Thursday, April 08, 2010

News Sites and Stories on the Situation in Kyrgyzstan

4/23 very good look at the US-fuel deals in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan
thanks brett!

4/14 RFE/RL has some good articles today:
Medvedev warns of civil war possibility in KG

US and Russia offer to assist interim gov:

Formerly Pro-Bakiev MPs urge his impeachment:

CSM: Coup in Pictures

Bakiev inching closer to moving to leaving the country:

FP: Good Piece on why US needs a more stable policy towards KG for Manas Base

CANews ( reports that Maksim Bakiev (ousted Pres's son) is in Latvia and that the Parliament has stripped Bakiev of Immunity.

NYT reports Bakiev willing to step down under conditions:

No Change in Strategic Alignment from Interim Gov:

Moving Closer to Moscow?

RFR/RL: OSCE claims talks between Bakiev and Interim Gov:

Bringing a Case against Kurman Bakiyev's Son:

Strange Atmosphere in Jalal-Abad:

lighter side: Bakiev phones a certain physics professor in Moscow:

NYT compiled some videos of interest

Check out the videos on they are remarkable and show the exact moment of the start of the violence

Bakiyev on Ekho Moskva (in the south, denounces violence) reports Bakiev in Jalalabad:

Russian language blog with good updates on events in Bishkek:

live webcam of ala too:

Reuters: Russia supported opposition to kick US out of Manas:

RFE/RL Otunbaeva directly would contradicted this:

RFE/RL Otunbaeva profile:

I will attempt to keep this blog updated with links to news and information as events continue to unfold in Kyrgyzstan.

President Bakiev apparently in Osh: This is from, the official government press organ

Here are some good general news sites:

RFE/RL: Kyrgyzstan - this is a group of youth journalists but they do real journalism. Once they start uploading stories I expect they will have a unique perspective. Russian language. Try using Google Chrome's translator for English.

BBC Stories

Kyrgyzstan in Crisis and Clashes Escalate

Video: State of Emergency in Bishkek

Video: Kyrgyzstan in Crisis and Clashes Escalate

Video: Crowd is out of Control

Factbox: Unrest in Kyrgyzstan

Video: Troops fire on protesters

KG Opposition says it has taken power:

Upheaval in KG as leader flees


Tekebaev, opposition leader
This is a bit outdated, but Tekebaev was the fellow that the Polish authorities detained for a night after heroine was planted in his luggage.

Otunbayeva, "interum-President"

Rumor, Digression, Etc.:
Thanks in large part to government dismantling of the independent media, rumor once again serves as news in Kyrgyzstan as the political situation nears the brink. Facebook posts by citizens and expats are full of heresay that Bakiev is coming north with a large group ("50,000") of supporters from Osh. The rumor of a North-South clash has loomed on the edge of each of the frequent disturbances that have shaken Kyrgyzstan since independence. So far, the rumors have never been founded in reality.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Rants about the Base closing and other changes

Kyrgyzstan Says Its Closing the Base

At its heart, its a Russian geo-political power grab. I believe that Kyrgyzstan originally gave the US the base for next to nothing, they were not so keen on Russia which was weak and not generous during Yeltsin years. But there was no real payoff for the Kyrgyz and Russia got some muscle back.

Kyrgyzstan also had a change of leadership, from a more pro-West dude (though decreasingly so as time went on) to a more Russo-phile (basically the president looks likt a lap dog when he shakes hands with Medvedev or Putin. He has the look in his eyes that he is void of all thought except "Oh, boy, this is great!")

So Russia wants us out of their "near abroad." The President here seems to be much more comfortable with Russia than with us and we have not given them much of a reason to keep us around. That said, most anything in Kyrgyzstan can be bought for the right price, so if we offered a lot of money we could probably keep the base. That would make us look petty though so our pride will probably result in a strategic loss/moral victory (a very hollow one).

That strategic loss, however, was pretty much impending on account of our poor handling of the relationship.

I wouldn't be surprised if we arrange something like a reduction or a transformation of the base. So that it still can transport personell and non-lethal equipment but has a roof on permanent personel living there and no air-mission out of the base. that would probably be fine with Russia (especially since right now both sides are trying to warm relations and renegociate START and draw down the missle-shield/nuclear redeployment thing).

