“Kyrgyzstan has become a model of alternation of power in the region”: 10 years of the revolution in Bishkek

'The Kyrgyz Spring' 2010: the expert on the results of the coup in the Central Asian Republic

After two revolutions — in 2005 and 2010 — Kyrgyzstan has become the first of the Central Asian countries to embark on the path of democracy, according to Kazakh opposition politician Amirzhan Kosanov. In his opinion, despite the attempts of individual presidents of the republic to strengthen their personal power and put representatives of their clan in key positions, the Kyrgyz people, having breathed the air of democracy, do not allow the government to tip over into authoritarianism. The expert spoke about the reasons and results of the violent events that took place 10 years ago (April 6 and 7, 2010) in Bishkek in the interview with the correspondent of Realnoe Vremya.

“The eternal problem in Kyrgyzstan — north and south”

Amirzhan Sagidrakhmanovich, what was the impetus for the revolutionary events in Kyrgyzstan in 2010? Did the situation correspond to the classic formula: “the rules are unable and the ruled ones are unwilling”?

This classical formula has always had its own flaw, and it cannot be universal for any country and any period. Yes, there was (and still is) some basis for protests in this or that country, including in Kyrgyzstan. We, the Kazakhs, closely monitor the situation in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Of course, my opinion as a citizen of Kazakhstan may differ from the opinion of Kyrgyz experts who live in the thick of events. But we are fraternal peoples, and as a politician, I have always closely followed the twists and turns of events in Kyrgyzstan.

This classic formula about the rulers and the ruled in the situation with Kyrgyzstan has its own specific features.

The first one is that by that time, in 2010, Kyrgyzstan had already experienced the Tulip Revolution of 2005. This means that there had already been a certain experience of alternation of power: the results of Akayev's resignation and Bakiyev's accession to power. The people was both mentally and psychologically prepared for such a scenario. I remember that in 2005, we, the Kazakh oppositionists, used our Kyrgyz brothers as an example: look, people were able to unite and break the regime created by Akayev. Yes, Akayev's own people had a lot of complaints. But we must give him, and by the way, Shevardnadze, too, a credit: they did not shoot at their own people at the time, they left peacefully — such a step is worth a lot. So the year 2010 is linked to 2005. Many hopes associated with the popular revolution, regime change, the coming to power of the Democrats with good slogans, romantic revolutionary euphoria were deceived. Bakiyev began to create his own clan system, suppress dissent in society, strengthen personal power, and members of his family began to get involved in the economy and state affairs. And the Kyrgyz people, who saw all this under Akayev, were deeply disappointed: Akayev left, Bakiyev came — and nothing changed in the behaviour of the authorities!

In 2010, Kyrgyzstan had already experienced the Tulip Revolution of 2005. This means that there had already been a certain experience of alternation of power: the results of Akayev's resignation and Bakiyev's accession to power. The people was both mentally and psychologically prepared for such a scenario

The second pecularity: the eternal problem in Kyrgyzstan — north and south. This factor always works. It played a role in 2010, and continues to play now, in 2020, most likely, it will also take place during the parliamentary elections scheduled for this autumn. This regional confrontation, unfortunately, is not quite as flattering for the ruling elite of our neighbours. Such circumstance harms the civilized, general democratic development of any country. The use of tribalism and parochialism is a dangerous method in the hands of would-be politicians. Anyway, these elite conflicts also had an impact on the events of 2010. Then the ruling elite of Kyrgyzstan was still not at its best. It was taking its share of responsibility, it was unable to make it so that the people were united in geographical terms as a democratic unit. This is the fault of those elitists who were and are in Kyrgyzstan.

The third point is that we never rule out the influence of the region on events in any country. There were quite strained relations with a number of neighbours, including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. There were some facts and relapses that affected the overall situation in the region. In my opinion, Russia's position also played a role. It seems to me that in no other country in Central Asia, the influence of the Kremlin was so powerful and decisive. Apparently, these events did not happen without the Kremlin's blessing.

Why did the police, which, it would seem, should be the mainstay of the state regime, eventually switch to the side of the protesters?

It was quite a revealing moment. Yes, the police should formally be on the side of the authorities. But still, the air of freedom, democracy, and the example that occurred in 2005 had an impact on the mindset of law enforcement agencies. These people in uniform saw the authorities run away in 2005 and apparently did not want to associate themselves with the current and vicious regime. But, as some expert friends told me, there was also a factor of clannishness.

Speaking of clannishness. What political and economic clans exist in the country? Are they related to ethnic characteristics?

All in the set. There are generally recognized factors — the mentioned north and south. This affects not only the disposition of forces and resources in the elite, but also the mindset. Many leaders of the north and the south, formally speaking about the unity of the Kyrgyz people, still take this point into account in their secret scenarios.

