And what now Mr. Kulov?

by Gene Daniels on 4/25/2007 · 2 comments

The “radical” opposition in Kyrgyzstan has been stung by a rapid succession of defeats, in what amounts to an unmitigated disaster for Kulov and company.

First there was the much lower than promised turnout of protesters for the latest street demonstrations, which were eventually ended by a surprisingly efficient police intervention on the night of April 19. Next, before the morning dawned the government had confiscated all opposition newspapers and their printing equipment, effectively bringing complete censorship to politics in Kyrgyzstan. And finally, the coup de grace came later in the morning when authorities raided the United Front headquarters and the main office of Kulov’s Ar-Namys party, seizing computers and files and arresting several members of the opposition. The combined effect of these events has greatly strengthened President Bakiev and appears to have put the “radical” opposition out of business.

Given this new situation, we might have expected a humbled Mr. Kulov going into self-imposed exile, or at the most groveling for a role in the “moderate” opposition. But it seems the man many in Bishkek call “the general” has other plans. On Monday (April 23) he gave an interview from his home town of Bajtyk in which he sounded more like a local warlord than a severely chastened opposition leader.

In the interview he came out swinging, accusing the Bakiev government of, “reprisals against dissentients, suppression of freedom of speech, intimidation of opponents, arrests of oppositional newspapers’ circulations,” (all true) and that “such a regime has no right to existence.”

Next he surprisingly announced that “the opposition was inclined to start [new] peaceful protest,” but at the same time hinting that the next round of protests, should they occur, might take a dark turn:

“Citizens are very strained, – he emphasizes. – Our task is to calm them down and the most important – to prevent splitting of Kyrgyzstan into the North and the South, provoked by Kurmanbek Bakiev. I consider detention of people [certain opposition leaders] to be irresponsible decision. In case authorities do not stop acting like this, it could lead to spontaneous protests, and I will not be able to keep the situation under control any more”.

As if this veiled threat was not enough, Mr. Kulov then raised the awful specter of the “shakhid,” or suicide bomber, entering Kyrgyz politics:

“Some citizens who addressed me for support after dispersal of the meeting on April 19, declared they were ready to act like shakhids against some representatives of authority”, – Felix Kulov informed. – I was shocked. It was necessary to call the imam to dissuade them from it.”

Of course it is impossible to know where reality ends and rhetoric begins, but an opposition leader of Kulov’s stature making casual remarks about suicide bombers should send shivers down the spine of everyone who cares about Kyrgyzstan.

Unfortunately this interview tends to confirm the picture painted by Bishkek taxi drivers who now talk about, “people slowly gathering into Bishkek, men from the Northern villages, who are really angry with Bakiev,” and that “this time it will be much worse, these men will go to war to bring Bakiev’s government down.”

My impression is that Felix Kulov is not quite ready to give up this fight, but how far “the general” is willing to go is not a pleasant thought.

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ainura cholponkulova April 25, 2007 at 10:26 pm

Both Bakiev and Kulov still use the same games of rules: soviet-style of political struggle. The only thing our politicians learned from western democracy and skillfully use in the current political life is protests and demonstrations. However, mentality and political background remains the same. Bakiev is former “partokrat” and factory director, while Kulov is professional silovik. Given their background of communist and soviet silovik, one might argue that both Bakiev and Kulov are not be able to listen each other, constructively communicate and elaborate compromising solution. This relates to current ruling elite at large. The main dillemma in current crisis is not constitutional reforms and corruption, albeit all those issues are most important. The core challenge is inability of our old (soviet) elite to lead a country. Their knowledges, experiences, mentality, approaches and technologies tremendoulsly impeds reforms in KG. Why most educated electorate do not support both Bakiev and Kulov? Cause, there is no clear economic agenda. Where is it? Why intellectuals do not join opposition movement in their demands? Once again, no clear vision. However, many in KG understand that although Bakiev fails in moving forward reforms, he is still legitimate President. So intelligentsia is reluctant to numerous coups and upheavels as following to such path KG might repeat african states cases. But unfortunately, western definition of democracy has been distorted in our country. Yes, freedom of speech and demonstrations are good. In the meantime, each politician has to learn listening and respecting another view, finding a compromising soution, strictly following rule of law, but not double standard and not manipulating constituences, clan and entourage in his political ambitions. Therefore, international in KG are weak in facilitating the confrontation. Working with former nomenklatura with tribal mentality is very tough. Almost many of them have been trained at the Communist Party School, not at western universities. During the soviet time such trainings have been obligatory to all pary leaders and members. Can you imagen? The positive sign is that democracy is underway in KG and there should be some outputs down the line. But the path is not simple and some risks might emerge in our tired country.

Partial observer April 26, 2007 at 12:55 am

I think the fact Kulov was styling himself as a Gandhi figure was also a bit weird – like the Indian people struggling against British imperialists, the people of Kyrgyzstan should also take up non-violent resistance. Nevertheless, I think the actions taken by the state over the past few days might just save the opposition – if the protests had been more quietly handled, they would likely have faded into an irrelevance. Now each person imprisoned will have a hundred people from their home village gathering to call for their release, and some might not even be paid!

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