Basically though, russia slowly built up influence and attained a stragetic advantage in Kyrgyzstan that we can't easily undo. Just shows how much we suck at subtle relations. Really we should have intelligence out the wazoo on Kyrgyzstan, we have a base here and the gov is easily bought and sold. but we don't really invest in that sort of thing until there is a calamity, (and its already too late).
As of today, the parliament delayed the official vote. Still lots of time to negotiate new a new price.

A post-soviet trans-national military force?

another probably unworkable treaty for International Relations people to write papers about.

I've come see how many leaders who were Soviet-raised here love to decree things and use high flyin rhetoric. Actually building institutional capacity and compromise, way less fun and so much more work. It's just like politics anywhere, but with an extra 3 tablespoons of disfunction and minus 2 cups of capacity.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Police as Leverage

My landlord is a bad landlord. He is not mean but he is, in my estimation, irresponsible. So I don't like him, because he is my landlord.


He is 20 years old. Obviously, he didn't purchase the flat himself but the parental powers that be decided that he should run it himself. After he reduced the price from $US 300/mo to 250/mo on the condition that I pay for 3 months at once, I paid in cash. He missed our meeting the next day and sounded miserable and barely awake at 12p when I called him the next day, it was becoming clear that my annoying landlord was an unusual sort of annoying landlord. The long and the short of it is that for about 2 weeks I arranged some 10 meetings at which time he was to provide me with some pretty straight forward furnishings. He would agree and never show up. The wasting of my time was irritating as was the lack of furnishing. Yelling at him after some of the more ridiculous periods of irresponsibility left him murmuring an insincere apology, of the sort I am sure his parents have heard about a million times. I was exasperated. 


I disengaged. The more energy I put into the landlord the worse off my life was. I bought the furniture and paid outstanding bills, figuring that I will renegotiate once I have some leverage (i.e. when rent is due, in February).


I related my experience with my landlord to locals. All agreed that he sounded pretty lame and often were a little embarrassed as I was a foreigner and all. They situation needed to be rectified, respect for me regained and the dignity of Kyrgyzstan preserved. The solution offered by many was interesting and one which never would have occurred to me.


I should make him pay bills, provide promised furnishings and generally not be a recluse by telling him that if he does not do so that I will tell the militsia (police) that my landlord is not paying taxes. I did not sign a contract upon moving in, though I asked if that wouldn't be a good idea. And for the most part people do not pay, or significantly underpay, their taxes.


This solution was not much help for me. My visa status was flocculating between legal, semi-legal and not-so-much legal during the time. And arguing with officials may be fun if you speak the language but my Russian and Kyrgyz are not quite there. Suggesting a crime that I cannot prove and insinuation are sections we didn't cover in 3rd year Russian at UW.


I stopped volunteering information about my situation to other people and things got better when I stopped dealing with the landlord. But since then my friends at the bazaar have had an interesting experience that brought up the militsia as an instrument of extraction rather than as a force for order.  


I've only received the following story from the side of my friends. It only reflects my one-sided understanding, not Truth.


My friends were coming home one evening. Some neighborhood acquaintances were hanging out around a bottle of vodka. They had been there for some time. The drinkers asked my friends for a cigarette, then if they wanted to drink. My friends don't drink and don't smoke. The drinkers asked my friends for money. When this too was denied they started pushing. A fight started. My friends won and apparently threw in a couple of blows for good measure.


The instigators of the assault threatened to write a "declaration" to the militsia. They had a few bruises and stuff on their faces and the right to self-defense does not include the right to throw a few extra punches after you have won I guess. Also, as a rule it’s not so nice to get the police involved in matters such as this. The police earn an official salary of no more than $US 50/mo. They use their position to earn significantly more. A "good living" in Bishkek is estimated at about $1000. Very few militsianiri (police officers) fail to provide a good living for their families.


My friends came to me. I am the rich American friend who uninvolved in the local community significantly, I won't cause them shame or trouble or other further problems. The silence was bought for around $150. I wasn't happy about helping out in this situation but their friends and I figured that I was not in a very good place to weigh the situation. When in doubt it seemed better to help the friends.  The situation was of enough concern for the guys that they slept outside at the dacha at the foothills of the mountains for the night of the incident.


What I found of interest here is how the mechanisms of the state which are theoretically intended to regulate and organize society (tax collectors and militsia) were viewed as mechanisms for extortion. The social capture of these basic capacities and duties of the state indicates that frequently people view the state as a reliable tool for resolving social disputes in their favor. It does not rule from on high, but rather can be fairly manipulated for advantage in a petty dispute. This is not the sort of civic engagement that international actors are pushing for.