Besides, clannishness is inherent not only in Kyrgyzstan, but also in the post-Soviet countries. This patriarchy is characteristic of underdeveloped societies: the civilized world has long lived by different rules. The clan that is in favour, in power, becomes dominant and begins to dictate its terms. And many clans, which did not get a tasty morsel of the economy, are forced to adapt to circumstances, to live by the rules imposed by the ruling group. Besides, such a balance between the three branches of government, which is enshrined in the constitution, between the clans can not be a priori. If it is, then it is artificial, short-lived, until the error of a particular clan. Everything here is subjective and opportunistic. And so temporarily. The same thing happened in Kyrgyzstan. For example, after 2010, Atambayev came to power, naturally, his clan dominated in political life. Now Zheyenbekov has come — now his clan is dominating. And many clans adapt to the existing situation. They have two ways: either to live by the rules dictated by the current president and his entourage, or not to accept these rules. But the second way is fraught with consequences: criminal cases are initiated, including far-fetched ones.

There are also certain inter-ethnic concerns in Kyrgyzstan, which are related to the neighbouring countries of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. And key problems, ethnic ones, also have an impact: when there are elections, there is a struggle for the votes of voters of different ethnicities. All this affects political decision-making, including relations with neighbours. I think that if there were no internal inter-ethnic and border problems, the relations between the fraternal Central Asian states would be much brighter, and the ties of friendship and kinship would be stronger.

It is no secret that after 2010, both Atambayev (pictured) and Jeenbekov tried (and are trying) to use the foreign policy factor

Usually the situation of instability is used by neighbours. How did Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia behave during the revolution? Whose side were they on?

The laws of the genre are such that neighbouring states cannot officially support the opposition in another country. It is nonsense. Although there may be some games. But outside of official politics. Any state that borders or does not border Kyrgyzstan will always support the current government. It is no secret that after 2010, both Atambayev and Jeenbekov tried (and are trying) to use the foreign policy factor. You remember that Atambayev during the crisis with Jeenbekov flew to the capital, he had an audience with Putin, there were some assurances. All this he tried to use for domestic political propaganda and to maintain his image.

As for Kazakhstan, it is clear that the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz are fraternal peoples, related. We have always been linked by ties of friendship and brotherhood, and we were together in the most difficult times. There were also sad pages of history that we experienced, and they are perceived objectively on both sides. But sometimes the internal political situation was also involved, when anti-Kazakh slogans were heard from Atambayev's side, we also experienced this period. For us, for our neighbours, a stable Kyrgyzstan is important, no matter what regime it is under. Therefore, we have always supported the democratic way of development of Kyrgyzstan. Certainly, there are issues related to water and energy resources, which the current Kyrgyz authorities sometimes begin to flaunt. But we, the Kazakhs, are also accustomed to this. All this is not so crucial as it is important to maintain fraternal relations. The main thing is that small and big problems in relations do not become a trump card that one or another president could pull out of his sleeve like a joker and try to blackmail his neighbours with it.

You've named three neighbours of Kyrgyzstan. I would also add China. And it's not so much that it borders Kyrgyzstan (although this is also important). The problem is that Kyrgyzstan is increasingly getting into debt to this superpower. Since 2010, this debt has grown 12(!) times and amounted to 1 billion 711,6 million dollars, and this is with the country's external debt of 3,8 billion dollars! It is huge money for the Kyrgyz economy. It pays to pay your debts, as they say...

Plus the Afghan factor. I mean drug trafficking through neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. And this is the interests of other superpowers…

Why is a change of power possible in Kyrgyzstan, even a revolutionary one, while in other Central Asian republics, in Kazakhstan, such a process has never taken place, except for the death of the leader from old age?

Each country has its own specifics. As Tolstoy said, “all happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Authoritarian regimes are strengthened in the same way, they live by the same laws, and they also have the same endings. But each mode comes to an end in its own way. The situation is the same in Uzbekistan (the sudden death of Islam Karimov), and it is a transit period in Kazakhstan now.

In my opinion, there are several reasons for the accelerated development of events in Kyrgyzstan in terms of the alternation of power.

