Foreign Policy Blogs

Tulips and Mud in Kyrgyzstan, part 1 of 2

Wild Alpine Tulips, Kyrgyzstan Simply put, Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution of March, 2005, saw the ouster of President Akaev for one political and two economic reasons.  Politically, he was consolidating the power of his presidency and weakening the legislature.  Constitutionally-mandated term limits were extended under Akaev's rule.  As Akaev neared Tulip Revolutionthe limit of his last extended term, he began grooming two of his children to keep an Akaev in the succession.

Economic problems add to Kyrgyzstan's political problems.  Kyrgyzstan is one of the more vulnerable, landlocked states in Central Asia.  Like Tajikistan, it does not have energy security; its mountainous regions are difficult for agriculture.  Mountains also create problems for transport and communications infrastructure, making globalization difficult to achieve.  Even so, Kyrgyzstan enjoyed some of the best public relations vis-à-vis the West under Akaev.  There were some years there when Kyrgyzstan looked like the West's best model of post-Soviet development aspirations. 

Underneath, corruption dragged down the economic strength Kyrgyzstan could muster.  The mountains that make legitimate trade more difficult conversely assist the traffic in opium and unrest.  Unfair post-Soviet privatization privileged well-connected individuals.  These lucky few began to amass large fortunes through monopolistic, opaque trade–and some, with illicit trade.  Under Akaev patronage, Bishkek and districts in the North received more economic benefit than those of the cities and rural areas of the South.  When the distribution became too uneven, the political maneuvering too blatant, and the elections too bent, the people protested, and Akaev took a plane to the Russian Federation.

Mr. BakievNew reforms and unity seemed imminent when Kurmanbek Bakiev and Feliks Kulov came to a "tandem" arrangement of governance and ran together in the new elections.  Mr. Bakiev is from the South; Mr. Kulov from the North.  Bakiev, if he became President, agreed to install Kulov as Prime Minister and promised he would serve no longer or shorter than Kulov himself.  Together, their ticket looked like a unifier that citizens could back with relative confidence.  Sure enough, they voted in overwhelming numbers, and the Bakiev/Kulov partnership won by a landslide.

Cutting the ground beneath
A scant two months after Akaev's one-way plane ride, Uzbekistan's Andijan Massacre sent large numbers of refugees to Kyrgyzstan, creating significant border unrest.  Uzbekistan, which holds the energy hammer over Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, promptly threatened Kyrgyzstan with energy cutoffs if the refugees were not returned.  Caught between domestic considerations and international law, the new government (with a few violations), stood up to Uzbekistan.  Aided by OSCE states, non-governmental organizations, and the United Nations, Kyrgyzstan was able to provide respite for the refugees, many of whom were airlifted elsewhere to relieve some of the pressure on Kyrgyzstan's social and security services.  However, the airlift heightened tensions between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and created yet another set of problems for an issue-heavy period in Kyrgyzstan's history.

Too Many Issues, not enough Time
In the meantime, the government turned to investigations into business monopolies owned by Akaev and others, opaque privatization, and corruption in government ministries, and other clean-house measures.  Crime monopolies, already able to expand operations because of unrest and instability, also maneuvered to change ownership of key marketplaces, mines, and other profitable economic entities.  One particular subterranean but profitable economic enterprise has been Kyrgyzstan's prisons, from which some inmates are running their drug trade empires.  The combination of economic reshuffle, criminal investigation, and street instability contributed to the murder of three legislators killed from June through October 2005.  At least two of these legislators died during (separate) prison inspections. Both allegedly had ties to well-heeled criminal syndicates, making their murders more difficult to investigate and prosecute.  [For a more comprehensive report on these machinations and executions, see International Crisis Group's Kyrgyzstan: A faltering state]
In this winner-take-all atmosphere, not much progress has been made on reforming Kyrgyzstan's constitution in a way that satisfies voters.  (One noted analyst in Kyrgyzstan has suggested that too many versions of the Constitution have been brought forward, and that none of them look effective any longer. )
Then the IMF and World Bank, the world's anti-corruption heavyweights, proffered President Bakiev a chance to accept a debt-reduction deal for Kyrgyzstan‚ no doubt in exchange for implementation of some aspects of much-needed structural reform.  Yet so many national leaders were arranging non-transparent acquisitions and subterranean relationships.  The offer therefore precipitated legislative revolt against the executive branch.  Kyrgyzstan then went from a Constitutional Crisis to a Leadership Crisis, when the tandem arrangement between Bakiev and Kulov broke in two.  [See next post].

Photos: Audley Travel, Jamestown Foundation,
Unlinked ref: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Newsline, various dates.