Since Ata-Jurt leader Kamchybek Tashievreportedly said ahead of the October 10 vote that his colleagues were “the only ones who can bring Bakiyev back,” relatives of those killed in April (and assorted other hangers-on, now including parties that failed to win seats) have been rallying against Ata-Jurt taking its rightful place in parliament.
An organizer from the group Meken Sheyitteri (“Homeland’s Martyrs”) told 24.kg that protesters are demanding the election results be cancelled. Yet the vote was praised by the OSCE and called the freest election in Kyrgyzstan’s history.
On October 19, a surly crowd held yet another rally as riot police watched from a nearby park. Though organizers have told local press they are beginning a hunger strike, some were passing out food to participants (and seemed especially unhappy to be photographed in the act) – a tried and tested way to bolster support in Kyrgyzstan and keep the protest alive.
UPDATE: The Prosecutor General's office has denied press reports that a criminal case has been opened against the Ata-Jurt party, saying that, on the contrary, it is investigating the provenance and authenticity of the controversial video and audio recordings implicating Kamchybek Tashiev.
In early August, leaders of Kyrgyzstan's main political parties signed a memorandum pledging to play clean during the upcoming campaign for parliament. Two months later, as the campaign enters its final stage, mud is flying: leading candidates are accusing each other of foul play while their supporters spread compromising material about rival parties. The brewing political antagonism could end up polarizing voters and undermine provisional government attempts to stabilize the country during or after the October 10 poll.
On October 4, an unlikely coalition of four “opposition” parties -- Respublika, Ata-Jurt, Ar Namys and Jashasyn Kyrgyzstan -- issued a statement accusing the Social Democratic Party (SDPK), the main party affiliated with the government of provisional President Roza Otunbayeva, of “relying on dirty campaign technology which seeks to sow discord among parties.” The statement alleged that SDPK is using so-called “administrative resources” to influence and postpone the vote.
At the tail end of a parliamentary campaign that has been more civilized than naysayers had feared, tensions among political opponents have heated up, threatening to exacerbate the country’s simmering north-south divisions only days before the October 10 poll.
On Wednesday afternoon, angry protestors broke into the Bishkek headquarters of the wildcard nationalist party, Ata Jurt (“Fatherland”), after one of its leaders reportedly called for President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a native son of the south who was ousted in street demonstrations in April, to return to Kyrgyzstan.
A man resembling Ata-Jurt candidate Kamchybek Tashiev was recorded addressing an audience during a campaign-stop Q&A. Apparently trying to curry favor with Bakiyev supporters, the man implied that he supported Bakiyev’s return. Ata Jurt has alleged foul play, saying the video was manipulated.
In the grainy tape, a voter appears to ask Tashiev why, as a former Bakiyev-era minister, he didn’t take any measures to keep Bakiyev in power (presumably in April). The Tashiev-like character replies: “We weren’t able to keep him in power, but ultimately we’re the only ones who can bring Bakiyev back to the country.”
Security officials guard a protest rally at the headquarters of the Ata-Jurt party in Bishkek, where several dozen people stormed the building and set fire to campaign literature from the Ata-Jurt party outside the building. Several women held posters with photos of relatives and friends killed during the April events in Bishkek that led to the ouster of former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Pedestrians stroll past peeling campaign posters in central Bishkek. Kyrgyz voters go to the polls on Oct. 10 to vote in a new parliament, the first following the recent unrest in southwestern Osh and following the ouster of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Twenty-nine political parties have presented more than 3,300 candidates vying for 120 seats in the Kyrgyz parliament.
Unable to admit Kyrgyzstan’s recent chaos is the product of unaddressed socioeconomic grievances, corruption and warlordism, officials and self-described patriots are blaming international organizations for nearly every one of the country’s seemingly insurmountable list of problems.
For example, Deputy Prime Minister Azimbek Beknazarov last week said international organizations could not be trusted as many of their Osh-based staff are ethnic Uzbek. Such naked chauvinism nourishes nationalist paranoiacs who believe the world is collaborating with Uzbeks in a conspiracy against the Kyrgyz nation. Beknazarov said a planned 52-strong deployment of unarmed OSCE police advisors should be cancelled because they could not be impartial.
