Democracy rising in ex-Soviet states
Aftershocks of Ukraine and Georgia are stirring up rallies in Central Asia.
(Page 2 of 2)
The Kremlin may fear that political ferment in Kyrgyzstan could spread to more important allies in central Asia. The long-time leader of oil-rich Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has fixed elections and changed the Constitution to extend his rule, last month dissolved the leading opposition party after it sent a delegation to Ukraine to study the Orange Revolution. He also moved to close down a local institute funded by global financier George Soros, who has backed pro-democracy movements in Ukraine and elsewhere.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In Uzbekistan, which also hosts a key US military base, President Karimov, a former Soviet politburo member, has ruled with an iron fist since the demise of the USSR. Karimov recently jeered publicly at those "who are dying to see that the way the elites in Georgia and Ukraine changed becomes a model to be emulated in other countries." He warned bluntly: "We have the necessary force for that."
Some experts argue that, while velvet revolution may be possible in semi-authoritarian Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, it is a very distant prospect in Uzbekistan because democracy and civil society are barely developed there. Last week's protests in Tashkent, though based on a narrow economic issue, hint that instability may lie just beneath the regime's tough and orderly surface.
Uzbekistan's gas-rich neighbor, Turkmenistan, is run by a North Korean-style dictatorship that permits no dissent of any kind. "In absolutely authoritarian regimes like [Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan] the threat of 'Orange Revolution' is just used by the leaders to crack down harder," says Masha Lipman, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "There is no chance for the opposition to actually organize anything, much less a revolution."
That paradox may help to explain why Georgians were able to rally successfully against the lethargic regime of Eduard Shevardnadze, when it attempted to rig the 2003 parliamentary polls, while protesters in neighboring Azerbaijan were put down when the much more efficient dictatorship of Gaidar Aliyev imposed the succession of his son, Ilham, through fraudulent elections just a month earlier.
Ukrainians were able to successfully mobilize against vote-rigging late last year in part because Ukraine had relatively free institutions, including a parliament and Supreme Court that the president was not able to control. In next-door Belarus, which US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has labeled "the last outpost of tyranny in Europe," dictator Alexander Lukashenko has crushed the opposition and banished nongovernmental organizations, and looks set to be handily reelected in showpiece elections later this year.
But an upsurge looks increasingly likely in ex-Soviet Moldova, where Communist President Vladimir Voronin has lost Moscow support. He faces a strong challenge in next month's parliamentary elections from the pro-Western Christian Democrats, who reportedly are sporting orange scarves and flags in the capital.
"The Kremlin suddenly finds itself severely challenged to change its strategies, both at home and in former Soviet countries," says Sergei Kazyonnov, an expert with the independent Institute for National Security and Strategic Research in Moscow. "It can go on depending on political manipulations and under-the-carpet deals with local elites. But it is already becoming obvious that there are just too many different realities here, and an unworkable multiplicity of carpets."