Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tulips Redux

The so-called Tulip Revolution of March 2005 is being revisited tomorrow with a series of protests and rallies in downtown Bishkek. The slow pace of reforms, continued corruption under President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, and the recent unmet demands of opposition groups have all coalesced into the frustration that makes this November 2nd rally a reality. All sides are ready for a potentially prolonged and hopefully peaceful demonstration:
Opposition leaders met with President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on October 31, and the meeting was anything but amiable. According to human rights activist Tursunbek Akun, the opposition had put forth five demands and a consensus with the authorities was reached only on the issue of the constitutional reforms. The president will address the parliament on November 2 in the morning. The authorities reassure the population that the opposition rally in the central square will be peaceful but the locals are concerned all the same. Businessmen and owners of stores remember last year pogroms and looting and take precautions.

Ruslan Omurbekov of the Press Service of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry claims that readiness status of the city police force was upped on October 30. The number of patrols in Bishkek streets was increased. The traffic police was put on alert as well. Volunteer detachments are being formed by socially active citizenry all over the city. Parliamentarian Yuri Danilov promises a special hot line for reports on disturbances in Bishkek. A special police team will be dispatched in response to every call.

Edil Baisalov, leader of the Coalition For Democracy and Civil Society, maintains that the rally will be permanent. A tent camp will be set up in the central square for protesters from other cities and regions. Hot meals will be available. Demonstrations will set out at 1 p.m. Bishkek time from three directions at once and converge in the central square where the rally will begin at 2 p.m.
And from the Radio Free Europe report:
Another For Reforms leader, Melis Eshimkanov, who was also at the meetings, indicated that while some progress was made, the two sides remain far away from a general compromise.

"[President Bakiev] gave his verbal agreement to two out of our 10 demands," he said. "First, he said that he will propose the draft constitution that had been agreed on by us and prepared together with our group. The draft broadens the power of the parliament. Secondly, he agreed to make the Kyrgyz State TV and Radio Company a public company. But as for the rest of the demands, including his [reported] family business and other issues, he said he is not ready to resolve them."

The demonstration has received wide publicity and people from various parts of the country are reportedly headed to Bishkek to take part in the rally. Like Adilet Aitikeev from northern Kyrgyzstan, who told RFE/RL why he is going to Bishkek.

"[The rally] is demanding not only the resignation of Bakiev, but also the removal of all of [former Kyrgyz President Askar] Akaev's system," he said. "This is the essence of the rally. This is our goal."

Many of the current government officials who came to power after last year's Tulip Revolution were themselves former officials under Akaev. Among them are President Bakiev, who served as prime minister, and Kulov, who was vice president and served in several other positions under Akaev.

Meilikan Emilbaeva, head of the Osh branch of Tekebaev's Ata-Meken party, is also en route to Bishkek for the November 2 rally.

"Fifty party delegates came from the Osh region," she said. "We support the main demands [of the opposition], especially, regarding constitutional reforms and fighting corruption."

Some traveling to Bishkek are more interested in expressing dissatisfaction with the quality of life in their part of the country rather than to protest for constitutional and other reforms.

Police and security forces in Bishkek have issued numerous warnings to demonstrators that disorder will not be tolerated and will be put down using force if necessary.

When Kulov addressed his Ar-Namys (Dignity) party yesterday he spoke against rash actions that could worsen the situation in the country.

"The use of force to resolve the political crisis will not solve anything, because the problem -- in the final analysis -- is not in a conflict of personalities but in the difficulties of the transitional period," he said.

Some store and restaurant owners in Bishkek's center near where the demonstration will be held were removing goods from the shelves and vowing to keep their businesses locked up on November 2.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, the chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, called on October 31 for Kyrgyz authorities and opposition parties to show restraint during the demonstration.
It is expected that as many as 10,000 protesters may appear for the rally, and there is much nervous speculation regarding the outcome. My friend, photojournalist and blogger Elena Skochilo, will be at the rally reporting for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and writing for her blog. She was, of course, there during the events of March 2005 and the looting that occurred the night afterwards.