On August 13, Beknazarov’s office lashed out at the conclusions of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. Yep, the UN’s OHCHR too says the Uzbeks were the primary target of the June violence.
“Representatives of international organizations have lost credit among the people,” political analyst Orozbek Moldaliev told 24.kg, explaining why “patriots” – apparently including himself – are against the OSCE advisors.
At an August 5 rally for a deranged nationalist who thought he could waltz into Bishkek and assume the premiership, female supporters were passing out gruesome photographs. They were images of dead bodies in Osh during the June ethnic violence.
"These are dead Kyrgyz, our Kyrgyz," one woman told me.
Most of the pictured corpses were difficult to identify. Perhaps they were Kyrgyz; perhaps Uzbek. But the need to turn these bodies into propaganda highlights simmering tensions over the narrative of what happened in the South. Many Kyrgyz have been angered by what they say is an unfair portrayal of the events - that they have been vilified - though most international observers say the majority of victims were minority ethnic Uzbeks. No one disputes that Kyrgyz died too.
Parliamentary campaign season is just kicking of and politicians have noticed: any disagreement with this reified narrative is a definite vote-loser.
In his bid for a parliamentary seat, a Russian-speaking ethnic Kyrgyz friend complains that many of his constituents confront him with only one concern: ‘How can you run for parliament when you don’t speak Kyrgyz well?’
Language has long been crucial to creation of national identities in former Soviet territories, where Moscow forced Russian on the populations. But since the ethnic violence in June, many Kyrgyz are now embracing a reactionary policy. Some politicians want to ensure only fluent Kyrgyz speakers (i.e. no other ethnicities) can take part in governing the country.
The most dangerous newspapers write “Kyrgyzstan is for the Kyrgyz,” but their ideas are becoming mainstream. Kyrgyz feel they lost an “information war” because the world sees them as the aggressors in the June violence. Yet the economy is in free-fall and most observers fear civil war. Now is a bad time to further isolate the country.
Kyrgyz, rather than Russian, should become the state’s sole language of “inter-ethnic communication,” said Azimjan Ibraimov, the head of the State Commission for the State Language under the president’s office, according to 24.kg. Every state employee should take an exam to prove his or her Kyrgyz skills, Ibraimov asserts.
At a donor meeting today, Kyrgyzstan's leaders revised upward the amount they say is needed to get their economy back on track. The new magic number: $1.2 billion, or over 25 percent of Kyrgyzstan's GDP (roughly $4.7 billion in 2009, according to US government figures).
That's a lot, though the UN has backed up this figure as have the usual Bretton Woods supranational suspects, including the International Monetary Fund. Certainly the economic projections are disheartening. At the conference, provisional President Roza Otunbayeva said Kyrgyzstan's economy would shrink by 5 percent this year thanks to the recent bout of instability. Finance Minister Chorobek Imashev said the country faces a budget shortfall of $619 million.
Observers in Bishkek wonder how the country will handle such a huge cash infusion. As Inside the Cocoon noted yesterday, Kyrgyzstan isn't exactly a fiscally clean place. In fact, it's among the most corrupt countries on the planet.
And what about reconciliation initiatives involving Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan? Government officials framed their appeal to the international community in a way that sounded as if Kyrgyzstan had just suffered a natural disaster, rather than inter-ethnic conflict.
Before international donors and local officials gather tomorrow to discuss a financial aid package for Kyrgyzstan, one figure is already getting attention: $1 billion. Yep, the damage from the recent violence and political turmoil, and subsequent economic collapse, cost exactly a billion, says newly appointed Senior Vice Prime Minister Amangeldi Muraliev.
But Muraliev did not pull that number out of thin air. The sonorous figure is floating around the international donor community and is expected to be center stage during the July 27 donor conference in Bishkek.
“The preliminary assessment for the country’s needs … are about $1 billon,” said a Bishkek-based source at one of the major multilateral donor organizations.
Kyrgyzstan certainly has huge financial hurdles ahead. The World Bank estimates the country’s GDP, on track to grow 4.5 percent before the April uprising, will actually shrink by 3.5 percent in 2010.
It will be interesting to see how the government itemizes its request, and how donors respond. Kyrgyzstan ranks in the top 20 most corrupt countries worldwide by Transparency International. So far, the UN, in its most recent revised flash appeal, has sought just under $100 million.