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Does Kyrgyzstan Need A Putin?

Kalnur Ormushev, political analyst.

Kalnur Ormushev, political analyst. Photo taken from vb.kg

Kyrgyzstan's president, Almaz Atambayev says his people “love” Vladimir Putin, a mountain in the Central Asian republic has been named after the Russian president and the national poet laureate claimed [ru] last week that it is high time the Kremlin strongman got his own street in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. 

But when it comes to leaders “Kyrgyzstan does not need a Putin” concluded [ru] Kalnur Ormushev, a political scientist, in an interview with the Russian-language Vecherniy Bishkek newspaper. According to Ormushev, a country with a weak multi-party system such as Kyrgyzstan requires a leader who is ‘close to the people’, unlike the ‘God and tsar’ model practiced in Russia. The interview with Ormushev was one of the most read and discussed pieces on vb.kg, Kyrgyzstan's leading online news platform, during the month of April, attracting equal measures of agreement and scorn.

During 22 years of independence Kyrgyzstan has experienced two major revolutions, several attempted seizures of power, and an ethnic conflict in the South of the republic. The violent overthrow of would-be-dictator Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the second revolution in 2010 led to significant constitutional changes that limited presidential powers, although some argue the switchover has come at the expense of security: political demonstrations, either supressed or heavily managed in Kyrgyzstan's Central Asian neigbours and Russia, are a regular feature of political life in the republic. Occasionally they spin out of control. With only one peaceful presidential transition from three, the Kyrgyz head of state is certainly a vulnerable figure compared to his or her Russian counterpart, says [ru] Ormushev:

Между Путиным и массой российской бюрократии, в том числе и федерального уровня, не говоря уже о народе, стоит в прямом и переносном смыслах “бронированный” слой ближайшего президентского окружения…А президент Кыргызстана близок – просто физически близок – не только к бюрократии, но и к простым гражданам. Он воспринимается, как человек, который рядом, до которого рукой подать. Никому не придет в голову в Москве штурмовать кремлевские стены. А попытки “взятия” “Белого дома” в Бишкеке стали уже традицией.

 An ‘armored’ layer of presidential entourage separates Putin and the rest of the Russian bureaucracy, let alone ordinary people. […] While the president of Kyrgyzstan is close – physically close – not only to the bureaucracy, but also to ordinary citizens. He is perceived as a man who is always there, within reach. No one comes up with the idea to storm the Kremlin walls in Moscow, while attempts to ‘take’ the White House in Bishkek have already become a tradition.

This “tradition” has led some to call for an arbiter like Putin, or even a more totalitarian figure like Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov to impose order on the fledgling democracy. But Ormushev says this is an impossibility, due to Kyrgyzstan's more openly competitive elite:

The rise of Putin, no matter how high, does not unduly hurt any Russian politicians [within the elite] while the excessive (and even moderate) elevation of any one Kyrgyz politician above the others makes [that person] a subject of discussion, gossip, envy, and eventually an implacable enemy for the majority of participants in political life. To imitate Putin (i.e. be above everyone) in Kyrgyzstan means to resign oneself to inevitable political defeat.  

Kyrgyzstan's “street democracy” is thus akin to a game wherein the players can win temporary, “tactical” victories  over their opponents without ever being able to secure a “controlling stake” as Putin has achieved in Russia, Ormushev added.

Russian president Vladimir Putiin and Kyrgyz counterpart Almaz Atambayev take a walk in the wild (kloop.kg)

Russian president Vladimir Putiin and Kyrgyz counterpart Almaz Atambayev take a walk in the wild (kloop.kg)

As a former Soviet country where Russian channels are watched by much of the population, especially during times of heightened international tensions such as those in Ukraine, Putin remains a popular topic. Ormushev's comments were subsequently the cause of much speculation.   PR said [ru]:

Все правильно говорит, Путнин не панацея. У нас в КР уже формируется иммунитет на всяких там избранных свыше ханов или царей. Мы как кость в горле у ближайщих соседей, которые упорно придерживаются авторитаризму

Everything he says is true. Putin is not a panacea. In Kyrgyzstan we have already formed an immunity to all sorts of divinely chosen kings or khans. We are a thorn in the side [lit. "a bone in the throat] for our neighbors who stubbornly adhere to authoritarianism.

 

While Konsul [Консул] concluded [ru] that a new kind of leader was indeed necessary, but that this leader should be more like the legendary Kyrgyz hero Manas than a Putin copycat:

(1)    “Street democracy” is an indicator of glaring crisis of power. (2)    The main problem of modern political parties is not their ‘obsession with the leaders’, but their low competency in the sphere of politics and economics. A party – is a solid group of people, joined together by a common idea, who have a concrete plan of action in the name of common ideals and prosperity. What we observe now is a rat race of all kinds of mediocrity in the couloirs of the government for the purpose of personal gain. (3)    The political leader should not be a cheap populist, as the honorable political analyst wants to see him. Primarily, a leader must command respect at all levels of society, should be able to unite and lead. Being a leader is a talent. (4)    Putin is good in his place. He is well respected, even among his haters in the West. But Kyrgyz people should find their new Manas – wise, courageous, gracious, and distinctive. Why should the leader be replicate somebody else in his policies?

While Frunze distilled [ru] Kyrgyzstan's political problems in terms of the nation's leading passtime, animal husbandry:

Стадо баранов во главе козла,без надзора пастуха. Такие вот реалии.

A flock of sheep led by a goat herder without supervision. Such are the realities.

A number of other VB.kg readers labelled the interview “бла-бла-бла” (blah blah blah), while one bemoaned [ru] the growing number of Kyrgyz currently employed as “political scientists”:

Каждый мнит себя политологом. Рассуждать о политике за пиалой бозо и быть политологом это не одно и то же.

Every Jack fancies himself as a political scientist. But talking about politics over a bowl of Bozo [Kyrgyz fermented dairy drink] and being a political scientist are not the same things.

Other than analyst fatigue, though, perhaps the most common theme in discussions of the article was that when it comes to politics, Kyrgyzstan can only be Kyrgyzstan [ru]:

Мы смотрим зомбоящик и знаем тамошних политиков лучше чем наших. Надо сконцентрировать внимание политиков и народа на нашей Стране. Нужно учитывать то что мы это не они, у нас свой минталитет…Нужна Национальная идея которая сплотит народ и подтолкнет к прогрессу и желанию работать а не митинговать. Короче  сами знаете а то еще процитируете типо бла-бла-бла.)))))

We watch the zombie box [common slang for Russian state television] and know foreign politicians better than we know our own. We need to focus the attention of politicians and the people on our country. We should consider that we are not them, we have our own mentality…a national idea is needed that can bring the people together and encourage progress andd a desire to work rather than simply hold political demonstrations.

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