State Failure in Kyrgyzstan Has the Tulip Revolution strengthen Kyrgyz statehood?
'Having acquired independence Kyrgyzstan very quickly gained a reputation as an “island of democracy” located in a sea of dictatorships and countries ravaged by civil strife' . Kyrgyzstan gained this reputation when Askar Akaev was elected president as he was not part of the Communist Party during the Soviet Union. Additionally Akaev supported 'marketisation and democratisation' and was open to new emerging social forces . However, as early as 1993, this utopia status ended: impatient with what he called 'destructive criticism' , Akaev curtailed freedom of speech. For instance in mid-1994, the president closed down the Svobodny Domy newspaper. The reduction of freedom of press, the 2000 parliamentary elections were deemed unfair and not free by the OSCE. Opposition candidates were not allow to run on doubtful reasons while the state-controlled media fully supported candidates backed by the government. In 2005, again the parliamentary election results were disputed. Defeated candidates, mainly from the South of Kyrgyzstan, started mass protests that gradually overtook the entire country. This popular revolution led to the take over of the Kyrgyz White House (office of the government in Bishkek) on the 24th March and the early resignation of president Akaev followed on the 3rd April. This revolution was the third to come about in the ex-Soviet Union. After the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the events in Kyrgyzstan were to be named the Tulip Revolution. Revolutions supposedly change a regime completely. All three coloured Revolutions have put into place more democratic regimes and thus theoretically strengthened statehood in these countries. A strong state should provide subsistence, abundance, equality and security according to a liberal democratic definition of statehood. However, the Fund for Peace ranks Kyrgyzstan in the weak country category despite the Revolution. Excluding the 2006 data as it takes into account the revolution and its aftermath, Kyrgyzstan ranked 41st with a score of 88.2 in 2007. Whilst in 2005, before the Revolution, it ranked 65th with a total score of 80.4. Why has the Tulip Revolution failed to strengthen statehood in Kyrgyzstan? This essay attempts to answers this question in three parts: the first two will analyse the reasons why post-revolutionary Kyrgyzstan remained a weak state while the last part will elaborate on Pauline Jones Luong's 'strong-weak state' paradox.
As afore mentioned, this essay will first focus on the reasons why the Tulip Revolution failed to strengthen Kyrgyz statehood. These reasons can be categorizes into two: political reasons and socio-economic reasons. This paper will first focus on the socio-economic reasons.
Kyrgyzstan is Central Asia's Switzerland: a small mountainous country with no access to the sea surrounded by bigger states, like China and Kazakhstan. Its geographical situation does not always play to its advantage. The country is divided in two by the Tien Shan Mountains. This natural frontier marks the boundary between the North and the South of Kyrgyzstan. The northern population of Kyrgyzstan is in majority ethnic Kyrgyz, richer and more urbanised. The economy in the North is also more developed than the South where it is poorer and more backward. On the contrary, the southern population is known to be formed by 80 per cent of Uzbeks. This division is important because it has enhanced the importance of locality in Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyz citizens are more loyal to their clan, their village and even to their region than to the Kyrgyz State itself. This loyalty to local leaders creates a 'hyper democratic' state: politics is manipulated by the people in local power positions which consequently weakens state control. This manipulation is clearer when analysing the Tulip Revolution. A revolution has a better chance of changing a regime when three factors are involved: large urban population, strong civil society and a national-level student movement. But all three factors are weak in Kyrgyzstan: only 34 people out of 100 live in cities mainly in the north of the country, NGO did not originate the riots and only helped organise them afterwards . Concerning students, former president Akaev had undermined opposing youth groups forcing them to support the government by threatening their future at the universities. In fact, the 2005 events were more an insurgency than a revolution per se. The revolts were started by defeated candidates from the March elections with support from their local groups. After the events of the Revolution calmed down, most officials from the previous regime maintained their position and no new institutions were formed. Instead of a revolution from the bottom, Kyrgyzstan faced an insurgency from the top: only the names of the main figures changed. However, even this elite insurgency could not have happened if the Kyrgyz population had no grievances against Akaev's regime. The population of Kyrgyzstan, mainly in the South, was highly discontent due to of poverty and social inequalities. The Gini coefficient has been steadily increasing since the independence of the country up to the late 1990s and has remained at a high level since then. The richest fifth of the population detains almost a half of the total revenue. The Kyrgyz state hence fails to provide equality to all its citizens and cannot provide subsistence to 30 per cent of its population (level of general poverty in the country). This lack of efficient social redistribution is also enhanced by a high level of corruption. In 2005, Kyrgyzstan was 130th in the Corruption Perception Index