Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Kyrgyzstan: Russians Spooked by Conflict Rumours
Kyrgyzstan’s Russian community has been shaken by an apparent whispering campaign aimed at driving Slavic groups from the republic in the wake of the recent revolution.
The Russian embassy in Bishkek confirmed that requests for information on how to emigrate to Russia have risen six-fold following the scare, which was apparently sparked by leaflets advocating the use of violence against non-Kyrgyz.
But the republic’s interim leaders – who swept to power in the so-called “tulip revolution” on March 24 – have dismissed the rumours as the work of “counterrevolutionaries” and called on Kyrgyzstan’s people to remain united.
Ishengul Boljurova, the first deputy prime minister for social issues, placed the blame on deposed president Askar Akaev’s circle.
“They cannot accept that they are no longer in power, and are destabilising the situation in any way they can,” she said. “One of Akaev’s slogans was ‘Kyrgyzstan is our common home’, yet now they are attacking this principle.”
On April 18, the Russian embassy addressed the republic’s half-million strong ethnic Russian population with a statement warning that certain elements were trying to “hinder the normalisation of the [post-revolution] situation” by inciting ethnic conflict.
Russian ambassador Yevgeny Shamgin said, “We are firmly convinced that the friendly people of Kyrgyzstan will emerge from these temporary difficulties with dignity.”
Rumours of the existence of leaflets advocating ethnic conflict and the seizure of property belonging to non-Kyrgyz first surfaced on April 12, and were exacerbated by a television report on squatters living in the village of Maevka.
The following day, rumours began to spread that the Maevka squatters were threatening their non-Kyrgyz landlords with violence unless they abandoned their properties.
The situation was exacerbated by stories that leaflets advocating “taking apartments away from the Russians” had been scattered outside Bishkek estate agencies, the national university, schools and in a number of villages including Maevka, Alamedin-1 and Chonaryk.
Bishkek housewife Yulia Kochergina was among those unnerved by these stories. “My husband and I were not intending to leave, but the rumours about the squatters have really scared us,” she said.
“We haven’t seen the leaflets, but when we heard about them my blood pressure went up. My husband says that if anyone tries to get into our house, he will burn it down. He has even brought a petrol canister home.”
However, not one leaflet has yet been confiscated by the authorities. Bishkek police department chief Omurbek Suvanaliev told IWPR, “These leaflets are like ghosts in an old castle - everyone is scared of them, but no one has seen them.”
In spite of the lack of solid evidence for any threat, ethnic Russians are still on edge. On the morning of April 14, over 400 people had put their names down for a consultation at Bishkek’s Russian embassy.
In an attempt to defuse the mounting tension, acting Kyrgyz foreign minister Roza Otunbaeva called a meeting with the ambassadors from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus later that day to reassure them that the situation was being dealt with seriously.
Belarus ambassador Aleksandr Kozyr said, “It is worrying that such leaflets have appeared, and that they have led to mass queues outside the embassies of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Undoubtedly, such disorder has been provoked by destructive elements.”
Otunbaeva told IWPR that the counter-revolutionary forces believed to be behind the campaign were simply out for revenge. These forces “have businesses and financial interests here, and they are in all the power structures”, she said.
She added that the loss of the “Russian-speaking population” – a term which includes Slavic Russians, Ukrainians, Belarussians and other groups - would be a severe blow for Kyrgyzstan, and must be avoided at all costs.
“Losing engineers, businessmen and highly-qualified specialists in all areas would have a negative effect on the country’s economy,” she said.
At a parliamentary meeting the following day, Kyrgyzstan’s acting president Kurmanbek Bakiev called on Russians and other Slavs to ignore the alleged provocations, blaming the rumours on counter-revolutionaries bent on setting sections of the population against one another.
“The law-enforcement bodies are investigating these cases, and I would like to stress that anyone who inflames the situation, regardless of their political status or rank, will face criminal and civil-law charges,” Bakiev said.
Deputy prime minister Daniyar Usenov told IWPR that the government was doing all it could. “A lot of problems have accumulated in this country over the past 14 years [since independence from the Soviet Union],” he said.
“I call on our citizens to be calm, and together we will build a new country.”
Alevtina Pronenko, the acting minister for labour and social welfare, said that the rumours had spread so far that some ethnic Kyrgyz people had arrived at her offices to ask to be given an apartment when the Russians eventually leave.
But she stressed, “The situation is not so serious that people need to flee the country en masse. This is a temporary situation, and the most important thing is to endure it.”
Tatyana Tsvigel, a teacher at Alamedin-1’s School ¹ 1, told IWPR that it was already too late for some Russians. “Fear for the future and for their children will make the Russian-speaking population leave Kyrgyzstan,” she said.
“We teachers will be forced to wait until June when the holidays begin, but even now two or three children from every class, most of them Russians, are leaving the school – and Kyrgyzstan.”
Leila Saralaeva is an independent journalist in Bishkek.
Elena Skochilo is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.
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