For the last month or so, I have been focusing on a few things and neglecting the writing and research as a result. The projects are necessary but not much to talk about. First, I've been studying Kyrgyz pretty extensively. That is going pretty well except that I don't get to reinforce it on a daily basis as much as I should because my work has been in English. I've been working on a little promo film for the Alpine Fund. It’s been a great learning process, but if working efficiently tends to be repetitive then learning seems to be tedious. Every technical aspect of the production had to be learned by myself and my lovely partner, Christina. How to get the video off of the camera, which chord to use was the first problem. Then we discovered that the program and computer we had set up were not going to cut it. So then we had to struggle again to find a good program for my Mac. We got a deal on Final Cut through Christina's University connections back in Switzerland. Normally this program is around a thousand dollars... almost as much as the HD Canon video camera or the computer. Crazy. So we finally got that delivered via randomly traveling friend from Switzerland. Then we had to figure out how to work the very powerful/complicated program. Every solution we came to becomes old news as we used the tools and stuff constantly. But it was constant manual reading and delays. The final kink came in getting the program off of the computer as a self contained file. For some reason there are tons of settings, and no real guide to how to figure it out.


It looks like I can see the edge of the woods now though. I have learned a lot about making amateur films, perhaps never to use the skills again.


In addition I have been trying to get a visa from the Kyrgyz government. After running all over town trading letters of interest for letters of support and working my way up the university signature food chain I finally turned all of the paperwork in... Only to have it referred to a committee. I was supposed to find out on the 4th of December if I can be in Kyrgyzstan, instead I will maybe find out next week... officially a month since my visa expired. Normally I get a smug sense of satisfaction out of my frustrations in knowing that the US does it better. But when it comes to immigration and visas I know that is not the case.


The English classes are going well. The kids generally are lively and eager learners. I am running into a familiar problem at the street shelter/community center where I teach. The kids on random days pretty much just don't show up. Then there are like 15 of them the next time. We tried to implement a complicated but fair system where they would each pay the equivalent of US $2.50 for a month and then we would give them .25 or each time they showed up... thus incentivizing attendance with significant but not over the top fiscal constraints. The sublime plan ran into problems on day 2 when no one remembered to bring the money. So then just a couple of kids paid and it was hard to keep track of who paid... blah blah. The kids sort of amble around the place too and I immediately shied away from keeping kids out of class. Also my assistant, an intern from the Alpine Fund was to do the accounting but his attention to detail is underwhelming.


In other news, I found a bomb-shelter punk/folk/hip hop venue/bar that is pretty great. It’s full of lesbians and young people making out, which is a nice change of pace. Most of the bars here are either really cheap (plastic chairs and plastic tables) or really gaudy. The sorts of cozy but real places are tough to find. It is fun to find a place where people let their hair down, or stick it up in pointy shapes. The mosh pit or "slam" is not as friendly as back home, however

Monday, November 24, 2008


Things are well on the whole in Kyrgyzstan. I've been a truant writer because I have been running around trying to get a visa together, as well as attempting to put a promotional movie together for the Alpine Fund. In addition, I have been getting a couple of English classes going. So the last three weeks have been all about getting the kinks out of stuff. In a lot of ways this made life a bit tedious and frustrating. 

Getting a visa is all about getting enough stamps and letters and submitting the right bit of paper to the right person in exchange for the addition to another piece of paper. The offices are in different parts of town and whenever you don't fall very clearly into a bureaucratic slot, no one really knows what the answer is... my 'language tutored independent social research' definitely does not fit well with the program of needing to have all sorts of papers and such from a university to get a student visa... but a tourist visa and a business visa don't fit either. I finally cleared a major hurdle on Thursday when a seemingly random official in a seemingly random office looked at my papers, made me fetch another letter from someone, looked at my letters again and then signed one of the papers. Then I gave my papers to a functionary and was informed that a decision as to my status would be rendered by committee in two weeks. The  ability of a signature to cut through all the red tape definitely leads to corruption. 

I learned a lot about corruption at the universities and among officials here in the last couple weeks (honestly, through conversation, not personal experience). Its a fascinating dance and its really screwed up. I hope to collect the tidbits into a coherent mass soon.

In other news some of my friends at the bazaar are in danger of having their houses bulldozed. Some of the local women leaders are pressing for a solution with a judge. They seem to be under pressure from powerful figures who have arranged to have their power shut off for as many as five days at a time. 

