The Domino Effect

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Dave Crouch analyses the March popular revolt in Kyrgyzstan.

The popular revolt in March in the small but strategically important Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan took place for exactly the same reasons as Ukraine's 'orange revolution' last November, but with a very different outcome.

In Ukraine the ruling class was split into two well-defined camps, meaning each side could keep tight control over its own mass movement. In Kyrgyzstan, however, disarray among the 'opposition' bourgeoisie meant far greater freedom for anger to burst out from below. The waves of mass protest against the corrupt and nepotistic presidency were not confined to the south: in fact they began in Kochkor in the north east of the country. Here at the first round of the elections on 27 February a majority of voters chose 'Against all candidates', demonstrating the deep mistrust of ordinary Kyrgyz for all the ruling class factions.

After the second round of voting on 14 March tens of thousands came out onto the streets of cities in the south. In the second city, Osh, and in Jalalabat crowds occupied the airports to prevent military planes from bringing in reinforcements. In Jalalabat a huge crowd burned down the police headquarters.

People's 'kurultai' (councils) were organised in several cities - in Osh over 5,000 took part, and over 10,000 in Jalalabat. One respected Central Asian journalist talked about a system of 'parallel state structures' being elected by the kurultai.

The state responded with violence: there were pitched battles with riot police. Eventually the protests spread to the capital, Bishkek, where on 24 March a crowd stormed the parliament, forcing President Akayev to flee the country. Looters targeted businesses owned by Akayev supporters.

The leadership vacuum in the movement was filled by two odious politicians, Bakiyev and Kulov, both of whom have recently held top government posts. Bakiyev was prime minister when troops opened fire on protesters in 2002, killing 12. Fear has united the ruling class around the new leadership in a concerted effort to clamp down on the revolt.

The US has an important military base in Kyrgyzstan, which explains why the US government attacked the looters and expressed only mild criticism of Akayev's regime. Even the New York Times criticised Bush's 'shortsighted and cynical realpolitik' regarding the events.

Kyrgyzstan is still in turmoil and could destabilise the entire region.

As Putin himself said after Georgia's 'rose revolution' of 2003, heads of state in the former USSR were 'crapping their pants'. The Kyrgyz revolt will also have given them plenty of reasons to be concerned about the future.