with a corruption level of 2.3 . The Kyrgyz citizens had no confidence in their institutions and government and turned to sub-national groupings for assistance. After the Tulip Revolution, the provisional government lead by Bakaev put the fight against corruption as the highest priority on its agenda. But this anti-corruption policy was mainly aimed at the remnants of the old regime and not at the new one. For instance Bakaev pushed Suvaliev, the police chief, out of office to replace him with one of his own clan. Furthermore, A. Beknazarov the general prosecutor in charge of investigating the Akaev family's assets was sacked because of a personality conflict with the new president. This loss of confidence fragmented the Kyrgyz society even more and explains why locality is more than a tradition inherited from its nomadic past. Due to this fragmentation of society, the Akaev regime was never capable of creating a sense of national identity. Vanessa Rugel's study on citizenship in Kyrgyzstan proves that the majority of the citizens are proud to belong to Kyrgyzstan. This pride comes from Kyrgyz geography (Issyk Kuhl Lake and the Fergana Valley), culture, history and most of all their famous hospitality and kindness. But it is important to note that this pride in Kyrgyzstan is not a national identity because each group has its own special features. Hence why local networks, clans, ethnicity, regions have jeopardised any attempts to formulate and construct an official national identity, like Akaev's image of 'our common home' which sought to bring together all ethnic groups. The lack of unifying or defining values in Kyrgyzstan weakens the state. Ethnicity plays a major role in Kyrgyz society. In the 1999 census, the main ethnic group was the Kyrgyz with 64.9 per cent. They were followed by Uzbek (13.8 per cent), Russian (12.5 per cent), Dungan (1.1 per cent), Ukrainian (1 per cent), Uygur (1 per cent), and other (5.7 per cent) including Germans. The problem is that only the Kyrgyz ethnicity is integrated in the state, meaning that 40 per cent of the population is excluded. Ethnic competition, high unemployment and poverty facilitate clashes between ethnic groups, for example in the summer of 1990 in Osh were approximately 250 people were killed. Between 1990 and 2002, 600 000 people from minority groups emigrated. The problem for the Kyrgyz society is that the emigrants are often the ones with capital or knowledge. The Tulip Revolution did not change the situation for minority groups: for instance in February 2006, an inter-ethnic fight took place between the Dungans and Kyrgyz youth groups in Iskra, a city outside Bishkek.
One cannot help but notice that Kyrgyzstan failed to strengthen its statehood after the Tulip Revolution. This is because of the nature of its society, which is being several times divided between North and South, between different clans, between different ethnicities has weakened loyalty to the State itself and thus delegitimised democracy as a whole. Additionally, the Tulip Revolution was not a popular uprising but elite driven. Therefore the new regime is faced with the same socio-economic problems as the previous regime. This essay will now analyse what political factors were present before and during the Tulip Revolution that have enhanced state weakness in Kyrgyzstan.
Andrei Tsygankov made an extensive study of state weakness in the post-soviet states. According to this analysis, Kyrgyzstan had an overall score of stateness of 1 out of 3. It scored 0.5 on unity and security within the state. It received a mark of 0 on economic efficiency since the level of economy was not higher than before independence. At last 0.5 was awarded to Kyrgyzstan on political viability because power transferred occurred but only through a revolution that can be questioned in its legitimacy. This final score defines Kyrgyzstan as a weak state. Tsygankov points out three key explanatory factors to this poor score. The first one being exclusionary policies: Akaev, a northerner, favoured his personal groups through clan-exclusive policies. This explains why the Tulip Revolution started in Jalalabad, the second biggest city in the South of Kyrgyzstan. Secondly, Kyrgyzstan has no historical experience of statehood in a western sense: before being incorporated to the Russian Empire in 1876, Kirghizia was a nomadic clan-based society under the rule of the Khanate of Koland. This enhances the point made earlier about the importance of unifying the Kyrgyz society as a priority policy. The last factor concerns Kyrgyzstan's geopolitical location. Situated near Afghanistan and Pakistan it suffers from the regional instability there. Moreover because of its location, Great Powers like Russia, the US or China seek to increase their influence in the region. These often opposing pressures have consequences on Kyrgyz domestic politics and stability. The Tulip Revolution could only happen in Kyrgyzstan. It was the only Central Asian state to have a moderate authoritarian regime that tolerated political competition and allowed for some civil liberties . Hence, the government was not prompt to militarily crush down the first protests demanding Akaev's resignation on March 15th. If this was not the case, the Jalalabad protest might have become another Andijan Crisis. The Tulip Revolution has not strengthened statehood in the country. Ultimately it only replaced an elite with another without changing the institutions of the state. Several factors tend to argue that the Tulip Revolution has even 'sapped the strength of Kyrgyzstan's central government' . First of all, 'weak states are unable to maintain political order and security, to enforce laws, implement policies or deliver