So I am eager to start learning more about that situation tomorrow.

With random computer troubles, visa limbo and uncertain english class attendance behind me, at least for now, its nice to be back to doing work that feels like it adds up to something.

Sorry for not writing much, I plan to have more to write about, and not just gripe about, soon.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Ditka's Power Has Dwindled

Obama's election was the first time I felt really happy, deeply soulfully happy, about a political contest. No doubt the burden of reality will push elation aside quickly. But a great moment is a great moment and I've been happily savoring this one. 

The view of the election from Kyrgyzstan is interesting. Most people don't know very much about Obama's biography but are happy that he one. He noted for being black... unfortunately in Russian the term "Niggr'" still gets tossed around casually, though of course the cultural context is totally removed from the history of repression, hate and abuse in the US. The translation carries only moderate derision.

So most people are in favor of the new president. This opinion is basically based on a naive belief that a new president can "stop" the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These opinions uninformed by the fact that Obama campaigned on a promise to escalate military involvement in Afghanistan. But I have little doubt that if they were as informed as most Americans that they would come to the same conclusion. Much of the reaction is fairly typical Russian-esque ambivalence.

Coverage of the election results on the news cycles out of Moscow was given little more time than the average news story and as stuck in between a nasty car accident in Moscow and a folk dance.

Unfortunately the poor coverage of a historic and triumphant moment in American history (irrespective of political orientation) was matched by very poor US coverage of the Russian response. As you probably heard, the Russians announced they would move missiles up to the Polish border in response to the US missile shield. What was not mentioned is that Medvedev offered a refreshingly sober assessment of the state of Russian democracy/governance. 

"In our days, at the new level of development, Russian society confirms its adherence to the democratic values of the constitution. On the whole, it has embraced democratic habits, practices and procedures. Unlike in the recent past, our citizens no longer associate the democratic structure with chaos, powerlessness or degradation. New Russia has proved its ability to fulfil social obligations and ensure economic growth, guarantee citizens' rights and demand law abidance, and successfully fight terrorism and external aggression.

Now it is not a question of whether democracy can exist in Russia, as it used to be not so long ago, only 15 years ago. It is clear that democracy can exist in Russia. This is obvious and nobody is arguing with this. The question now is about the way Russian democracy should develop in future. I believe that Russian citizens are much more ready for free enterprise, professional as well as social and political, than at the beginning of the reforms, enterprise without state guardianship. More and more people are relying on themselves, first and foremost. They believe that their personal success and consequently the success of the whole country, depends on them. This is why it is not only possible but necessary to increase the level of trust in society. (Applause)

Meanwhile, state bureaucracy is still - as well as 20 years ago - going by the same mistrust of free people and free enterprise. This logic prompts it (bureaucracy) to make dangerous conclusions and take dangerous steps. Now and then bureaucracy makes life a nightmare for business - what if they do something wrong; it takes the media under its control for them not to say something wrong; it meddles in the election process - for people not to elect somebody wrong; it pressurizes courts for them not to bring in wrong verdicts, and so on. (Applause) As a result, the state machine is a major employer, the most active publisher, the best producer, as well as its own court, party and its own nation, in the long run. A system like this is not al all effective and creates one thing only - corruption. (Applause) It gives birth to mass legal nihilism. It contradicts the constitution, puts brakes on the development of innovative economy and democratic institutions. A strong state and omnipotent bureaucracy are not the same thing. A civil society needs the former as a tool to develop and support order, to protect and strengthen political institutions, while the latter is mortally dangerous for it. This is why our society should develop democratic institutions in a calm, persevering way and not putting it off.

Democratic institutions, which have been created in the past few years, and, let's be honest, on an instruction from the top, must take root in all social layers. To do this, we need constantly prove the viability of democratic order, and second, entrust more and more social and political functions directly to citizens, their organizations and self-governing bodies.

No, the state must not renounce responsibility for its sphere of authority and we must act pragmatically, soberly assessing risks, but action is really needed."

So, there is more hope for Russian domestic politics than is typically reported in the US. Also, the Russian perspective on US policy is biased but not fundamentally rooted in any enormous lie. Its fun to have an adversary and always politically and market-wise (news coverage) expedient to paint an antogist as fundamentally irrational and baseless. It is also not constructive over the long term.

Saturday, November 01, 2008