BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, has seen it all before. Ever since the “tulip revolution”, when Askar Akaev, the authoritarian former president, was chased out of office by street protesters two years ago, the country has been in permanent political tumult. Anti-government demonstrations follow the same pattern: tents are erected in front of the president’s office, the White House; the organisers bus in protesters from their home regions and feed and water them; some, the so-called “rental pickets”, are also paid for their time—causing quite a few old-guard Kyrgyzstanis to observe sourly that, since the tulip revolution, too many of their compatriots have forgotten the real meaning of a day’s work.

The protesters—more than 10,000 of them—who gathered in the centre of Bishkek on April 11th, however, seem to have been genuine. They were there to lend weight to the call by Kyrgyzstan’s opposition parties for Kurmanbek Bakiev, the president, who was swept into power in March 2005, to step down, hold early presidential elections and amend the constitution. The leading light behind this week’s rally was Mr Bakiev’s former ally and prime minister until last December, Felix Kulov. In February Mr Kulov set up a new opposition movement, with a splendidly inclusive name: the United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan. He and his supporters want to return to a short-lived constitution adopted only last November after a week of street protest. It curtailed the president’s extensive powers in favour of parliament. But Mr Bakiev managed to undo most of the changes a month later. In the process, Mr Kulov lost his job

Mr Bakiev has failed to fulfil his promises of democratic reform. Instead, he has replaced rule by his predecessor’s family with rule by his own. ~The Economist

So the phoney “Tulip Revolution,” which had more to do with two-faced oligarchs than tulips, has yielded bitter fruit.  This would be the part where democrats around the world scratch their heads and ask, “What went wrong?”  They are, of course, asking the wrong question.  The right question might be: “Who was naive enough to think that Kyrgyzstan was experiencing a democratic revolution?”  The evidence that the revolution was a sham was available pretty early on.

At the time, some of us were very skeptical of the democratic nature of the change of power.  This was not exactly an episode of the oppressed Kyrgyz people yearning to breathe free.  It seemed to be a regional and tribal feud that wore the mask of “people power,” a mere jockeying of old rivals, albeit one spurred on by meddlers from outside and accompanied by violencelooting and destruction of property

Many democrats around the world swallowed the propaganda whole without giving it much thought.  In most parts of the world, democracy really does just mean “to the victor the spoils,” because that will very frequently be the result of a change of power from one region or tribe to another.  The Ukrainian “revolution” of 2004 was much the same (that “revolution” has also experienced the disappointment of not being the glorious reform movement it was cracked up to be and now clings weakly to power), as was its dubious successor in Lebanon.  The politics and constitutions of these countries will always baffle outside observers who approach them with simple dictatorship/democracy binary schemes, because there is no country for which such a scheme makes any sense.

Of Mr. Bakiyev, I wrote last April:

For those who actually found Mr. Akayev’s rule so terrible, his replacement by Mr. Bakiyev will be as meaningful for the domestic reform of Kyrgyzstan as the succession of Andropov after Brezhnev was for the internal politics of the USSR.

This is turning out to be the case.  What else could we have expected from internecine fights among political figures raised up in the old Soviet system to one degree or other?  A Bishkek Spring?  Hardly.

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