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How sustainable are Kyrgyz revolutions?

Written by on Monday, 26 April 2010
Kyrgyzstan, Politics and Society
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Révolution de 1830, Combat de la rue de Rohan le 29 juillet 1830, by Hippolyte Lecomte (1781-1857).  Click on the image to read more about the July Revolution in France.

Révolution de 1830, Combat de la rue de Rohan le 29 juillet 1830, by Hippolyte Lecomte (1781-1857).

Editor’s note: Is Kyrgyzstan increasingly resembling France of the Nineteenth Century?  neweurasia’s Schwartz thinks so.  He lists the parallels and argues that, in the end, both Kyrgyzstan’s political class and general population must “develop much more serious respect for the institutions of governance than they have been so far displaying.”  Otherwise, the fate of the country may be dire.  [Check out our on-going coverage of the uprising and its aftermath, including commentary and audiovisual materials.]

Is it just me, or is Kyrgyzstan resembling more and more France after the July Revolution?  For those of you who don’t know your European history, the July Revolution saw the overthrow of King Charles X by his cousin Louis-Philippe, the Duke of Orléans, who himself was overthrown eighteen years later in the Revolution of 1848. Consider these parallels:

  • both revolutions were popular uprisings against autocratic and oppressive regimes, and both were spearheaded by the political opposition of the time (although whereas in the case of France it was liberalizers, I’m not certain of the ultimate orientation of Otunbayeva et al, who seem to be ex-liberalizers who may be moving in a more semi-Left direction);
  • for all their bloodshed, I’m sorry to say that both revolutions achieved nothing greater than essentially a palace coup, with one wing of the elite replacing the other, but the same elite nevertheless (in the case of France, it was literally the same family; the constancy of the elite in Bishkek was pointed out elegantly in a recent New York Times editorial, “Running in Circles in Kyrgyzstan”);
  • both revolutions created a crisis of legitimacy for the new leadership as supporters of the old government cited constitutional arguments for their position and supporters of the new government cited moral arguments for theirs (Bakiyev’s recent speech in Belarus and his continuing popularity in some quarters of the south may lead to such a split in Kyrgyzstan, and ultimately, another uprising);
  • in both cases, there was a habituation of revolution among the masses, namely, an increasing sense of entitlement coupled with an increasing willingness, even desire, to resort to violence to get their way, heedless of the destabilizing effects (this is a more salient issue in Kyrgyzstan’s case than in France’s, especially considering the recent land-seizures, the ethics and nature of which we here at neweurasia and our friends at The Registan have been debating).

It’s this last point that concerns me most.  I know there are a lot of people in the blogosphere, including right here in neweurasia, who have been cheering on the uprising as an example of “people power”, anarchism, anti-neo-liberalization, anti-autocracy, etc.  And, of course, I’m inclined to agree, not only because of my own ideological inclinations, but because who doesn’t like to see a corrupt politician get the collective boot?

But I’m also realistic enough to see how destructive this addiction to uprising is becoming for Kyrgyzstan. It doesn’t take a political science doctorate to see that the country is unraveling and rather than being proclaimed as the “island of democracy”, is increasingly becoming seen as an unreliable or even dangerous nuisance by the international community.

If the Kyrgyz people are really interested in democracy, which they say they are, then both sides — the political class and the masses — need to develop much more serious respect for the institutions of governance than they have been so far displaying.  Otherwise this cycle is just going to keep repeating itself until either Kyrgyzstan rips itself apart or, as in the case of France before it, reverts into the very autocracy it was seeking to overthrow.

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