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Krgyzstan: A revolution stolen from the people

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A popular uprising in Kyrgyzstan has toppled the regime of President Askar Akayev. It brings to end his 15-year rule. Now this revolution is in danger of being stolen by rival cliques, each implicated in the crimes of the old regime.

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous Central Asian country which is located south of Kazakhstan. It borders Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China. While Kyrgyzstan is twice as a big as Portuga,l it has a population of only 5.05 million people. As a result of the divide and rule policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the 1920s and 30s, the country is divided into the following ethnic groups: 65.7% Kyrgyz, 11.7% Russian, 13.9% Uzbek, 1% Uighur, and 0.4% German.

It is one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the official World Bank figures for the year 2002, the average Gross National Income per head is only 290 US Dollars which ranks Kyrgyzstan at 181 of 208 countries.

The driving force of the uprising was the suffering of the people – their empty stomachs and the iron fist of the Akayev regime. Nearly 60% of the population live below the poverty line. This is because the Akayev has been a strict follower of the dictates of the international financial institutions. It has energetically implemented the neoliberal policy of privatisation. In 1998 Kyrgyzstan became the first Central Asian republic to join the World Trade Organization. As a result its external debt of 1.95 million US Dollars is as big as its whole annual Gross Domestic Product.

As a result many Kyrgyz are migrating to neighbouring countries to find a job and to feed their families. Approximately 420,000 Kyrgyz are living in other parts of the former Soviet Union and 170,000 in China.

Capitalism’s general law of the concentration of capital – increasing power in the hands of a few monopolies – applies fully to Kyrgyzstan. While in the rich, imperialist countries this dictatorship of the bourgeoisie can be hidden by a veneer of capitalist democracy and liberal freedoms, in a poor country like Kyrgyzstan the rule of the bourgeoisie takes a far more authoritarian form. The cake is smaller, so the varied fractions of the ruling class fight all the harder for their share. This leads to ever sharper friction in society. As a result the regime in Kyrgyzstan became ever more a dictatorship of the Akayev family.

Akayev – a former leading member of the Stalinist party – became president of Kyrgyzstan in 1990. He proved a loyal lackey for all available masters. After September 11 2001, he immediately announced his support for the imperialist war drive and granted the USA a military base. But it also granted Russian imperialism a military base – just 20 minutes outside of the capital city of Bishkek.

However the combination of poverty and his corrupt and authoritarian regime made Akayev more and more hated by the people. He also alienated functionaries inside the elite. The most important figures in the opposition are all former member of the Akayev regime. Felix Kulov served Akayev as vice president before he fell out with him and was thrown into prison when he announced his intention to run for president before the elections in 2000. Roza Otunbayeva was a former Foreign Minister and another leader, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, served Akayev as Prime Minister till 2002.

An important trigger for the recent uprising was Akayev’s plan to install his son or his daughter as his successor when his constitutional term expires in October this year. The other trigger was the rigged parliamentary elections on 27 February and, in a second round, on 13 March. Opposition candidates won only two of the 32 seats filled in the first round. Of the 43 seats at stake in the second round, opposition candidates took four.

The uprising started in the south-eastern provinces which are – compared with the Northern part of the country where the capital Bishkek is located –poorer and neglected by the elite. The ethnic Uzbek minority is concentrated there.

The popular uprising in the South quickly developed such a dynamic that the state apparatus broke down and the people took over various areas including Osh, the second biggest city. According to a wide range of reports it was an uprising of the poor and downtrodden, those who for years were treated as nothing more than rubbish by the ruling elite.

The Akayev regime tried to secure its power by a combination of carrot-and-stick manoeuvres against the opposition and attempts to assure the support of the rulers of neighbouring countries and Russia (including a secret trip to Moscow). But it didn’t help.

The spark of the popular revolt in the South spread to the North and on 23 March thousands of people stormed the presidential and government headquarters, known as the White House. Akayev left in panic and flew with his family to Russia.

The divided bourgeois opposition leaders Bakiyev, Kulov and Otunbayeva are now trying to re-establish order. In the first nights after the uprising many shops and buildings in Bishkek were looted and ransacked by the desperate poor and youth.

There seem to be serious divisions between the three opposition leaders. While Otunbayeva seems to be the closest to Western imperialism, Bakiyev has a strong base among the Southern oligarchs while Kulov is rooted among the traditional elite in the North.

After exchanging threats – including arresting each other - for the moment they seem to have agreed a power sharing deal to avoid the collapse of bourgeois rule and a successful popular revolution. While Bakiyev has been announced as acting interim president and prime minister, Kulov has been given responsibility for “coordinating law-enforcement agencies of the state” – i.e. power over the armed state apparatus. They also agreed to hold presidential elections on 26 June.

Whatever their differences might be, they are only over their respective share of power. They all want to save the capitalist system and they all want to continue running the country as a semi-colony for US and Russian imperialism and the IMF.

The central task now is that the workers, the peasants and the poor organise themselves in popular councils and don’t let the country be run for another day by a small clique of corrupt bourgeois politicians. They must not allow only the names at the top of the system to change and Bonapartist rule to remain. They must fight for the expropriation of the small elite of Oligarchs who have looted the economy. They must fight for a massive enlargement of democratic rights. They must fight for full rights for the national minorities. They should fight for a Constitutional Assembly to discuss the future direction of the country. Only a Workers and Peasant Republic in Kyrgyzstan located in a federation of socialist republics in Central Asia can provide a future for the people free from neoliberal austerity and exploitation by the major imperialist powers.