services' . Since March 2005, Kyrgyzstan has embodied this definition due to a number of reasons. The first one being that other groups contest the state's monopoly of force. Secondly, widespread corruption has captured the state institutions that now are obliged to private interests. Last of all the government is unable to provide security and social benefits to its citizens. For instance private militias dominate the political scene by organising demonstrations to force the hands of people in government on certain issues. In October 2005, these mobs pushed forward for a reform for land distribution by occupying private land near Bishkek. The government has coaxed the demonstrators to leave the land but has not addressed the issue as a whole. This proves that the new government remains weak. The government is very aware of its fragile situation as any side in any dispute can 'mobilize enough supporters to make any decision hard to enforce' . These demonstrations are often financed by local mafia groups who pay the protesters. The distinction between private and public interest is very blurred in Kyrgyzstan because of corruption: for instance, most MPs have more or less bought there seat and defend their private interests in parliament. Even the police force has no support from the population as it is closely tied to mafia groups and highly corrupted. Under the Bakaev government it has also use violence to break up the opposition rallies. Most importantly is the political instability present in Kyrgyzstan since the Tulip Revolution. In the aftermath of the insurrection, three politicians were assassinated between April and September 2005: Usen Kudaibergenov, a close ally to former Prime Minister Kulov, Jyrgalbek Surabaldiyev, pro-Akaev MP, and Bayaman Erkinbayev, an MP linked with local criminal groups. This criminalisation of Kyrgyz politics is a consequence of Bakaev's lack of desire (or inability) to impose formal control over the country's major economic sectors. This created an inter-governmental competition for economic dominance. As for the opposition to Bakaev and his party, it is constituted mainly by old allies who helped him overthrow Akaev, such as Rosa Otunbaeva or Felix Kulov (who resigned in December 2006). According to John MacLoed from the Institute for War and Peace, demonstrations are part of the Kyrgyz political culture. And as for the opposition, it places more hope in protest marches than in negotiations with the government. Hence policies are adopted in the street. Last December, Ak-Zohl – the president's party – won all 90 seats from the Zhogorku Kenesh (the national parliament). This election was seen as 'going backward' by the OSCE and the opposition denounced its results.
Only two years after the Tulip Revolution, President Kurmanbekov Bakaev faces outspoken criticism and the political situation in Kyrgyzstan resembles largely the final years of Akaev's presidency, if not worse. However, although the Kyrgyz State is weak, one cannot put it on the same level as the other Central Asian states. The latter might be more stable, have a stronger control of the use of force but Kyrgyzstan is for sure still the most democratic – or less authoritarian – of them all. In this final section, this essay will analyse this paradox in more detail.
Control of territory and the capability to ensure security for all citizens is one of the state's main prerogatives and defines a strong state from a failed one. Since 2005, the Kyrgyz government has failed to fulfil these obligations as mass protests, looting, illegal occupation of land have erupted regularly throughout the country. Indeed, Kyrgyzstan is 'unable to achieve social control because [it] encounters strong resistance' from its society. As a former soviet state, Kyrgyzstan has inherited two important factors that explain the general weakness of the state: blurred boundaries between state and societal actors and societal weakness. The Kyrgyz society mainly depends on what the State provides for them. For instance in Kyrgyzstan, the unmovable political and economic elite and its control over public property impedes the development of an independent sphere of social activity. Therefore Kyrgyzstan fits the factors defined by Jackson for the 'quasi-state': for instance the new Kyrgyz government is unable to implement effective and just policies ('deficient political will'). In addition, the concrete benefits of the state are still distributed to the elite (through corruption) and the population's general level of life has not improved. However, the Tulip Revolution has awarded the 'advantages traditionally associated with independent statehood' such as freedom of speech or the universal right to vote.
This essay has developed the factors and theories explaining why the Tulip Revolution failed to strengthen statehood in Kyrgyzstan. State weakness in Kyrgyzstan can always be traced back to two factors. The multiple divisions amongst the people of Kyrgyzstan (geographical, ethnical or clan based) that fragments the society and prevents it from forming a unified entity is the first founding factor. A Uygur from Bishkek will have very little in common with an Uzbek from Osh. The second factor that undermines the Tulip Revolution's potential is the non renewal of the political elite and the exclusionary policies it chooses because this only exacerbates the divisions within the society. Then again, Kyrgyzstan has a good possibility of becoming 'an island of democracy' once more. The Tulip revolution, despite all its trials and tribulations, has ended an authoritarian regime and has shed lights on the future reforms that the government will have to achieve.
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