Specially for the Institute for Public Policy
Central Asia, as it progresses along the path of independence, emerges from oblivion and becomes interesting to the rest of the world, particularly in the context of global competition for energy resources and ideological influence. The region is enormously rich in oil, gas, and non-ferrous metals. Besides, being located between Russia, China, and the Islamic world, and next to South-East Asia, Central Asia also begins to attract the close attention of the major players in world politics.
Central Asia arouses interest due to the emergence of new threats and greater potential for different conflicts, which are a real danger to the region itself and the whole world. They include the drug trafficking and drug related crimes, the spread of AIDS, and prostitution. There is also the growth of extremist Islam organizations and the increase in the number of people professing Islam, who want it to become the state religion and who defy the values of secular society. It should be noted here that the alternative to corrupt authoritarian regimes could likely be an "Islamic socialism".
The Central Asian states, having chosen national state building as their priority in post communist period, differ in opinion regarding the role of democracy and the market economy in this process. The ideas of liberalism are in demand in Kyrgyzstan, and they find their way into the economy and gradually into the political life of Kazakhstan, but are totally rejected in other countries of the region.
As a result, these countries have various political regimes-from despotic and dictatorial to semi-democratic. Even though Kazakhstan has achieved impressive economic successes and is recognized as the market economy country, the region is still a cause for concern because of the lack of stability and confidence regarding peaceful development in the near future. In the first place, the basic values that can involve states in mutually advantageous cooperation have not been established. No final agreement has been reached between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan regarding the borders in the Fergana valley, and dangerous conflicts continue to take place there. There are tensions between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan over border issues and raw materials. The Kyrgyz Parliament has not yet ratified the treaty with Kazakhstan on the state border. The struggle over water resources control has intensified.
In this connection, it is worthwhile looking at how the countries of Central Asia reacted to "color revolutions" in post-soviet countries and to the so-called "tulip revolution" in Kyrgyzstan. All these countries displayed a concerned reaction to the events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. Almost all ruling elites of the region viewed the events in Kyrgyzstan with hostility and alarm.
Kyrgyzstan: The last chance for democracy in Central Asia or is the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan a source of regional instability?
Does the situation in Kyrgyzstan really present a threat to stability in the region? To answer this question, it is necessary, in the first place, to determine the significance of events in Kyrgyzstan in the context of regional development after gaining independence.
I think that even in good analytical reports, the short-term negative consequences of the "tulip revolution" tend to obscure its essential and historical meaning. Secondly, much depends on how we understand "stability" and the real situation in the countries of Central Asia.
The discussion of the March events still continues. Part of the opposition and president Bakiev believe that it was a revolution, and there was even a special edict regarding its celebration. The Parliament refused to take any decision on this issue and did not support the president. Some consider it to be a revolution, some, a coup d'etat, while others-just a primitive riot. Certainly, it is difficult to reach a consensus because there are winners and losers in any case. But there is an understanding among all participants of the political process in Kyrgyz society regarding the reasons and pre-conditions of the March events. The aspirations and ideals of the March revolution were shared by the majority of people in Kyrgyzstan.
What is the main destabilizing factor in Kyrgyzstan? The following factors are mentioned in the order of their importance: poverty, unemployment, Islamic extremism, interstate contradictions, and interethnic tension. But the main destabilizing phenomenon can be described as the absence of peaceful democratic procedures for the transfer of power and hostility towards dissent. All post-soviet, and particularly Central Asian countries, continue to live under Stalin's shadow. The ruling clans continue to persecute their opponents, calling them the enemies of people; they continue to ignore the legitimate transfer of power preventing the change of elites.
In Kyrgyzstan president Akaev through political manipulations and constitutional amendments, concentrated power into his own hands and tried to follow the example of his colleagues in Central Asia. Nazarbaev is the president of Kazakhstan since the April 1990 года; the same is true of Karimov, who with the help of constitutional changes after the January 2002 referendum, extended his term of office from five to seven years. In June 2003, there was a referendum in Tajikistan that approved amendments to the constitution, extending the term of office of the president to two seven year terms; it has become clear that the current president Rakhmonov does not intend to retire and plans to rule the country until 2020. In Turkmenistan the president practically stays in office for life. In all these countries political opponents of the presidents have been under heavy pressure; some remain in prisons or outside the country.
Thus, this region's feature has been a lack of mechanisms of elite succession. However, the most active section of the people of Kyrgyzstan put an end to this vicious and dangerous tendency of the post communist dictators. In Kyrgyzstan for the first time the people themselves decided to resolve the main question-who should govern the country.
