Daily Archives: June 22, 2010

Marcus Cox letter from Kyrgyzstan – Why the referendum should go forward

by Marcus Cox

I’m just back from Kyrgyzstan, where I just happened to be when the country went south (spent an interesting evening watching the opening of the World Cup in a pub with the door barricaded and a riot outside.)

The question of whether to proceed with the referendum is actually a rather tricky one.  The previous Kyrgyz government, which was about as venal as they come, was toppled unexpectedly in April in a popular/Moscow-backed uprising.  The current interim government is in limbo, unable to receive the emergency budget support from the World Bank and other donors that it desperately needs due to its unclear legitimacy.  The draft constitution up for approval in the referendum is, by the standards of the region, remarkably democratic and progressive.  I don’t think it’s passage will in any way disenfranchise the Uzbeks.  It will provide the interim government with constitutional status, pending elections in October.

Against that background, there is clear evidence that the violence in Osh was instigated by the previous regime (now in exile in Belarus) to prevent the referendum going ahead, plunge the country into instability and either engineer a return to power or protect their many dubious economic interests.  The previous president and his family had stolen US$300 million from the country’s Development Fund, which you buys you a lot of trouble in Kyrgyzstan.  In the early days of the conflict, there were reports of unmarked vehicles driving into Uzbek neighbourhoods and shooting people at random, and then going into Kyrgyz neighbourhoods and telling people to flee before the Uzbeks retaliated.  Alas, despite some encouraging stories of Kyrgyz sheltering Uzbek neighbours, the provocation has proved all too successful, as the region’s many criminal elements, plus the mass of impoverished and undereducated young Kyrgyz men, have taken advantage of the ensuing chaos.

Against that background, cancelling the referendum would hand victory to those most responsible for this crisis, and in all likelihood cause the collapse of the current regime.  It’s hard to be sure, but my gut feeling is that this is the scenario most likely to lead to an escalation of conflict across the entire country.

I don’t believe the interim government has an anti-Uzbek agenda at all, but it has almost no capacity to intervene to stop the violence.  The army is small, under-equipped, unprofessional and poorly motivated.  The police were totally discredited in last April’s rebellion, when they failed to intervene in any useful way.  I don’t know whether elements of the army have been involved in violence in Osh – the consensus in international circles in Bishkek was that they have not, but nobody really knows – or if they are, whether they have been paid off by the previous regime or gone into business in their own right.  They are certainly not following orders from Bishkek.  But of course, it is characteristic of weak states that have lost the monopoly on force that, when they do intervene, they do so very badly.

The priorities now are to restore law and order in Osh and Jalabad, clear the way for humanitarian assistance and hope that, when the Uzbeks return home, the traditions of good neighbourliness among ordinary people have not been totally destroyed.  This calls for international support to the interim government to survive and regain control of the situation.  But special envoys and humanitarian supplies are not going to achieve this, and short of Russian military intervention, I don’t think anything else is on offer.

Update on Kyrgyzstan

by Rhodri C. Williams

Following up on yesterday’s post on displacement of ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan, the news coming in today has been pretty grim. On one hand, the dime appears to have dropped, with prominent EU foreign ministers expressing serious concerns. The Local reports this morning that Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt and his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, urged international intervention yesterday in recognition of the situation’s potential to bog down into an ethnic stalemate:

“The situation is alarming,” Bildt said at a joint press conference with Westerwelle in Stockholm on Monday.

Bildt emphasised the need for rapid action “in order to contribute to the confidence that is a necessity for people to start returning home.”

“If you don’t get people to start moving home fairly rapidly, you easily create a situation that sort of breeds resentment for years to come, and then there could be a very volatile and explosive situation,” he cautioned.

However, new NYT reports from Kyrgyzstan and refugee camps in Uzbekistan do not give rise to a great deal of optimism. In Kyrgyzstan, the interim authorities appear bent on proceeding with a referendum this Sunday on a new constitution virtually as if the clashes had not taken place. How internally displaced Uzbek citizens are expected to vote and whether the 70-100,000 that fled to Uzbekistan will be disenfranchised does not appear to be a priority issue.

Meanwhile at the local level, Kyrgyz authorities seem to be getting it entirely wrong, asserting their power in ways calculated solely to demonstrate that they are in charge and driving beleaguered Uzbek citizens further into a corner. The more the authorities insist on asserting power without acknowledging the wrongs done to innocent Uzbek civilians, the more acute the entirely predictable security dilemma that results.

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