Glory be to the Kyrgyz people, who did what I admit fully I would be far too chicken to actually do: take on their corrupt government, fight the riot police and army in the streets, take over the armouries and ram the Presidential Palace with an armoured carrier, seize the means of communication, including state television, proclaim a revolutionary government and chase the hated president into hiding, bringing the armed forces to your side. That is a brilliant heroism, paid for with a steep price in dead and wounded, especially after the Kyrgyz police opened fire with live rounds in the capital, Bishkek. Western commentary is predictably rather worried about the US military presence in the country, including a detailed article in Business Week that repeats twice that the US airbase is safe and unharrassed, and then relieved that the interim leader has “adopted Western mores,” whereas only a day later Time is rather distraught that “it seems clear now that Kyrgyzstan will quickly return to Moscow’s sphere of influence after months of strained relations with Russia, making the U.S. military presence in the country all the more precarious.” Unsurprisingly, almost all the papers in the US, and it seems in Canada, are running with this story as a case of Russian resurgence or troublesome Kyrgyz, but beneath the rather pedantic and typical quivering boilerplate is a dramatic story that has become quickly elided. A piece in Eurasia Insight traces the origins of the successful revolt to arrests of opposition leaders after disorders in Talas, the exclusion of northerners from the Kurultai, and economic sanctions from Moscow that raised the price of gasoline. A massive hike in utilities seems to have been the final catalyst, hitting the urban workers, immigrants from the countryside, especially hard. The eXiled has, at yet, nothing to tell me about it, a shame because these kinds of events are often their speciality. And we have seen the rise, according to this site, of the Fanny Pack Revolution:
Bakiyev’s fall marks the first time this has occurred to leader elected during the journalist-named ‘colour revolution’s in the former Soviet Union, in his case the Tulip: the Rose brought Saakashvili in Georgia to power, and the Orange brought Yushchenko to the presidency in Ukraine. In all three cases, they were not revolutions in the sense that this week’s events in Kyrgyzstan are: they all occurred during contested elections between an incumbent seen as being pro-Russian and using fraud to rig the vote in their favour, the response being small but well-organised protests, marches, sit-ins, some strikes in the Ukraine but all part of a protracted election and inter-elite bickering, a bit like the 2000 recounts in Florida if people had went out in the streets for a week for Gore. Dramatic events, surely, for all involved, but the ‘colour revolution’ were also lauded, exalted and fellated in the Western press, NGOs and politicians (I recall some particularly adulatory articles from Maclean’s at the time) as if these electoral struggles were a kind of liberal democratic second coming, freedom finally here, universal human rights and American-style politics triumphant, the overthrow of evil kleptocratic ex-Soviet anti-democratic Russian bootlickers finally at hand!
Not, of course, that popular revolt wasn’t in the streets, or that the governments unseated by the ‘colour revolutions’ weren’t unpleasantly corrupt, but to advocate that they were only grassroots events involves “steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the extent to which today’s velvet revolutions have fallen increasingly prey to manipulation by ruling class and imperialist interests,” as Dragan Plavsic has it; Mark MacKinnon’s book on The New Cold War might also be worth reading along these lines. The sequel to the ‘manufactured’ revolutions aren’t exactly encouraging, either: Saakashvili turns out to be little better than his predecessor, starting a war with Russia, cracking down savagely on protestors and the opposition in general, his popularity slipping fast. Yushchenko turned out to be an ugly character when in office, dissolving the Rada twice and bitterly battling in the dirtiest political way, kicking out former supporters, his popularity slipping fast. Bakiyev doesn’t appear to have been much better, and he followed the ‘colour revolution’ pattern of also advocating and pushing through neo-liberal structural adjustment and privatisation; the opposition had, as one of its first aims, the return of some companies to state control. The movements that brought them men to power obviously believed deeply in real democracy, and practised it in the streets, but what they got was, it seems, another aspect of real democracy: out with the old, in with the new, more of the same.