Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Day in Kyrgyzstan

Like everyone on the planet except us Americans, a European friend of mine pays attention to the rest of the world. Tonight he sent me a link to a NY Times article about the Kyrgyzstan government being taken over by the people. The link included his personal message which just says, "Incredible!" Putting aside my feeling of intimidation because he obviously understands this better than I do, I’m going to attempt to discuss what happened in Kyrgyzstan today. Quotes and paraphrases come from the NY Times article and a Yahoo news one.

First of all, Kyrgyzstan is an impoverished Central Asian nation of 5 million that became an independent country after the Soviet collapse. Kyrgyzstan is the third in a former Soviet republic to be brought down by its people over the past year and a half (the "Rose Revolution" took place in Georgia in 2003 and the "Orange Revolution" in the Ukraine last year). Other regimes in Central Asia haven’t responded to Thursday's uprising yet, but the opposition parties in other countries are hopeful that democratic change will spread in the region.

The most striking thing to me is how violence-free the takeover was. Organizers led a protest of several thousand people that they hoped “would be able to gather at the square and press their demands for President Akayev's resignation.” The people marched to the presidential compound, carefully staying on only one side of the street, and were met by about 30 horse-mounted police officers. These officers “fled after a few stones were thrown at them and the crowd hesitantly advanced twoard the White House, where they found that a handful of demonstrators from the other march had already entered the grounds and were just 100 feet from some 200 soldiers dressed in helmets and camouflage uniforms but armed only with sticks and shields.”

Get the picture? No firearms were involved at all. After a while, even the unarmed guards cowered and retreated, allowing the demonstrators to enter the building that (now former President) Akayev had already fled. I’m not just impressed by the lack of aggression of the police and soldiers, but by the restraint the protestors showed when the last 50 or so soldiers exited the building. The people jeered at the soldiers, but did no harm to them. This is striking to me because I know the penchant for violence on both sides of any American political protest.

The whole thing was over in a matter of hours, almost making comical the statement given earlier by the president of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, who said of the demonstration “This is the first day of a process that could take six months.” The NY Times article also reported that the U.S. and other nations had urged the Kyrgyzstan government to avoid violence and open a dialogue with the opposition. Oh, that the U.S. would use unarmed police officers and soldiers. Maybe then we wouldn't be a nation of &^#-damned armed lunatics (how we haven't managed to wipe ourselves out, I don't know, but that's for another discussion).

So, that's the news from Kyrgyzstan, as this ignorant American understands it. I did my best. What do these events mean? I don't know. Anybody else want to take it from here?

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