Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Sense of Normality Returns
The situation in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek appeared close to normality on the third day after the dramatic events which forced President Askar Akaev to flee the country. If the new administration was not yet bedded in, there was a sense that it was at least getting on top of law and order, and there was little of the looting seen on previous nights.
Politicians and other observers dismissed fears that ethnic Russians would leave Kyrgyzstan in droves as a result of the disturbances, saying the trouble was mostly over, and there was no Kyrgyz nationalist tone to the political changeover.
The night of March 26-27 in Bishkek passed without the looting that had so shocked locals on the first evening after the opposition seized power. Few major incidents were reported, just 100 or so more minor cases such as break-ins at small shops.
There were more police and civilian auxiliaries organised by the former opposition patrolling the streets on foot, while traffic police watched the roads.
As residents stocked up on food after days of uncertainty, they had to tramp through an unseasonal spring snowfall.
The political turbulence has left some Russians wondering where they stand. As well as concern that the unrest would continue, some of those interviewed by IWPR were worried about the intentions of unfamiliar Kyrgyz politicians from the south, rather than President Akaev who was a known quantity.
“These southerners are hungry, they ransacked the entire city,” Vitaly Volkov, a professional driver, told IWPR. “Now these southerners have come to power, and the country will be ransacked just like that night.”
Dmitry Orlov, an unemployed man, said, “I am leaving this country because there are no prospects in this country. The night when all the shops were pillaged was a clear indication of that. People were stealing from themselves - how can such a country achieve progress?”
Taisia Markeyeva owns a private guesthouse and said, “I and many of my friends were satisfied by Akaev. Now the new authorities have come in, and I naturally fear for my husband, who works in a state institution. I’m afraid he’ll be dismissed and new people appointed.”
Felix Kulov, placed in charge of coordinating law and order, spoke on Moscow television – widely watched in Kyrgyzstan – to give assurances to the local Russian community. “I can guarantee with a great deal of confidence that nationalism is completely ruled out. Besides, many Russians took part in the peaceful demonstration,” he said.
Political scientist Nur Omarov said, “The apprehension of the Russian-speaking population is groundless…. All ethnic groups living in Kyrgyzstan have understood that the problem is not with the people, but with the economic situation.”
Omarov pointed out that the options facing Russian emigrants were not particularly attractive, “Despite their fears, they have practically nowhere to go. To poor Russia? Even the procedure for getting Russian citizenship is very complicated and bureaucratic. Many already have a negative experience of going to Russia and being a nobody there.”
Independent journalist Alexander Kulinsky believed the Russians’ fears would dissipate as the situation calmed down.
“It was that black night [of looting] after the revolution… that spurred the desire to leave the country. I am not really sure that people will leave in reality. I think it is a normal fear. If the new authorities are stricter and attempts at looting are prevented, the situation should change.”
At a political level, Kulinsky noted that “ethnic minorities used to relate their future to Askar Akaev. But as the authorities form a new leadership, they are trying to take this factor into account.”
Kulinsky said the attitude shown by Russia itself would also shape the mood of the local community. He noted that acting head of state Kurmanbek Bakiev had already emphasised that Russia would remain a strategic partner.
“If Russia demonstrates an interest in cooperating with the new authorities, and high-ranking leaders start arriving from Russia, then the Russian population will accept the arrival of the new powers that be more calmly and confidently.”
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, of which Kyrgyzstan is a member, says it is now in contact with the new authorities.
But OSCE ambassador Markus Muller warned that the June date announced for a presidential election was unrealistic. He said such a ballot could result in more chaos unless the various political forces in the country were able to reach a compromise.
Meanwhile, considerable confusion remained around whether it was the outgoing Kyrgyz parliament, which reconvened on March 24 to appoint the country’s new leaders, or the new body elected in recent controversial elections, that was the proper legitimate authority.
Both legislatures met in the parliament building on March 26. The central election committee appeared to rule in favour of the new one even though the supreme court had annulled the elected deputies’ mandates.
Although Bakiev had come down on the side of the outgoing body, Kulov did just the opposite, telling its members that their term had expired and he would be obeying decisions made by its replacement. He warned that if members of the old parliament attempted to rally support on the streets, he would take action against the organisers.
New prosecutor-general Azimbek Beknazarov, a member of the old parliament, said he disagreed with the legitimisation of the new legislature.
On March 27, the majority of new deputies went ahead with a session, and said they would be meeting every day from now on. Their acting speaker was Dooronbek Sadyrbaev – the post Ishenbay Kadyrbekov was appointed to, albeit in the outgoing parliament, on March 24.
As the new legislators met, activists who had taken part in the storming of the government building gathered in parliament. Some said their revolutionary work was still unfinished.
“Yes, the first demand was met: Akaev left,” said one of the protesters, Raimbek Shabdanbek. “But the deputies who were elected unfairly did not leave – they’re complete bandits. Why was it that we exposed our heads to the batons of special police units?”
Mirbek Koichiev, from the Toktogul district of Jalalabad in the south, complained, “After the White House was taken, they did not even thank us - or feed us.
“I personally won’t leave until a repeat general election is held.”
Leila Saralaeva is an independent journalist in Bishkek. Sultan Kanazarov is a reporter for Radio Azzatyk, the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL
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