Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, statue of Vladimir Lenin still dominates a square in central Bishkek.
A small group of stalwart communists commemorate the birthday, 141 years ago, of Soviet founding father Vladimir Lenin before his statue in central Bishkek on April 22. Some laid flowers.
Communist Party leader Iskhak Masaliev, recently released from house arrest after being cleared of charges related to last year's unrest, spoke to his followers. Others railed against the new government of "fascists" and "bourgeoisie."
In neighboring Tajikistan, authorities have begun dismantling the largest Lenin statue in Central Asia, a towering 74-foot likeness in Khujand, formerly Leninabad.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
Kazakhstan's recently announced goal to become a regional arms producer is bearing fruit, with Kazakhstan defense manufacturer Tehnoexport setting up a joint venture in Kyrgyzstan to repair and upgrade Kyrgyzstan's military equipment. From KyrTAG (in Russian, translation by BBC Monitoring):
"The plant will be located in an unused area of a military unit in the town of Balykchy [northeastern Issyk-Kul Region]. We are creating 300 jobs through the project. For the purposes of supporting small towns, we plan to employ local people mainly retired military servicemen with a technical education. Pay will be good between 10,000 and 15,000 soms", [director-general of the Kyrgyz Kural state enterprise at the Kyrgyz Defence Ministry] Jyrgalbek Sagynbayev explained....
"Talks are in progress with China, Russia and Turkey on setting up similar joint enterprises. They are ready for cooperation", Jyrgalbek Sagynbayev added.
Another source, Central Asia Online, says that it is Kyrgyzstan's tanks that are the focus of the repair effort. Seems like a strange priority for a poor country that isn't facing an obvious conventional military threat. But then, presumably some of Kyrgyzstan's tanks were likely damaged after being used in the anti-Uzbek pogroms in Osh last year...
When a mayor in southern Kyrgyzstan hires "sportsmen" as his advisers, it isn't generally because he is determined to improve the health of his fellow citizens.
Melis Myrzakmatov, the virulently nationalist mayor of Osh, has appointed 15 coaches at local sporting clubs in the city as his advisers, 24.kg news agency reported April 21.
Moreover, Myrzakmatov has given sports clubs about $1,000 each out of the official budget, supposedly to help prepare for the 6th Republican Sports Olympiad to be held in Osh this year. Fifteen sportsmen have also been given cash tokens worth more than $5,100 to pay for university tuition.
Osh was the center of interethnic violence between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities last June that left hundreds dead.
24.kg cites Myrzakmatov as noting that despite the tragic events in Osh in 2010, this year will see only peace and serenity, and that fine achievements will be accomplished in the fields of culture, sports and public affairs.
What do you call suspiciously timed information that undercuts an anticipated event? Could it be propaganda?
In Kyrgyzstan's parliament, a deputy from the nationalist Ata-Jurt faction alleges that a new book – that only she has seen – claims Kyrgyz massacred Uzbeks in last summer’s ethnic violence. Her story, as these things generally are, is hard to follow. In widely reported comments from April 19, Jyldyz Joldosheva rants against the publication of The Hour of the Jackal, by “rich Uzbek nationalists.”
"According to my information, rich Uzbek nationalists gathered $2 million to release the book. It was distributed around the world for free." she said, according to Kloop.kg. Unfortunately, we have only a single copy in our country." Presumably, she has the only copy.
That no other copies have surfaced is hard to explain since, Joldosheva says, 400,000 free copies (about one for every family in Kyrgyzstan) have been floating around Russia for a “month.” An English version will be released “soon.”
Then she adds, mysteriously, “According to my information, the book is published in Finland, but this fact must also be checked.”
Watching Kyrgyzstan’s tottering coalition government lurch from one crisis to the next, a lot of people are asking, “When is it going to collapse?” Certainly, it often seems deputies are more concerned with a battle for power than legislative efforts. So this is an update on parliament’s latest diversions.
First, we have the burning question of when the presidential elections, slated for fall, will be held. Provisional President Roza Otunbayeva can only stay in office legally until December 31 and she’s repeatedly said she will step down (few people doubt her intention to do so). On April 15, she said elections should take place “no later than November.”
The new constitution (Article 85.5) says parliament cannot consider a vote of no confidence in the government “six months prior to the next presidential elections.” This is uncharted territory for Kyrgyzstan, but most interpretations believe this means that in the half year preceding elections, the parliament must continue functioning no matter what. There is plenty of room for ambiguity, but one analyst close to parliament described this interpretation as the standard “operating assumption” inside.
Working backwards, if the elections are scheduled for November 15, for example, that would mean that after May 15, legislators, no matter how much they hate each other, will have to coexist.
Of course, it is still up to parliament to decide the date for the presidential election.
The ruling coalition is made up of three parties: the Social Democrats (SDPK), Respublika, and Ata-Jurt. Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev is from SDPK; Respublika’s Omurbek Babanov is first deputy prime minister; Akmatbek Keldibekov from Ata-Jurt is speaker.
Sometimes when reading about politics in Kyrgyzstan, you have to read news items twice just to make sure you have understood properly.
Sure enough, Bishkek’s AKIpress news agency is reporting that 10 parliamentary deputies from Felix Kulov's opposition Ar-Namys Party have decided to join the ranks of the governing coalition.
