This year, Kyrgyzstan is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its "Tulip Revolution" and the 5th anniversary of the "Second Kyrgyz Revolution." But it's still waiting for real reforms, as Russian influence grows.
On March 24, Kyrgyzstan commemorated the 10th anniversary of the "Tulip Revolution" that ended President Askar Akayev's 15 year rule. When Kurmanbek Bakiyev became Kyrgyzstan's head of state he quickly forgot his democratic slogans, and five years later he experienced the same fate as his predecessor. But the second revolution was bloody. On April 7, 2010, more than 80 people were killed in clashes after police opened fire on crowds of protesters.
The anniversaries of both events coincide with the European tour of current President Almasbek Atambayev, who talks much of democracy and reform when meeting with other heads of state. But disappointment is growing in Kyrgyzstan. There are no real improvements to speak of, as poverty remains high, and nearly a quarter of the working population have been forced to emigrate to Russia and elsewhere in order to find employment.
No parliamentary democracy
Edil Baysalov was an active participant in the "Tulip Revolution" in March of 2005, and he remembers well how quickly the new president was able to cement his own personal power. That is why Baysalov supported the next revolution in 2010. For a short time after Bakiyev's fall Baysalov was acting chief of staff for the new transitional government. But according to Baysalov the new rulers also quickly forgot their promises.
Today, he says that the country wasn't ready for parliamentarianism at the time. In an interview with Deutsche Welle he says, "The hastily formed political movements renamed themselves parties and ran for election, but in the end they simply dissolved." Even today's Social Democrats are not really a party, they are simply there to support the president, just like the parties of former presidents, he added. "Therefore one cannot call it a parliamentary democracy," according to Baysalov.
President Atambayev has successfully acquired all political power and the ideas of parliamentarianism, a multiparty system, and a pluralistic society have all been discredited. The opposition is also fractured with its leaders being either prosecuted or intimidated, says Baysalov.
Further, he bemoans the lack of progress regarding human rights issues related to the justice and state departments, public prosecutors and the intelligence services. Corruption and despotism run rampant. Baysalov claims, "Atambayev can talk all he wants about his commitment to human rights while he travels around Europe, but it is just that, talk. In reality he has a pact with corrupt circles. That will help him keep control of the country, as well as achieve the outcome he wants for this fall's scheduled elections."
Human rights groups are alarmed
International human rights groups are also sounding the alarm. They are concerned about two proposed laws before the Kyrgyz parliament, both of which are practically carbon copies of Russian laws. The first threatens one year imprisonment for the so-called "propagation of non-traditional sexual relations." The second says that the activities of non-governmental organizations can be limited if they are supported by foreign funding in any way. Such NGOs could then be branded foreign agents.
Therefore, prior to President Atambayev's visit, several human rights organizations such as the Dutch and Norwegian Helsinki Committee, among others, have called for EU leadership to discuss these issues with the Kyrgyz president. The groups contend that it should be made clear to him that if his country refuses to uphold its human rights obligations, "it will influence relations between Kyrgyzstan and the EU."
Kyrgyz human rights activists are also worried. Dinara Ochurakhunova, head of the grassroots organization "Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society" told DW that "laws designed to limit the activities of NGOs were also proposed under Akayev and Bakiyev, and today civil society is again being accused of meddling in politics. That is why we have this new proposal." According to the activist, the chances of the law passing are better than ever.
Russia's influence in Kyrgyzstan is growing
The failure of democratic transformation can also be traced back to Russia's growing influence. At the insistence of Kyrgyz authorities in the capital Bishkek, the US air base in Manas was closed in July 2014. At the same time, Bishkek tacked toward rapprochement with Moscow and accession to the Eurasian Economic Union which is due to be complete this May.
Edil Baysalov says that Atambayev has made his claim that, "there is no alternative to joining the Eurasian Economic Union" one of his most important slogans, adding, that "he is convinced we should join the Eurasian Economic Union quickly." Atambayev is also willing to pay a price for it; namely, the abandonment of multi-vector politics, and potentially the forfeiture of Kyrgyzstan's sovereignty.