Compared to the telegenic, orderly and easily understood “orange” revolution in Ukraine, the ongoing revolution in Kyrgyzstan is pretty baffling. For one thing, no one can decide what to call it. Reuters terms it “a lightning coup”. The London Times has a “lemon revolution”. The Telegraph reports on the “tulip revolution”. And the Observer has it as the “pink revolution”. Wikipedia includes references to a “silk” and “daffodil” revolution as well.
(I’m staying at the house of my friend Nate, who’s travelled extensively in Kyrgyzstan. He points out that no one is calling it the “Kyrgyz Revolution”, because no one can spell it. One of the reasons I’m visiting Nate is that we were planning a trip to Kyrgyzstan this August. We’re rapidly reconsidering that plan.)
The Observer has, at least, a partial explanation for why the marchers in the “tulip revolution” were carrying daffodils: “Daffodils appeared in the marchers’ hands, the opposition claiming the government had cleared the city of the initial symbol – tulips – out of fear.”
One of the problems with the “floral pastel” revolution in Kyrgzstan is the lack of a Yushchenko figure. Poisoned with dioxin by Russian security forces, yet rallying to campaign onward, Yushchenko was the sort of figure Ukrainians – and the global media – could get behind. There’s no obvious, comparable rallying figure in Kyrgyzstan. Kurmanbek Bakiev, the former prime minister under Akayev, attempted to take over as President, but was rebuked by the head of the constitutional court… who complicated matters by declaring the new parliament legitimate. Which seems odd, as the illegitimacy of the new parliament was the main reason for the rebellion, and now there appear to be two rival Kyrgyz parliaments.
Felix Kulov, another possible rallying figure – a activist, imprisoned by Akayev, who was freed in the early stages of the revolution – has stated that he will not challenge Bakiev for the presidency in upcoming elections. And, perhaps to ensure that he doesn’t become the darling of the global media, as acting security chief, he ordered Kyrgyz police to fire on looters.
There were many good reasons to throw out Akayev. After 14 years in power, Kyrgyzstan is far poorer than it was as part of the Soviet Union. While Akayev had initially been hailed as a democratizing force in a decidely undemocratic region, he’s been increasingly authoritarian. The parliamentary elections – which gave only 6 of 72 seats to the opposition and brought Akayev’s son and daughter seats as MPs – were believed to be a setup for a constitutional change that would allow Akayev to continue his rule.
But it’s unclear to what extent the “revolution” was motivated more by ideology, or by alcohol. Many media reports suggest that the group that occupied the Kyrgyz “White House” was a mix of revolutionaries and the vodka-sodden, some of whom went on to loot shops in Bishkek. Nick Paton Walsh, writing for the Observer, found it hard to get interview subjects to talk about their political aims: “‘Give me your watch or I will smash open your head,’ one looter said to The Observer.”
The upside of the revolution? A corrupt, authoritarian sham of a democracy is out of power. The downsides? Possible north-south civil war in Kyrgyzstan (most of the revolutionaries were from the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-abad.) Increased instability in one of the most unstable regions of the world. The possible emergence of Kyrgyzstan as a safe haven for radical Islam. An overreaction by China, which shares a border and has a large Kyrgyz populationk, and a history of trampling on their Muslim Uighir citizens.
Oh yeah, the other downside: the non-refundable tickets from Moscow to Bishkek I bought the other day…