I am very skeptical that this event will turn out so peaceful as even the first event. To illustrate the differences between now and then, this time there will be a member of Elena's group carrying a Saiga - literally riding shotgun in case events get out of hand.

Russian officials have accused oligarch Boris Berezovsky of having arrived in Bishkek and having a mysterious hand in the upcoming events:
Addressing the Jogorku Kenesh (national parliament) earlier today, [Kyrgyz] Prosecutor General Kambaraly Kongantiyev said no proof of [oligarch Boris] Berezovsky's visit to Kyrgyzstan had been found. "I officially appeal to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika to provide corroborative documents concerning Berezovsky's arrival," Kongantiyev said.

Kyrgyz border guards and customs already informed the parliament officially that Berezovsky, Yelenin, and Yelevin had never crossed the border of the republic.

According to Kongantiyev, the cable from the Russian Prosecutor General's Office received yesterday does not offer any proof of Berezovsky's presence on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. The official therefore called the claims of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office peremptory. "What do they want? Our structures - border guards, customs, criminal police of the Interior Ministry - officially state that he hasn't been here," Kongantiyev said.

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor General's Office cabled Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Zvyagintsev twenty days ago. "We asked for what corroborative data they had to substantiate the claim concerning Berezovsky's visit to Kyrgyzstan," Kongantiyev explained. "The Russian Prosecutor General's Office has never answered the cable."

As far as the prosecutor general is concerned, Kyrgyzstan has honored its international obligations. "By the way, Russia has never approached us for help in the matter of Berezovsky," Kongantiyev said. "There are no necessary documents, you know."
So what are the likely outcomes of this rally? Many are hoping for Bakiev and Kulov to step down and quickly and quietly as Akaev did last year. However, the potential for this large rally to become an entrenched and stubborn impasse seems greater than a quick and peaceful resolution. From the RIA Novosti opinion column by
Professor Nur Omarov of Russo-Kyrgyz Slav University:
These last days before [the rally] begins are full of suspense: the March 24, 2005 revolution, almost free of violence, may be re-enacted in a far darker way and lead to unforeseeable results. Somber expectations loom as the government and the opposition are evidently unable to meet each other halfway on key issues, and each treating the other's initiatives with suspicion. As President Kurmanbek Bakiev addressed the parliament on November 30, everything he said was lost on regional elites posing in their clash as conservatives and reformers.

Scheduled to open on November 2, the rally may drive Kyrgyz politics into a deadlock. Personal enmity has driven recent allies to abandon their dialogue, so the peaceful rally can become the start of a massacre. Even if the worst does not come to the worst, November 2 and the days to follow certainly hold little promise of a halcyon future for the nation and its budding democracy, with mutual prejudices and unbalanced political and financial interests splitting the self-styled political elite. Whoever wins the tug-of-war will inevitably turn to violence. Short- and medium-term forecasts predict a dictatorship that would trample the emerging civil society underfoot. With a weak central government, which is quickly losing its influence, Kyrgyzstan is likely to be torn apart by mutually hostile regions. There is another option, no less ominous, of a third power gaining the upper hand: Islamist groups, with their growing impact on certain parts of the country.

A steadfast search for a way to harmonize the government's and opposition's interests in an earnest of civil peace and accord dominates the final days before the rally. Come what may, the conflicting parties must not recur to violence, which threatens innocent civilian lives.

All pragmatic Kyrgyz forces appeal to the government and opposition to give up confrontation and open a civilized dialogue to work out mutually acceptable government policies. What Kyrgyzstan needs is a constitutional reform to provide balanced distribution of rights and duties between the three branches of power, thus preventing the diktat of any. What the country has now is office appointment according to clan; what it needs is a professional managerial elite. The progressing national economy demands transparent decision-making and practical efforts not solemn words against corruption rampant at every level.

Last but not least, the conflicting parties must strike out of their programs the items that clearly cannot be met, in particular, the demand of Bakiev-Kulov tandem resignation, which rules out whatever chance of talks and compromises.

November 2 will show which road the Kyrgyz government and opposition choose to follow.

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