Chicago Tribune Handicaps Central Asian Dominoes

by Laurence on 3/27/2005 · 1 comment

Alex Rodriguez analyzes the probability of revolt in neighboring Central Asian republics.

“I think there are strong chances that the opposition might succeed in countries neighboring Kyrgyzstan,” said Zeyno Baran, a Central Asia affairs analyst for the Washington-based Nixon Center. “I would say the chances are highest in Kazakhstan, then followed by Tajikistan and then less in Uzbekistan, which is a much stronger state and much more repressive than the others.”

Indeed, in the former Soviet republics that make up most of Central Asia, dissent is often silenced with torture, imprisonment or both. Kyrgyzstan may have inspired its neighbors much the way it had been inspired by Georgia and Ukraine, but it is less certain whether it can serve as a model for change in those countries.

“In all other Central Asian states, the regimes are much more repressive. They don’t even allow the opposition to emerge,” said Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Moscow-based Politika Foundation. “So the chances of a similar event happening elsewhere in Central Asia are very poor.”

In Turkmenistan, where Saparmurad Niyazov has declared himself president for life, political opposition virtually does not exist. Niyazov’s administration echoes North Korea (news – web sites)’s government in its isolation and authoritarian rule.

Tajikistan, just south of Kyrgyzstan, remains scarred by a brutal civil war that killed thousands of people between 1992 in 1997. Weary of conflict, its citizens are considered unlikely to rise up against President Emomali Rakhmonov, a strongman who reinforced his grip on power with parliamentary elections this year. Those elections were criticized by international observers as rife with fraud.

Uzbekistan’s president, Islam Karimov, heads a virtual police state with a history of jailing political opponents and suppressing religious freedoms. Edil Baisalov, head of the Bishkek-based Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, said an uprising in Uzbekistan could occur, but it likely would be spearheaded by Islamic fundamentalists who allege Karimov has jailed and tortured scores of followers.

Oil-rich Kazakhstan is an unlikely venue for change for a different reason: Though regarded as authoritarian, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has made strides modernizing and improving his country’s economy.

“Many young Kazakhs are busy making money and building their career, and they would prefer to not think about politics right now,” Baisalov said. “Stability is much more important.”

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