This is the historic and political significance of the "tulip revolution" and the major contribution of the people of Kyrgyzstan to spreading the ideas of freedom in the region. The states of Central Asia will embark on the path of sustainable development when a periodic change of leaders and governments will become a norm of political life, and the voice of opposition will become an indispensable component of political culture.
The policy of appeasing dictators with the purpose of securing access to the energy of the region, to the detriment of freedom and democracy, will only exacerbate the crisis, aggravate suffering, and push the countries on a dangerous path. Political stagnation in this region is the breeding ground for radical movements. This is the reason why democratic countries should appreciate the drive of the Kyrgyz people for freedom and democracy. It is one thing when movements take place in the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe, close to Euro-Atlantic civilizations, based on an accumulated experience of democratic development, but the Kyrgyz events took place in the center of Eurasia, a region without the traditions of democracy and the culture of tolerance of opponents. This makes me believe that the main thing about the March events in Kyrgyzstan is not the disturbances, not the looting, and not the capture of the house of government, but the lofty aspirations of the union of free citizens of the country for a new democratic order. This is indeed the manifestation of democracy.
Why did it happen in Kyrgyzstan? It seems to me that the definition of democracy that was given by the first president of the Italian republic Luidzi Einaudi: "democracy is the anarchy of spirit under the rule of law" can be applied to the Kyrgyz people, though without the phrase "the rule of law". One can say that the Kyrgyz are the main anarchists of Central Asia. The spirit of anarchy that is deeply rooted in us makes us free, but less successful in government building. We have created the strongest civil society in Central Asia, we have an active political opposition, we defend freedom of speech, we highly respect human rights, but our government institutions are still weak and create many problems.
Many people forget that the "tulip revolution" was preceded by the "silk revolution" of 1990 when the top echelon of communist nomenclature was replaced by democrats under the pressure of mass demonstrations. Then the young scientist Akaev became the symbol of the aspirations of the Kyrgyz people for freedom and new democratic reforms. Those of us who participated in the meetings against the power of communist nomenclature feel sadness and bitterness that Akaev betrayed the ideals of the Kyrgyz "silk revolution" and fled the country in disgrace.
Kyrgyzstan became the island of democracy in Central Asia. After the disintegration of the USSR and the downfall of the communist party, power belonged to the Supreme Soviet, which elected the president. Kyrgyzstan was a parliamentary republic in the beginning of its new history. But then the process of consolidation of the president's power, which swept all the CIS countries, led to the usurping of power by one clan and mass protests. So the movement to establish a parliamentary form of government in the country as an alternative to presidential power has deep roots. While in other countries of the region the president's power dominates all other branches of power, the campaign against absolutism has never ceased in Kyrgyzstan, and the search for the most appropriate form of governance continues; the form that can curb tribalism, regionalism, absolutism and corruption and that can open the way to freedom, consensus and democracy. It is possible that Kyrgyzstan will offer a model of "consensus democracy" on an equal footing with the model of "regulated or sovereign democracy" which is imposed on the CIS countries.
Thus, the aim of the revolutionary mass movement was to reform the system of power, to eliminate corruption, and to establish fair governance. But the powerful upsurge of the people has not led to the expected positive results because of the immaturity of the political elite, which instead of systematic transformations began to deal with the distribution of power along regional and clan lines. This has complicated the situation. The opposition, which united efforts to overthrow Akaev and who elected the leader from the old Soviet nomenclature, split into many groups and was thrown back to the pre-revolutionary state. The new power was unable to propose an attractive program to overcome crisis and sank quickly into corruption. We, in Kyrgyzstan, make the following comment: "they stole the revolution from the people".
What is the essence of current political processes in Kyrgyzstan? Do they pose a threat to regional stability? You might have noticed the phrase "soviet nomenclature". The fact of the matter is that the current president represents the last generation of the soviet nomenclature, which could never adapt to the new system. It adapts the new system to their mercenary interests. The current leaders of Kyrgyzstan do not want systemic changes; they adapt power to suit their interests, and the new version of the constitution adopted in December last year is good proof of it. They have adapted the notorious parliament to their dubious policies and officially acknowledged the political regionalism by creating the tandem. The judiciary branch is in fact an office that confirms the political decisions of the authorities. Coming to power under the slogans of democracy, the current leaders claim that western liberal democracy is not expedient for Kyrgyzstan. It could be so, perhaps, but the absolute power of the president and the parliament formed on the basis of corrupt elections can hardly be an alternative.
The foreign policy is likewise contradictory. It has two distinctive features: orientation towards Russia and the SCO, and an incomprehension of the role of the West. There are about half a million Kyrgyz labor migrants in Russia. The issue regarding the debt of Kyrgyzstan to Russia has not been resolved, and export to Russia is important for the economy of the country. The Kyrgyz authorities look at the USA with apprehension and distrust. There are objective and subjective reasons for this.
