A growing protest culture in Kyrgyzstan?

Posted on Updated on

Linking closely to my most recent post about an article on growing social gaps in Kazakhstan, I read an article today about protest culture in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. As with the Kazakh story, whilst this BBC article does not directly link to higher education, there are definitely possibilities for interaction.

This gives rise to some questions. How politicized are young people in Kyrgyzstan, particularly in comparison to the elders featured in the article? If young people aren’t participating in protests, why not? Are they busy doing other things, do they not care or are they afraid? Or is there something else going on?

Whilst there is a common perception in the UK that university students don’t care about politics, actually it has been shown that they really do care, but their attentions are now more commonly drawn to interest groups (e.g. relating to the environment, or to human rights) than political associations. I don’t know if the same is true of students in Kyrgyzstan so I would welcome readers sharing their experiences or observations.

The original article is (c) BBC News and can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22852857

12 June 2013 Last updated at 03:08

What is driving Kyrgyzstan’s protest culture?

By Abdujalil Abdurasulov BBC News, Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan

Elderly Kyrgyz women sitting near a traditional yurt in Jalalabad, KyrgyzstanThe mother-heroines are demanding the release of opposition MPs
Near a traditional yurt, several elderly Kyrgyz women are sitting and sorting through children’s clothing for sale. They are not traders. They call themselves mother-heroines and they are one of the driving forces of protest in the southern city of Jalalabad.

These mother-heroines have occupied the square in front of the office of the regional governor on and off since last October. They are demanding the release of three opposition MPs arrested over an alleged attempt to topple the government during a mass rally.

Just a few days ago their supporters stormed a Jalalabad local government building, forcing the regional governor to flee. They also blocked the only highway that links northern Kyrgyzstan with the south.

Such protests have become a daily routine in Kyrgyzstan. According to Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev, there were 1,286 protests across Kyrgyzstan in 2012. That means on average ,there were more than three protests a day.

A man addresses protesters in the village of Tamga in Dzhety Oguz district 31 May 2013 Even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent in Kyrgyzstan

Farmers, truck drivers, casino owners, land grabbers, traders, policemen – people from all walks of society are increasingly trying to solve their problems by taking to the streets. Tired of protests, several hundred people held a demonstration against demonstrations in Bishkek earlier this year.

Medet Tiulegenov, a political analyst from the American University in Central Asia, said a lack of trust in the government meant people readily took to the streets.

“Formal mechanisms to communicate with the authorities are weak or completely absent,” he said. “So street protests are often the only option.”

‘The people’

This protest culture has been shaped by two mass uprisings in Kyrgyzstan in recent years. In 2005 and again in 2010, mobs captured the White House, where the government sits, and ousted the ruling president.

This has led to a situation today in which a mob of a few hundred people, some perhaps paid to participate by interested parties, can “appoint” their governors, directors and other state officials. The government normally does not recognise the “people’s” appointee, but they cannot ignore the mood on the ground either.

Earlier this year, for example, a new police chief in the mountainous Naryn region had to flee his office after local residents and police officers unhappy with his appointment stormed the police department building. Although the government insists the chief remains its preferred candidate, he has not returned to his office yet.

And each mass rally becomes an example for others to follow.

“President [Almazbek] Atambayev came to power through mass protests. He also seized the White House. So why can’t we protest as well?” said Anarkhan Dehkanova, one of the mother-heroines, referring to the 2010 uprising and in response to the suggestion that the law was broken when the Jalalabad governor was ousted.

Amid this growing protest culture, the new government frequently uses the word el – “the people” – in its slogans to emphasis its claim to public legitimacy. One of the slogans on the website of the Interior Ministry reads: “Together with the people and for the prosperity of our Fatherland.”

Police are also finding it hard to disperse demonstrators even if they are breaking the law. In Jalalabad, police watched the protesters as they blocked the highway – causing a massive traffic jam and serious economic losses for local businesses.

“There were not just young men there,” said Almazbek Malabekov, police chief of the district where the road was blocked. “There were elderly men and women too. If we used force to disperse them, the situation would only have got worse.”

‘Soft approach’

Almazbek Malabekov, police chief of Suzak district, JalalabadMr Malabekov said elderly men and women were taking part in some protests

Peaceful demonstrations can, however, turn violent. Last month protesters in the Issik Kul region denouncing a gold mining deal clashed with police. The government was forced to announce a state of emergency in the area to end the mass disturbances.

To end the cycle of street protests and boost the rule of law, the government needs to punish those who break the laws, Mr Tiulegenov said.

“It’s important not to create the feeling of impunity that encourages protesters to be more radical. But it’s also important to combine negotiations and a soft approach,” he said.

Dr Erica Marat, a Central Asia expert, says that the government should also try to include opposition leaders in a political process and strengthen local government.

“Improving capacity and professionalism of the local government would enable them to respond to the very local issues people [protest about] and prevent mobilization of aggressive mobs,” she said.

Back in Jalalabad, several protesters remain on the square. Empty yurts are meant to indicate that a crowd could be gathered at any moment.

They are threatening to block the highway again if their demands are not met. As the Central Asian summer gets hotter, the protesters may take a break. But they will be back in the autumn.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s