However, it can be difficult for an outside observer to understand the opposition in Kyrgyzstan, because it is not systemic. “There is no opposition in Kyrgyzstan in the European or Asian sense of the word. There are only separate political groups and clans who have expressed their dissatisfaction with the current government, but no more than that,” says Dmitry Orlov, general director of East-West Strategy, a Kyrgyz analytical center. He is convinced that the current government has discredited itself. Society is ready to listen to what the opposition has to say. But they are not saying much, simply because there is no one to lead the people in the right direction. “All the groups that exist today in the country seem to be calling for just cosmetic changes, as has happened before, but no one is ready to change the political system, which means they are satisfied with the current state of affairs in the country,” said Orlov.
However, according to the expert, the public would like to see an opposition in Kyrgyzstan. Most people recognize that the country is going in the wrong direction. That is, an antigovernment majority is appearing. And this majority wants to see a clear plan for developing the country. The main demand is that it must differ radically from those projects that were put forward by the first two presidents (Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev) and what is currently being implemented by Atambayev and the parliament (Jogorku Kengesh). (The Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan holds the majority of seats in the parliament and is led by Almazbek Atambayev).
The people are ready to unite and act in order to solve the problems that concern them directly. They are criticizing specific faults in the system, and not the government as a whole. The opposition in its current clan form is not ready to articulate or direct specific demands, although it would find support in the general public if it did so. People see the opposition members not as people who want to defend their interests, but rather as politicians involved in an abstract struggle with the government. And much of the opposition has long ago discredited itself. Most of them have championed the interests of their own businesses or interests of their clan.
Political unions are formed in Kyrgyzstan on a territorial basis. This can be explained by political history. “As traditional ties at the level of rudimentary socialization transformed during the Soviet era and still existed during the 1980-1990’s, the post-Soviet period has also seen a revival of tribal and clan structures. Kyrgyz society long ago had a very embryonic form of democracy — a military democracy. Even after becoming a part of Tsarist Russia, this system did not disappear; it was a convenient way of organizing their society and controlling their hierarchy. Military democracy for them meant the clans had almost complete autonomy, and came together only at critical moments to select a supreme ruler. Peoples’ identities were not connected with parties but with the families they were born into (and in many ways they still are). And so political parties have sprung up in a purely Kyrgyz fashion. At the cores of the parties are relatives, members of the same ancestral group, or people who all come from the same region. An analysis of political parties led by prominent leaders confirms this trend. The public also clearly recognizes the regional identity of the parties, depending on the regional origin of their leaders. And it does not matter if members from the steering group are from other regions,” said Professor Aleksandr Knyazev in an interview. He stressed that the country’s borders were drawn artificially, so that relations between the government and opposition cross regional boundaries. The fragmentation of the rudimentary political elite that occurred after the coup in 2010 further complicated the picture. The main division between north and south has remained. The south is dominated by an elite representing the Echkilik clan, who refer to the north contemptuously as “Arkalyk” (those who live beyond the mountains). In the north, there is no clear dominance of any kind, so the north lacks regional unity.
The opposition is currently in stagnation, in crisis, and not popular among the people. The main political party that positioned itself as the opposition after 2010 was the Ata-Jurt party. This monolithic southern party, most of whose leaders are associated with the Bakiyev regime, reflect their interests in their actions (in terms of control over property), and are based on general revanchist ideas, including the return of southerners to power. One of the leaders of the party, Kamchibek Tashiev is well known for his appeal to capture the “White House” (the name given to the house of parliament) and overthrow the constitutional order. This happened just over a year ago, on October 3, 2012 during a peaceful rally for the nationalization of the Kumtor gold deposit. Tashiev and his cohorts (deputies of the Ata-Jurt parliamentary faction Sadyr Zhaparov and Talant Mymytov) sat in prison for almost a whole year and were released only due to the pressure of supporters.
At the same time, a promising new political force was forming in the south, the Uluttuk Birimdigi party, led by the mayor of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov. After the blood bath in 2010 in Osh, Myrzakmatov left the political arena. Insiders say that he was the one who played the “ethnic card” in the south of the country. According to Myrzakmatov, Uluttar Birimdigi is actively negotiating with various political forces, both in the south and in the north, is expanding its membership, and is no longer only a regional entity, but in 2015 will be ready to fight for a place in the Jogorku Kenesh. As noted by Alexander Knyazev, the party is mainly interested in supporting southern Kyrgyz oligarchs (at the local level, of course), communicating with the largest southern criminal gangs (which is important in Kyrgyzstan because the state institutions are so weak), and in supporting China. In general, Kyrgyz political parties rely heavily on external support for their political activities. For example, Ata-Meken, which has positioned itself as the moderate opposition, and has even participated in the parliamentary majority coalition, was originally a project of the U.S. State Department. Another parliamentary party, Ar-Namys, relies on American support. Even the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan was a US project. The interplay between their contradictions allows the U.S. to impose their tactical objectives on the Kyrgyz political process.
The most active member of the opposition, still called the “bulldozer of the revolution” in Kyrgyzstan, is Azimbek Beknazarov, who is rumored to be laying low until the next Kumtor protest. Last year, he created the El-Una movement, which included eight parties, including Ata-Jurt, the Green Party, Mekenim Kyrgyzstan and others, like socio-political organizations that are mainly concerned with protecting the environment. It was also rumored that Beknazarov’s partners are the former president of the interim government Roza Otunbayeva and former prime minister Omurbek Babanov, who are also not averse to using the gold deposit as a political weapon.
“The Kumtor will be a trump card for the opposition forces, who are using the protests to destabilize the country,” said political analyst Igor Shestakov. According to him, it is now important for the opposition to destabilize the political situation not only in the south, but also in the northern regions of the country. Government opponents trumpet the cause of returning the gold to the people, and considering the battles that took place in recent years in the areas where foreign companies are mining gold deposits, success will be guaranteed. Government opponents will try to shift the responsibility for the difficult socio-economic situation not on the government, but specifically on the president. The opposition also benefited from the early dissolution of parliament, as they believe they can win a vast majority of seats in the new parliament.
However, by 2015, the political situation in the country may change dramatically. By that time, experts predict a new political opposition group called the “Resistance Movement” will gain momentum. The head of the Movement is not an obscure figure, but rather Omurbek Suvanaliev, major general of the police and former minister of the Department of Internal Affairs. He put down the Osh conflict in 2010, saving the new Kyrgyz authorities from embarrassment and looking powerless. Now Suvanaliev is in the opposition and is calling for opponents of the regime to unite against President Atambayev. According to local media, the ranks of the Resistance Movement are being replenished by non-governmental organizations. At the same time, according to experts, the movement is not divided along regional lines, which distinguishes it from other opposition forces. “We are busy preparing for a meeting in Bishkek,” Suvanaliev announced. “We seek the resignation of the government and, therefore, the creation of a new majority coalition in the parliament.”
If Suvanaliev finds support in the north and south, a third revolution in Kyrgyzstan may be unavoidable. In this case, the country will be in a real crisis situation, because Kyrgyzstan cannot survive a third revolution.
Viktoriya Panfilova, columnist for Nezavisimaya Gazeta, exclusively for the online-magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.