In the first place, the population attributes the failure of the economic policy of the previous regime to the activities of the World Bank and the IMF. The population believes that the external debt (equal to the country's GDP) is the result of the world financial institutions, which are dependent on the USA, encouraging the corrupt government. The recent national discussion regarding the country's entry into HIPC and the comments by American diplomats, which were not helpful in my view, have only contributed to a suspicious attitude towards the USA. The scandals around the American airbase are still raging. The speaker of the Kyrgyz Parliament has recently made the following statement: "The preliminary estimates show that the USA transfer more than 150 million dollars annually, but where the money goes, we still have no clue". Besides, the media published the materials of the US lawyer Liberman, who was hired by Bakiev's government to search for the concealed finances of the previous regime, from which it showed that an official of the US Embassy was involved in dubious financial transactions with Akaev's family. The Kyrgyz newspaper Litsa reports, "The USA, through indirect channels, paid bribes to the former president for deploying the US base on Kyrgyz territory by arranging exclusive rights for the sale and purchase of fuel with the firms that belonged to Akaev's son and son-in-law." Liberman claims "US money helped Akaev stay in power longer". This is the story.
Kyrgyz-American relations need to be reviewed and strengthened on a new basis. The adoption of the new strategy of US national security in March 2006, which sees the spread of democracy in the world as the cornerstone of its foreign policy, is a solid foundation for new relations. Joint support of democratic institutions and movements, and the education of a new critically minded generation in the transitional countries, are the best ways to improve relations between the states. Freedom and education can create prosperity in Central Asia.
Thus, it is clear that the new government is unable to begin to reform the country on the basis of modernization. The political fight for power, particularly after the disintegration of the Bakiev-Kulov tandem, will intensify. This will lead to the escalation of tension, the growth of regional and separatist sentiments, and even to the issue of dividing Kyrgyzstan into two states. But the achievement of Kyrgyzstan: strong civil society, total rejection of corruption and absolute power, and an active opposition will sooner place the outdated system of power in the museum of history, than allow the country to disintegrate. This is a tough, but a decisive struggle against the communist past. This is the essence of political struggle of the Kyrgyz people. Certainly, there will no bright future after it. There will be new and more complicated problems. But these will the problems of different era and of different order.
The chaotic state Kyrgyzstan is in has implications for the rest of Central Asia. One of the leaders of the opposition was right in saying that "from demonstration to demonstration the people and authorities become more and more experienced." The Kyrgyz people learn democracy in practice, and do not "prepare themselves for democracy through regulated democracy" as it is asserted in other countries of the region. But instability in Kyrgyzstan is a cause for concern and apprehension. That is why the democratic world in Central Asia prefers the Kazakh model of controlled democracy, which is similar to the development model in Singapore. This means the restriction of political freedoms and being tougher on the opposition, but at the same time liberalization of the economy and the diversion of oil dollars for social programs and the development of non-energy sectors of the economy.
Indeed, the Kazakh scenario of development is interesting because it has managed to connect energy resources, security and liberal democracy. The USA, the EU, Russia, and China recognize Kazakhstan as the regional leader.
Energy: Cure or Curse for Central Asia?
Central Asia is involved in the cold war for energy resources with more players joining in. "It is possible that in May (2007)there will be a meeting of presidents of all the countries who are interested in a large-scale project to pump oil from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan via Georgia and Ukraine to Poland and further on to Eastern Europe", said the president of Poland Lech Kaczynski at the press-conference on the results of his talks with president of Ukraine Victor Yushchenko. Baizhanov, the press secretary of president Nazarbaev, said that Kazakhstan is ready to consider the question of its participation in the project, but will take into consideration its friendly relations with Russia. Kazakhstan's oil (where oil production will increase from 65 million tons to 130-150 million tons by 2015 when Kashagan, the largest oil field in the world among those discovered in the last 30 years with 4.8 billion tons of oil will begin its production) huge reserves of Turkmen and Uzbek gas, uranium and hydro energy in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan attract the attention of major world players in the energy market. In October 2006, in Dushanbe Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan signed a memorandum of intention of the four countries to implement a project to sell 1000 megawatts of hydro energy if the feasibility study confirms its viability. Uncompromising struggles for energy resources put the question of the extraordinary opportunities that are open to the region on the agenda. How will they be used? Will we become victims of the competing interests of the world powers? How will it affect the domestic situation in the countries?
