The President Vanishes



How do you say “Go!” in Kyrgyz? “Alga!” And he went.

Like a dyspeptic cat, Kyrgyzstan has apparently expelled its little fur-ball dictator, Askar Akayev, this afternoon. That may end about 15 years of rule by the Soviet-era grinning goon whose White House was overrun by protesters only hours before.

The self-styled “father” of his country, this papa is now a rolling stone, and where he’ll stop, nobody knows. One of his former opponents, Ishinbai Kadyrbekov, was elected to temporarily replace him, according to the BBC, whose latest dispatch from Bishkek adds:

Police melted away as hundreds of protesters flooded into the compound…

The demonstration in Bishkek grew rapidly from a few hundred people in the morning to as many as 10,000 a few hours later.

Protesters chanting “Down With the Akayev Clans” marched through the capital to the presidential palace, known as the White House.

Security forces surrounding the building repelled an initial attempt to storm the compound, but offered little resistance when the demonstrators fought back.

And so ends what had once been a happy marriage between Akayev and George W. Bush. The two smiling figures exchanged vows of cooperation in September 2002. Lately, though, Akayev had been drifting back into Russia’s orbit, so his ouster may work out well for the U.S. — unless the country’s Muslim extremists have a say.

So, pull yourself away from Schiavo and steroids and start learning about Kyrgyzstan. For instance, read Michael A. Weinstein‘s think piece, “Kyrgyzstan’s Chronic Complications,” from last week’s Power and Interest News Report. In it, Weinstein says:

Alone among the Central Asian states that succeeded the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan had adopted democratic reforms and had embraced privatization shortly after it declared independence.

In the early years of his tenure, Akayev had appeared in the guise of a genuine reformer, presiding over the creation of a parliamentary system and the blossoming of independent civic groups, many of them funded from overseas.

In the eyes of the West, Kyrgyzstan was at that time an incubator of Central Asian democracy, allowing a constitutional opposition to function and nurturing a civil society.

That Kyrgyzstan would be a model of political and economic liberalization was unrealistic from the outset.

A landlocked country bordering China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan, it had been closed off from the rest of the world during the Soviet period and had never modernized, preserving its traditional clan structure beneath the imported super-structure of Soviet institutions. Like all of the other new Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan was not ready for Western-style market democracy.

Like Bush, Akayev was part of a family-based empire-building team. (That’s my comparison of Bush with Akayev, not Weinstein’s.) Here’s more from Weinstein about Akayev’s increasing authoritarianism:

He started to fall in line with neighboring leaders, harassing and sometimes jailing opposition figures, gaining dominance over the communications media, engaging in electoral manipulation and building an economic and political empire based on his family and spreading out in a network of regional and business connections — a “clan” of cronies typical of post-Soviet systems.

Some of that sounds awfully familiar. And so does this:

Although with a population of five million people, Kyrgyzstan is the smallest Central Asian state, it is a land replete with complexity and contradiction that result primarily from its recent history of a phase of reform followed by a drift back to authoritarianism. Economic liberalization and privatization have given it a business class, yet half of the country’s people live below the poverty line.

Maybe the only thing we know for sure is that, as long as Bush is in power, the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. will continue to widen. In Kyrgyzstan, on the other hand, the ouster of Akayev, if it’s permanent, means its wide gap will probably narrow, at least a little.