Kyrgyzstan’s almost-revolution

February 15, 2011

Jason Netek looks at Kyrgyzstan since the upheaval that took place last year--and explains how the fight for real democracy has been subverted.

EVERY GENUINE radical in the world is watching North Africa and the Middle East in anticipation of the collapse of a whole string of autocratic client states of U.S. imperialism.

The rebellion in Tunisia has inspired more rebellions in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen and Jordan, and it has spread quickly. In both Tunisia and Egypt, the people have cast out dictators and are entering new phases of their struggle as the leftovers of the old regimes try to maintain their power behind new facades.

The people of the Arab world are showing just how much they do not need to be bombed by the U.S. military in order to "usher in democracy"--the way the U.S. claimed it would in Iraq eight years ago (with no actual success to date).

The people who tell us that protest doesn't work and that revolution is utopianism have egg on their faces. The reality of class society, the ever-present contradiction between an abundance of wealth and the restriction of access to it, almost naturally guarantees the re-emergence of struggle.

The left should surely celebrate and support these movements--as many are already doing across the globe with solidarity rallies and celebrations at embassies and other important locations.

But we should not forget that in Central Asia, there is another string of undemocratic states that are also crucial to imperialism and have also been rocked from below, like so many phony democracies in the Arab world at this very moment. The mostly forgotten ex-Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan was recently host to an Egypt-style popular uprising that was carried to success, and that success is now in jeopardy.

THE STRUGGLE in Kyrgyzstan has its roots in the "Tulip Revolution," where mass protests forced out an authoritarian president named Askar Akiyev, a former deputy in Gorbachev's supreme soviet, who oversaw the privatization of huge amounts of nationalized property during his 14 years as head of state. His personal hand could be seen in robbing the nation of its wealth while not providing the liberty promised by independence from Russia.

Demonstrations against his rule began in 2002, and in 2005, a mass wave of protest forced his resignation. The new president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, himself rather spuriously elected, promised "national unity" and democracy, but proved himself to be as brilliant a student in the post-Stalinist school of kleptocracy as his deposed predecessor--and had no softer a step when it came to trampling civil liberties.

Last year, the economic and political situation led to a revival of the struggle, this time against Bakiyev, who, unlike Mubarak and Ben Ali, was never wholly faithful to one patron and maintained an imperialist love triangle with both the United States and Russia during his rule.

Then, as now, the media acted as though the most important issue of the day was "American interests" or "stability." Then, as now, the working masses acted heroically in the face of armed repression. In some cases, crowds even took to disarming the riot police, donning their equipment and going on the offensive against the would-be suppressors of the rebellion.

After the petty dictator fled his palace for the safety of Belarus, a provisional government was set up by a coalition of the Social Democratic Party, the Communist Party, and the Ata Meken Socialist Party which set about dismissing several ambassadors, renationalizing some privatized firms, and canceling the Bakiyev government's recent price hikes.

With the people seething with hatred for the regime--itself the replacement of a hated regime--and already having displayed a militant desire to move forward, the coalition government of nominally left-wing forces was in a good position to deepen the revolution. It justified its own existence on the basis of the kurultai--popular revolutionary assemblies which took place all over the country.

NATO-backed rulers across the region must have been a little nervous about the presence of such revolutionary potential right next door. Uzbekistan, to take one example, still had the memory of its own bloody unrest during the uncertain year of their neighbor's Tulip Revolution. For its part, the U.S. was very concerned that the Manas Air Force Base, so important for the continued imperialist war in Afghanistan, might instead be used for Kyrgyz purposes.

The popular revolution which might have spread across the region was not to be, however, and the coalition government set about reforming the constitution a bit and then began preparing for new elections, which would allow for the participation of Ata Zhurt, a conservative nationalist party that, in addition to becoming the new home for many of Bakiyev's people once their own party was banned, openly campaigned against the reforms and for the return of the deposed president.

IN A country that had just revolted against a culture of cronyism and rigged elections, the very people who stood as an obstacle to any real democracy in the past were let in the back door to participate in setting up the "democracy" they openly intended to roll back.

Ata Zhurt won by a mere 20,000 votes. A minority by a mere two parliamentary seats, the Social Democrats legally and peacefully brought in many of the people they had seized power from. All of this took place against a backdrop of clashes between the new government and Bakiyev supporters.

After failing to unite with their fellow reformists in Ata Meken, the Social Democrats performed the ultimate sellout of the movement by actually forming a coalition government with Ata Zhurt. One has to wonder at the logic of forming a unity government with the people who campaign as your polar opposite, but then European parties do it all the time. The sacrifice of principle for the sake of sharing power is not a new phenomenon in the parliamentary game.

By this point, the U.S. military had already been able to rest easy, for almost immediately upon becoming interim prime minister, the Social Democratic leader Roza Otunbayeva declared the governments' willingness to continue to allow Manas to be a staging point for the subjugation of their Afghan neighbors.

As internationalists, we should enthusiastically support any movement that aims for greater freedom, without trying to impose conditions on them. We should never be in the habit of making revolutionary prescriptions for other countries. Our duty as socialists in the U.S. is to show immediate practical solidarity with the peoples of other nations struggling against autocracy, corruption and economic hardships.

We also cannot shy away from declaring what has been an established fact since the great revolutionary wave of 1848: you cannot make half a revolution. The masses of Kyrgyzstan brought their country to the brink, but those who took up the mantle of leadership brought it back.

What is to happen in Egypt or Tunisia or in any of the growing list of nations being shaken by their people is yet to be determined. One thing can be certain; those who step forward to claim leadership in such crucial times must be willing to be as radical as reality itself.

History is not forgiving to the memory of those who will compromise whatever the cost. As the saying goes, "Fortune favors the bold!"

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