Editor’s note: This post was originally supposed to run 13 June, but got lost in the drafts folder.
Many citizens of Kyrgyzstan have begun venting their anger at the Interim Government, calling it to task for alleged inaction in quelling the inter-ethnic violence in the country’s south over the past 86 hours. Posts on the popular Deisel Forum, analysts in the local Beliy Parus online news site, comments by locals in international coverage, even local Twitterers accuse the government of doing nothing to quell the violence.
While it is understandable that citizens would criticize the authorities for their lack of results, it should be understood that they are plagued by many of the same weaknesses that doomed their predecessors.
Kyrgyzstan’s governments have few resources from which to derive power. The country is too poor to field substantial security forces to control the population, or provide a bountiful welfare state to buy its acquiescence. Its people are more accustomed to challenging authority than those in neighboring countries. Its governmental structure, particularly under the internally-divided Interim Government, is less centralized than that of its neighbors. Its geography makes moving everything from troops, to food, to electricity extremely difficult.
Bakiev’s central policy was to centralize power around himself, but rather increase national security, this was further undermined. Well-known public figures and veterans of the police and KGB have complained about the political appointments, political repressions, miserable wages and morale that completely undermined the professionalism and public legitimacy of the security structures under Bakiev.
We saw the ineffectiveness of these forces in defending public order in April, as the government was overthrown by a few thousand protestors over a matter of 36 hours. They deserted their posts, ran from lesser-armed adversaries, hesitated to follow orders. They were poorly organized and led, assumedly by politically-appointed novices. In Bishkek, the rank-and-file were clearly reluctant to defend the regime with their blood. Later, in Jalalabad, we saw forces again unwilling to fulfill their duties, ostensibly because their officers were loyal to Bakiev and benefited from his patronage.
These are problems that are not resolved over months by an interim leadership. In fact, each incident in which the population exercises blatant, unpunished lawlessness adds to the momentum of the vicious circle of further lawlessness, and further weakening of those forces charged to protect the law.
This cycle has existed in Kyrgyzstan throughout its independence, and we appear to be entering a dangerously momentous phase, where they circle may break, sending the country into the abyss. Lawlessness by the immoral and vigilante justice by the self-righteous can be felt tightening their grip over the status quo in Kyrgyzstan.
Blame, Where Blame is Due
As the IG was dealt a weak hand from the start, it seems premature to place blame at their feet for failing to win with it. Rather, they should be faulted for not forcefully addressing the root cause of this crisis.
While IG members are smartly balanced between northern and southern Kyrgyz leaders, and led (at least technically) by a woman generally considered to be uncorrupt and well-intentioned in Rosa Otunbayeva, there is not a single leader from the 35% of the population that is not Kyrgyz. Considering this flaw, it will remain difficult for the IG to live up to its self-assigned moniker, the “Government of the People’s Trust”.
Thus, there has been no public voice to speak to the Uzbek side of the conflict. No Uzbek co-consul dispatched to reconcile the sides with the Kyrgyz Defense Minister Isakov. No one to explain to them that the government is trying to help them and to hold out hope. No one to call them to stay in their homes, to exercise restraint, to resist provocations, to come to negotiations. No one to inform them of the humanitarian assistance en route from Bishkek, or the attempts of the government to call in peacekeepers from Russia. In short, no one in the government that these people can trust.
A Kyrgyz resident of the mixed town of Bazar-Korgon reported to me by phone that Kyrgyz community leaders had tried to seek out their Uzbek counterparts to assure that their town would not fall victim to the same violence, but the Uzbeks were in hiding, afraid to talk to anyone. Uzbek women and children fleeing Osh for the border with Uzbekistan reported to Al-Jazeera that they were attacked by Kyrgyz government military forces.
While the IG failed to recognize the importance, if even symbolic, of including minorities in their ranks, this also likely led to a failure to directly address the risks posed by suspicions, provocations, and nationalism in the country. The race riots that occured in the Bishkek suburb of Maevka – regardless of whether those too were a pre-planned, financed provocation – did not force the IG to recognize how easily nationalism could lead to chaos in the country, or to directly address it with a national convocation of nations.
The thousands of under-employed, hopeless, semi-literate young men that populate the villages and suburbs across the country have shown themselves all too vulnerable to simple incitements to violence. Throngs of young Kyrgyz in Bishkek, demanding transport to the South to defend their brethren indicate a populace ready to make war.
The IG and local news sources have repeatedly reported of provocateurs posing as security forces, using looted equipment and uniforms. While this claim is hard to prove, it is easy for the population to imagine, as most perceive the cynicism and ruthlessness of the Bakievs and the drug lords that supported them to be boundless. State television is now constantly broadcasting public addresses and interviews highlighting the diversity of the country and calling each community to embrace unity in the face of these supposed mercenary provocations. Convincing the overwhelmingly young, male perpetrators of both races that they are being used may be enough to halt the downward spiral.
But for the seven weeks following their triumph, a government of former Soviet officials, harkening back to the practices in Dushanbe, Sumquait, and Osh itself 20 years ago, seemed to prefer to wish the problem away, rather than face it, and overcome it.