Let us take, as an example, two countries rich in energy resources: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Embarking on the path of independence, they had an almost equal start. Today the GDP in Kazakhstan is 56 billion US dollars - $ 3717 per capita. Kazakhstan intends to double its GDP by 2008. Kazakh exports total more than 56 billion US dollars, and it leads the CIS countries in direct foreign investments per capita. It has significant economic potential and stable government institutions. The GDP in Uzbekistan is 11.7 billion US dollars and exports are 5.36 billion dollars. Thus, its GDP per capita is $ 445, 8.4 times less than in Kazakhstan.
The population of Uzbekistan is 1.5 times the population of Kazakhstan, but its agricultural production exceeds that of Kazakhstan only by 1.1 times (3,891 billion dollars against 3,417 billion dollars). So there is a significant difference in the rates of growth over the last 15 years. Why? Karimov's tactic was the government's domination of all spheres of life, while Nazarbaev, preserving the monopoly on political power, gave significant freedom to private initiatives in the economic sphere. The government in Kazakhstan, and more generally the political and economic elite, receive every year young western-educated people, who combine liberalism with nationalism. The elite in other Central Asian countries put no value on liberalism and the free market; free trade in the Fergana valley has gloomy perspectives.
The Chinese penetration is directly connected today to the Atasu-Alashenkou oil pipeline and the planned construction of other gas pipelines. Within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Beijing is interested in focusing on energy cooperation and in particular, on hydrocarbon reserves in Central Asia. In the middle of 2005, the Chinese state energy companies began buying the oil assets of companies in western Kazakhstan regardless of the asked price. Astana tries to block the Chinese initiatives in an effort to prevent a possible threat to energy security. Beijing also makes efforts to get Caspian gas on the Great Silk Road, and it has an agreement with Turkmenistan to receive about a third of the external supply of Turkmen gas beginning in 2009.
Beijing's activities in Central Asia worry Russia, the EU, and the USA. Russia has taken Uzbekistan back on board in order not to lose the 10 billion cubic meters of gas exported annually by the two Russian companies: Gasprom and LUKOIL. Russia is somewhat concerned about the Kazakh policy of diversification of exports, and the two countries entered into a discussion of the concept of an "energy club of SCO countries". Other countries in the region supported the idea.
Thus, it is important to know the key trends in the relation between energy, security, and democracy in Central Asia. The struggle among the powerful states can make us hostages to their needs and greed. The windfall profits contribute to a social stratification of the population with the two poles: massive affluence and mass poverty. Obviously, dictator regimes can afford to spend significant capital on repression mechanisms to safeguard their interests. Kazakhgate is only the tip of the iceberg of their energy corruption. On the other hand, the realities are such that the political elite in the countries of Central Asia, which with some exceptions for Kazakhstan, consist of an old bureaucracy with insatiable appetites that are unable at this stage to build transparent relations in such profitable sectors, or to create in a short of timespan the legislative and cultural foundation for an investment climate of equal opportunities. Based on this, what conclusions can be made?
Key trends for understanding the relationship between energy, security and democracy in Central Asia
(1) The events in Kyrgyzstan do not easily fit into conventional models of political instability in weak states. The Tulip Revolution as a continuation of the Silk Revolution in 1990 is the most significant political event in CA since the fall of the USSR. One shouldn't look at the revolution primarily through the lens of concern and apprehension. The Tulip Revolution is a true precursor to democracy in CA.
(2) The Kazakh model of constitutional authoritarianism, with the distribution of profit from oil for the improvement of living standards, infrastructure reforms, and educational programs for the younger generation, in my view, can be regarded as a realistic transitional model. Energy security in Kazakhstan based on diversification of energy flow, close cooperation with democratic countries and a successful economic development is the cornerstone of regional security and progress towards people's freedom. Support of Kazakhstan in its integration into European structures, the expansion of ties with NATO, support of the party system and opposition will contribute to the achievement of the aim for Kazakhstan to reach the level of development of an average European country in ten years. Kazakhstan has the potential for a successful and smooth transition from authoritarian rule to democracy. In the broad sense, the political elite of Kazakhstan is interested in the success of the "tulip revolution" in Kyrgyzstan. The educated population of both countries, with the potential of their culture and mentality and the experience gained during the years of independence, should move forward to freedom and democracy, overcoming hardships and difficulties because any other way would mean subjugation to the interests of powerful neighboring countries.
(3) I believe that the efforts to support civil society in Central Asia are extremely important. The policy of regulated or sovereign democracy led to pressure on NGOs in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and their almost complete closure in other countries of the region. The ordinary citizens, recipients of their services, positively assess their role in promoting self-government and political culture. Developed civil society should be regarded as a reliable factor of security and stability in the region.
(4) It is necessary that the countries of Central Asia become fully fledged participants in the international agreements in the campaign against corruption, and their anti-corruption policy should be an important condition of their participation in international economic projects.