Smart money at the moment is on the imminent collapse of the coalition, which includes the Social Democratic Party, Respublika and Ata-Jurt. But this unexpected show of support from such a large section of the strongly anti-parliament Ar-Namys Party could prove to be a much-needed curative tonic.
In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, the 10 say their decision has been motivated by the awareness of the "political responsibility incumbent upon every Jogorku Kenesh deputy to seize upon Kyrgyzstan's historic opportunity to embark on a path of sustainable development in the interests of the people."
The deputies will remain in their own party, but they support the government with the aim of defending Kyrgyzstan from "destructive forces, including representatives of the criminal community." Ar-Namys has a total of 25 deputies in the 120-seat Jogorku Kenesh and Kulov is not among those signed up to support the coalition.
A leader of Kyrgyzstan’s largest parliamentary faction, and a rumored contender for president, Kamchybek Tashiev, is gaining a reputation for using his fists to conduct official business. In addition to the widely reported smashup with a deputy from an opposing party earlier this month, some confirmation seems to be leaking out about a more physically damaging brawl between Tashiev and one of his fellow party members a day earlier.
Parliamentary deputy Bakhadyr Sulaimanov alleges Tashiev beat him so badly on March 31 that he suffered a concussion, 24.kg reports. The two are members of the same party, Ata-Jurt, and reportedly the altercation came about after Sulaimanov refused to give up his seat in the legislature. Still in hospital, Sulaimanov is pressing charges, the Prosecutor General’s office announced on April 12. (Someone claiming to be Sulaimanov gave a colorful account of the fight on the popular Diesel Forum.)
Tashiev, who holds parliamentary immunity, denies the allegations. If the assault really did take place, the reasons behind it are not clear. But then, little ever is in the struggle for power among Kyrgyzstan's politicians.
If you could choose one word to describe Kyrgyzstan, would it be "friendly"? If so, then you and Donald Rumsfeld are on the same page.
Rumsfeld, you may recall, has released many previously classified documents from his tenure as secretary of defense to coincide with the launch of his book. But he didn't post all of the documents that were released to him. And of all publications Gawker, the gossip blog, filed a FOIA request to see all of the documents, including the ones, as they put it, that "Rumsfeld Doesn't Want You to See." You can see them all in a dauntingly unorganized 1,362-page pdf here. But before I get through that, one memo from Rumsfeld's desk that Gawker highlighted is worth looking at.
It's from April 30, 2002, and titled "COUNTRIES FOR U.S./DOD TO EMPHASIZE -- AND WHY," and offers an extremely brief (two pages) tour d'horizon of how the Pentagon saw countries around the world, including Central Asia.
Central Asia – (Evolving, looking for counterweight to Russia and PRC; enormous energy potential, secular muslims v. religious extremism)
Kazakhstan – Big; oil-rich; leading [sic] our way, see the U.S. as counterbalance to PRC and Russia.
Azerbaijan – Friendly, potential as war on [sic] forward operating base
Kyrgyzstan – Friendly
Uzbekistan – concerned about Russia, has chosen the U.S.
Afghanistan – A potential liability; U.S. has a stake in it not failing.
Kyrgyzstan’s leaders are saying all the right things, if the Kremlin were voting in this fall’s presidential election.
On the heels of Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev’s recent Moscow visit, First Deputy PM Omurbek Babanov is now there to discuss economic cooperation. To ease his expedition, Atambayev has pushed for Kyrgyzstan to join the Russia-led Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which is often described as Russia's bid to reassert economic dominance in the former Soviet Union and stanch rising Chinese influence.
But Babanov is a divisive figure in Bishkek. The largest party in the legislature, Ata-Jurt, has actively used corruption allegations to seek his resignation. Ata-Jurt leaders also fear the Atambayev-Babanov tandem will employ government resources to make a bid for the presidency.
Though Ata-Jurt is in the ruling coalition with Atambayev’s Social Democrats (SDPK) and Babanov’s Respublika, party leaders have repeatedly threatened (at one point employing fists and maybe packing guns) to withdraw and upset the ruling equilibrium just as the presidential campaign enters full swing.
A couple of weeks ago, Kyrgyzstan's president, Roza Otunbayeva, announced that the country was planning to construct two counterterror training centers in the southern part of the country, and that one would be built by Russia and the other by the U.S. Her announcement raised a lot of questions, which I posed to Alisher Khamidov, a EurasiaNet contributor and expert on southern Kyrgyzstan. He said that fears of Islamist militants from Tajikistan as well as the military of Uzbekistan are motivating Kyrgyzstan to develop the centers, and that Otunbayeva puts a higher priority on the U.S. center than on the Russian one. From our email Q&A:
Q: There hasn't been much evidence of a threat of terrorist infiltration from Tajikistan -- in fact, the "terror" threat in Tajikistan seems to be largely driven by local strongmen with local grievances. Do you think Otunbayeva genuinely believes there is a terror threat, or is this a pretext for some other motive?
A: Based on my conversations with her, Otunbayeva and some top ranking Kyrgyz government officials genuinely believe there is a terror threat emanating from Tajikistan. Perhaps it's because the Kyrgyz National Security Service has its own sources in Tajikistan.
Q: Is there a geopolitical component to inviting both Russian and U.S training centers? Do you think she considers them equally important, both in terms of practical training and in geopolitical/symbolic terms? Or is one more important practically, and the other for symbolic/geopolitical ends?