The Crackdown: View from Bishkek

by Nathan Hamm on 3/23/2005 · 6 comments

From a high-ranking NGO employee in Bishkek:

Today, the interior minister and the procurator resigned – rumors are that they refused to use force against demonstrators.

The new interior minister showed that things were different by breaking up a peaceful student demonstration in Bishkek. It was all fairly calm, some people with a microphone, handing out newsletters etc. Then the pro-government student organization came out and started chanting. Each side had banners but the pro-government students had tee-shirts and festive balloons. The chanting continued for a few minutes and then the militia came in like a SWAT team and grabbed everyone and threw them in buses and drove them away. While not a real tragedy, it really does seem to show how plastic and thin the government’s support is when 100 students can threaten the stability of the country. What was odd is that many of the students who were grabbed were the pro-government student group so that it seemed as much a statement of new intent as of a real effort to take in “hooligans”. Still, they did manage to take into custody the head of the Coalition of NGOs and Interbelim, two large NGOs here.

Most alarming was the re-appearance of people wearing white hats and red armbands. Large, threatening looking fellows, they pushed, shoved and generally made it clear that if people wanted trouble, they were ready to give it. It really is alarming the use of un-armed, non-uniformed thugs to enforce discipline. I really can only call them proto-fascists.

The white hated thugs appeared yesterday at the supposedly pro-president demonstration at the swearing in of the new parliament. Alas, we heard from many of our teachers that their salaries were being withheld unless they appeared at the demonstration. Similar situation with university students – they were made to come to the square. The response to the speakers urging support to the president was tepid, even embarrassing. Unfortunately, the real support the president can muster in Bishkek is sort of like the support you give to a government when you think they’ve done the wrong thing but that you cannot really understand the other
sides position either. But then again, I might be mis-interpreting things here.

I’m pretty shocked. Akayev is playing with fire even though (form this account at least) the arrests don’t seem to have been particularly violent.

Update:

Here’s a photo of the white hats


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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 4 comments }

Laurence March 23, 2005 at 7:56 am

Nathan, don’t be shocked, this is the logic of the situation Akayev faces: resign or fight…

Nathan March 23, 2005 at 9:13 am

I’m shocked that he’s doing it because of what happened in Aksy a few years back. As for his logic, I think he lacks imagination, but that’s no surprise.

Some Guy March 24, 2005 at 9:52 am

Ummm…”proto-fascists”?

RED armbands signifies something else entirely. From this NGO guy’s unwillingness to call them what they were, perhaps he shouldn’t have been so critical of them…eh, comrade?

Nathan March 24, 2005 at 10:00 am

I’ll dispense with the niceties and just say you’re an asshole. This might explain why…

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