Kyrgyzstan’s ‘Revolution’

by , March 24, 2005

It looks like we have yet another color-coordinated “democratic” revolution: this time, the color is pink, and the country is the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, where about half the nation lives below the poverty line and the Kyrgyzstani leader, Askar Akaev, is another one of those Oriental despots left over from the old Commie era. Long considered more on the “democratic” side than his neighbors – Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan and President-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan – Akaev is widely suspected of trying to extend his presidential term beyond the constraints spelled out in Kyrgyzstan’s constitution [.pdf] and also of entrenching his family in power. By local standards, however, he’s a Jeffersonian republican: after all, opposition candidates are allowed, unlike, say, in neighboring Uzbekistan.

Akaev and his Russian backers blame the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for making a big fuss over the supposedly less democratic aspects of the recent election – which did not quite come up to “international standards,” according to the OSCE – but if you look at the actual OSCE report [.pdf], the objections might easily apply to any election held in, say, America of late. For example:

Comments of “high officials,” including Akaev, purportedly accused opposition leaders of “extremism” and warned of the dangers of civil disorders, or so the OSCE preliminary report claims. But how is this different from the statements of U.S. officials, and their media surrogates, who, during the last presidential election, accused Democratic candidate John Kerry of having unsavory associations with all sorts of “extremists,” including Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), and launched a series of television ads smearing him? They didn’t quite hold up the prospect of civil war if the Democrat were elected, but the implication that Kerry was the preferred candidate of al-Qaeda was quite explicitly made.

“Fundamental freedoms” were “infringed” during the election campaign, according to the OSCE: it was necessary to get permission to hold election rallies – a process at least as onerous as the one antiwar groups were forced to go through in order to get permission to march through New York City.

The OSCE complains about the “lack of media outlets offering critical and objective coverage” – but surely this is a tall order for a large section of the U.S, and Europe, not to mention a region of the world that has only lately stepped into modernity. “Freedom of speech” was supposedly violated in Kyrgyzstan because to a large degree the media openly favored the government – although whether the OSCE would apply the same standard to, say, Fox News or the Murdoch papers in the U.S., is not known.

Government-owned printing plants refused to print opposition newspapers – quelle surprise! The government-owned power company cut off the opposition media – I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked! My favorite part of the report, however, notes the regime’s compliance with certain democratic expectations:

“The Election Code (Articles 30-36) obliges the State-funded media to allocate free airtime and print space to each candidate equally, and as such, permits candidates to convey their political platforms. In general, KTR, the State-funded television and radio broadcaster, adhered to its legal requirements to grant free airtime to candidates, including allocation of time for debates.”

This is a lot more than I ever got running as the Republican candidate for Congress against incumbent Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), in 1996. Free airtime and print space – no way! The editors and staff of the San Francisco Chronicle, the city’s main newspaper – in effect a monopoly – would sooner blow up the Chronicle building with the entire staff inside than give me or any other Republican or Libertarian candidate a fair shake. As for a candidates’ debate: surely you jest! Every effort to sponsor such an event was met with incredulity, disdain, and absolute refusal, not only on Pelosi’s part, but on the part of the League of Women Voters, local television stations, and the Democratic Party bosses who were approached.

Debate? In one-party San Francisco? Never! But in far-off Kyrgyzstan, the Nancy Pelosi of the steppes deigns to debate her opponent. Are the Euro-weenies, ever eager to uplift the rest of the world to their shining vision of perfect democracy, looking for examples of conduct unbecoming the spirit of free electoral competition? Let the OSCE come to Baghdad-by-the-Bay – and I’ll show them a thing or two.

It’s a joke, really, how the Europeans and the Americans go traipsing all over the world searching for cases of electoral injustice to rectify, when the worst offenses are right in their own countries. The OSCE report complains about the “de-registration” of certain candidates and political parties in the recent Kyrgyzstan elections on “technicalities” – but perhaps they’re taking a leaf from the book of the authorities in Pennsylvania, who knocked presidential candidate Ralph Nader off the ballot several times on strictly petty grounds, a process brazenly repeated across the country by people who openly proclaimed their intention of shutting Nader out of the national debate.

Some “democracy”!

For the Europeans, who recently instituted a ban on Belgium’s largest political party, to condemn anyone for having less-than-free elections is a sick joke. But as far as humor of the unintentional variety goes, nothing surpasses their complaints about the coverage of the Kyrgyzstan elections, which really are comic masterpieces: here are people who are actually astonished that most of Kyrgyzstan’s media “coverage” consisted of a repetition of the government’s official line. They are absolutely stunned that inordinate attention was paid to the statements of President Akaev, who was quoted extensively and favorably more often than not. Imagine a media oriented to power – why, who would suspect Western news outlets of such a thing? One can’t even conceive of leveling such an accusation at, say, the Washington press corps.

My all-time favorite accusation, however, leveled by the American ambassador, Stephen Young, is that there was widespread “vote-buying.” To hear this coming from the representative of a country where tobacco subsidies, farm subsidies, steel subsidies, foreign aid to certain favored nations, and all kinds of federal subventions and favors are routinely handed out by both parties as an integral part of their electoral appeal – why it’s almost too much to bear. Without bribery, there would be no “democracy” – not in Kyrgyzstan, not in the United States of America, not anywhere.

So please – please! – spare us the whining about “vote-buying”!

The Russians have denounced the OSCE effort as unnecessary meddling, and Moscow blames the Euro-weenies for provoking the recent violence. This is not a “peaceful” upsurge of “pro-democracy” sentiment, as was the case in Ukraine and Georgia: instead of colored banners and bosomy babes, the “Pink Revolution” comes armed with clubs and Molotov cocktails. Four policemen have been beaten to death so far in the southern-based insurrection, and the “pinkos” are holding hostages, but even so Akaev is holding his fire, refusing to call out the troops and generally abjuring violence.

As in the Ukraine and Georgia, the gathering confrontation between Russia and the West is playing a big role: the Russian military base right outside the capital city of Bishkek, established in the winter of 2003, symbolizes Putin’s determination to assert Russia’s national interests in the volatile region. It is a mere 30 kilometers away from an American air base, which played and continues to play a key role in the Afghan campaign. The Russians have set up their own election watchdog unit, which has given the election a clean bill of health, a move that enrages the Europeans – who claim monopoly rights on such a sensitive instrument.

If the idea is to encircle the former Soviet Union with another in a series of color-coded provocations, then the “Pink Revolution” seems to be running according to an all-too-familiar script. “Opposition forces, financed from the outside, are seeking to bring about the collapse of our society,” says Kyrgyzstan President Akaev:

“But they must learn not only how to win but how to accept defeat. Many foreign forces are behaving hypocritically toward Kyrgyzstan. They feed our opposition morally and financially.”

To what end? We might well wonder.

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