to be so calm and totally unaware of the revolution unfolding fifty meters away from them. Many looked at my tear-stained face with surprise.
Several men from the crowd entered the marshrutka. They were laughing, entertained with exciting scenario of the “revolution”. It seemed to me that for them it was a game.
Riding in the marshrutka I saw Bishkek living its usual busy life – people walking on the streets, eating in cafes, playing with children in the parks. It was hard to believe that at this very moment in the heart of Bishkek people smashed militia and entered the White House. It was hard to believe that this city of a small and poor Central Asian country was being watched and reported by all the world top news agencies, television and radio stations.
The world saw a very impoverished and angry mass of people who do not know what order and negotiations is, people who cannot solve problems by peaceful means. The whole world saw how violent and barbaric was seizure of the White House. The world saw people crushing everything inside like vandals as if tomorrow their ‘leaders’ were not going to sit in the same building.
The Kyrgyz revolution was not made by progressive young ‘thinkers’ like it was in Georgia and Ukraine. This revolution was made by impoverished and hungry people.
However, I do not blame demonstrators for massive looting that occurred on the first day of revolution. I blame the very nature of people and low morals of some of them.
I did not see marauders with my own eyes, but those who actually saw them said there were all kinds of people involved in looting – rich and poor, Kyrgyz and Russian, young and old, southerners and northerners. It is such a shame that marauders were robbing their countrymen in the times of crucial changes in the country.
Another reason for why Bishkek met the next day of the revolution with the smoke of emptied supermarkets, stores and office buildings was the lack of immediate actions on the part of opposition. It was obvious they did not expect to get power in two hours. They were simply not prepared to govern on March 24th.
Ridiculous hesitations with selection of color and symbol of the revolution (from lemon to almond tree) as well as ridiculous buzz around the old and new parliaments vividly show that opposition was not coherent in its actions from the very beginning and did not have a consistent plan for the country development.
However, I am thankful that the provisional government eventually restored the order with the help of people’s police. Hopefully, it will be able to maintain this order.
I personally do not think that Kyrgyzstan witnessed a revolution, but a rebellion with change of political elites. Revolution implies ideological change. I do not see any ideological difference between the current interim government and the former one. Moreover, I think very soon there will be a clash between political elites, which have very few commonalties between each other, over power. I believe this clash is unavoidable, but I hope it will have a minimum of negative effect on the country in general.
Bishkek has already returned to a normal life. Now, when it calmed down a little bit I started to look at things differently. I just realized that there is so much hope in me and in many other people that March 24 will give us a chance for a better change. Only now I have realized that I did not have this feeling of hope for so long.
Right now I think that March 24's events were probably the only way to bring changes into this country, considering the very nature of the former government, the opposition and the socio-economic situation.
Yes, I am not fully satisfied with the provisional government and how it came to power. But still, I have such a great hope for this new government and for my people. I think at least that if I did not have a chance to voice my civic position on demonstrations with the methods I believe in, I can do something substantial right now to actually fulfill this unsatisfied emotion of mine. I hope that the young people like me will be a driving force of this change further on.