Mark N. Katz of George Mason University has an article carried by UPI discussing theories of revolution and Central Asia. He says that different theories of revolution offer different insights as to whether or not revolutions will occur in the first place and whether or not they would take a democratic or undemocratic path.
The application of the various theories to predict revolution to the situations in Central Asia is quite interesting if for no other reason than that it highlights the numerous inadequacies that reveal themselves when theories meet the real world.
Jeff Goodwin of New York University developed a theory that identifies certain types of regimes as more vulnerable to revolution than others. This theory argues that dictatorships are more vulnerable to revolution while democracies are much less so. Not all dictatorships, however, are equally vulnerable. Revolutions are more likely to succeed against patrimonial/clientelistic regimes (i.e., where there is one-man rule) than against bureaucratic/rational regimes (i.e., where an organization such as the army or a party is collectively in charge). Of the authoritarian regimes in Central Asia, the one in Turkmenistan appears to be the most patrimonial/clientelistic (and hence likely to be overthrown) while the Akaev regime in Kyrgyzstan was the least so. Yet Turkmenbashi (Saparmurat Niyazov) is still in power while Akaev is not.
It could be argued, though, that all of the Central Asian dictatorships are clientelistic/patrimonial, albeit to varying degrees. If this viewpoint is valid, then revolution can be expected to occur throughout Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan just happened to experience it first.
While “most likely” does not mean the same thing as “bound to happen first,” Kyrgyzstan in the final years of the Akaev presidency appeared leaps and bounds more unstable than Turkmenistan. That this appears obvious prima facie suggests that there are economic bases to the anger that drives political revolutions. (Which, in turn, is why I find it unpersuasive that political repression alone is what fuels Islamism in the region.)
What I find more convincing is the theory that prolonged high population growth alongside state financial incapacity weakens states and makes them more vulnerable to revolution. This theory predicts smooth sailing for Kazakhstan as its population is actually projected to shrink by 2050 and things look fairly good on the economic front. Turkmenistan’s resource wealth will have to support a rapidly growing population (which it’s not really doing now anyway..), and Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan all face a dark future.
Apart from the question of whether or not revolutions will occur is the question of whether or not they will be democratic.
It may seem counterintuitive that the middle classes would ever embrace the non-democratic opposition, but this has happened when the regime resists democratization, the middle classes mistrust the United States for previous support for the dictatorship, and middle class leaders mistakenly believe that they can ally with the non-democratic revolutionary opposition to bring down the old regime but then dominate the new regime afterward.
The fact that the Tulip revolution took place in Kyrgyzstan suggests that middle class elements elsewhere in Central Asia would support democratization, if this option were possible.
I’m a little puzzled by that last sentence. I have a hard time accepting the characterization of the Tulip revolution as being a wholly democratic revolution. It would be much more accurate to say that the fact that the Tulip revolution took place in Kyrgyzstan suggests that the middle class (or whoever it’s most accurate to say carried out the bulk of protesting in Kyrgzstan) would support their patrons, as most of the protesters out in the regions did not seem nearly as interested in carrying the torch of liberty and democracy as they were in making sure their candidate made it into parliament. As much as the apparent increase in the chances for state collapse across Central Asia in the near future gives reason to worry, so should the fact that the Tulip revolution–the outcomes of which should largely be considered a result of state collapse rather than the realization of protesters’ wishes–indicates that support for patrimonialism/clientelism in the region is more natural than it is for democracy.