The first reason: clearly — this is the growth of civic consciousness. After all, Kyrgyzstan has a well-developed civil society. We see that there, despite the not very nice attempts of the next president to tighten the public screws, there is a real political party life, there is a free media. The Genie of democracy, as they say, came out of the bottle and you can't push it back. They have a noticeable increase in civic activity, people know their rights, it is a fairly mature society. The same experience of changing presidents, however bitter it may be, is very instructive and contributes to the activation of society. Yes, there were victims during the revolutions of 2005 and 2010 — this is a tragedy for the people. But through this, there was maturation of society. People see that Otunbayeva can come instead of Akayev, she can and voluntarily leave and not sit forever in her place. Then Atambayev will come and after a certain period he can leave. Zheenbekov is viewed as a person who will leave one day, that he will not, like our first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, extend his powers, rewrite the constitution for himself. Therefore, the current presidents of Kyrgyzstan are hostages, in a good sense of the word, of that democratic system. And the more Kyrgyzstan will develop, the more honest, more decent and more democratic its presidents will be. Because they understand that they can not sit in their place, as general secretaries of the Central Committee of the CPSU, until the end of time. The Kyrgyz people have earned the tradition of alternation of their power through hard trials. Of course, we need each new government to be better, better-quality, more democratic, and fairer. But this is a question for the Kyrgyz electorate: who will they choose as the next president, as the next deputies of their parliament.

The second reason is related to the unresolved many socio-economic problems of the country. Kyrgyzstan is not as rich in natural resources as, for example, Kazakhstan, and, consequently, every president has a hard time implementing his election programmes, especially in terms of solving financial problems. But people want bread right now, this minute! And this situation also affects. Protest sentiments are growing, and this, in turn, leads to various pre-revolutionary situations.

I will also add the above-mentioned regional factor — a clear gradation between the North and the South — is also used by certain forces, including those who acts on behalf of the opposition. Although I, as a Democrat, oppose the presence of tribalist, clan-based elements in political activity. But, as they say, all means are good in war, and Kyrgyz politicians probably know more about this than I do. This is why this factor acts as a catalyst for conflict situations. And they are in many ways not ideologically-programmatic but personalistic in nature. And this is still a sign of the very authoritarianism that Kyrgyzstan needs to get rid of.

Besides, Kyrgyzstan is a geographically small state. They have more opportunities to organize popular performances: to get to the capital on foot, to organize some kind of march or movement. Any political organization can mobilize human resources throughout the country. Imagine Kazakhstan that contains five Frances. In Zhanaozen — in the west of the country — in 2011, civilians were shot at, it is a three-hour flight by plane from this city to the capital. This is enough time to fly around Europe. So these are geographical features.

Now Zheenbekov is strengthening the power, he raised the pass barrier to 9% in the parliamentary elections, strengthening his party, putting his servants in the power structures, repeating the mistakes of Atambayev. But Kyrgyzstan has embarked on such a path that if one or another president arranges his life-being, he will know that sooner or later the time will come to bear responsibility

What lessons did Kyrgyz citizens learn from the 2010 revolution?

The citizens of Kyrgyzstan may have their own, different vision of these lessons. But to some extent, these lessons are common because we all live in the same time, in the same space, and are more or less dependent on each other.

We, as a community that lives in the post-Soviet space, should take into account several points from the Kyrgyz experience.

First, revolutions are made by someone who knows, and their fruits are sometimes used by quite different people (also from the classics of political thought). Therefore, the people who have made a revolution need to have a clear, working mechanism for implementing their revolutionary demands. In short, politicians' beautiful election slogans about democracy should always be realised. To do this, there must be clear guarantees in the person of a parliament independent from the president. Only the parliament that expresses the will of the majority of the population can become an obstacle to lies of those politicians who come to power on the wave of beautiful promises. We should strengthen the parliament in every possible way so that it is not “tame”, so that it is representative, truly representative, expresses the will of the majority of the people and guarantees the development of democratic traditions.

The second lesson: no one has yet come up with a better medicine than democracy and freedom of speech. In order to avoid the coming of a second Bakiyev or someone else (here you can change the names of post-Soviet presidents as much as you like!), all formal democratic procedures should be followed. I am sure that there will be a real democracy in Kyrgyzstan. This republic is the first in our region to achieve real democratic achievements. After all, there is a different society, as well as the self-consciousness of citizens. I communicate with Kyrgyz human rights defenders, journalists, and politicians — they have completely different standards than we do. Now Zheenbekov is strengthening the power, he raised the pass barrier to 9% in the parliamentary elections, strengthening his party, putting his servants in the power structures, repeating the mistakes of Atambayev. But Kyrgyzstan has embarked on such a path that if one or another president arranges his life-being, he will know that sooner or later the time will come to bear responsibility. He will still not shoot at his own people, will not be worse than the previous president. . . This alternation factor will affect any president. The country will live better because of this.

Kyrgyzstan, despite the shortcomings of the formation of democracy, has become a model for us in the region of the changeability of power. Unfortunately, Kazakhstan, with its powerful economic potential, could not follow this path. We have our own way of prolonged transit, when the old president does not want to leave power, and the new one keeps looking at the old one.

But I am sure that this period of uncertainty will not be long. And we will pass our own, Kazakhstan's path to democracy: an evolutionary one, without shocks and with clear guarantees of non-repetition of relapses of the authoritarian period of development! The bitter and useful experience of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan will help us in many ways.

By Timur Rakhmatullin