Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Lukashenko Can Learn From Bakiyev

By Erica Marat

“Uhadzi!” (Go away), shouted protesters in central Minsk on December 19, the day when Alexander Lukashenko secured another presidential term for himself. Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Belarus’ capital to protest against the rigged presidential elections. Belarus Spetznaz (special forces) and OMON (special police unit) suppressed the protests by beating up hundreds, among them activists and journalists.

The scenes from Minsk’s downtown were déjà vu for another dictator, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who has ironically been residing in Belarus for months now. The Kyrgyz equivalent of “Uhadzi!”, “Ketsin!”, was the main slogan during the April 7 riots in Bishkek that resulted in Bakiyev’s ouster.

Lukashenko was the only leader to host Bakiyev and his family members (including Bakiyev’s unofficial younger wife). Bakiyev’s move to Belarus highlighted similarities between Lukashenko and himself. Both greedy for power and money, the two men are mocked by their own people for reeking idiocy and shortsightedness.

Bakiyev’s authoritarian policies were deepening as social discontent with him mounted. In the final months of his leadership he tightened control over the military, appointing relatives and cronies to key posts. Bakiyev also created special elite forces to ensure his own personal security. Reportedly, these special forces were ordered to shoot at protesters during the April 7 demonstrations. Eighty-six people were shot dead and hundreds were wounded that day.

Lukashenko has already created a loyal military that showed its unwavering support on elections day. Several layers of police and army personnel are trained to defend the leader against social unrest. Although the forces dispatched against the crowds did not shoot, Jamestown sources report that snipers were planted on rooftops of buildings surrounding the Nezavisimaya and Oktyabrskaya squares where most protesters gathered.

Some reports suggest that government provocateurs stirred unrest during the protests by smashing windows of nearby government buildings. Such imposed chaos presented an opportunity for OMON to purge crowds and arrest roughly 650 protesters. Similar ingenious techniques have been widely used by both Bakiyev and his predecessor, Askar Akayev.

As Lukashenko continues his rule, a lot will depend on the Belarus opposition’s ability to organize and pressure the regime. However, the experience of Kyrgyzstan, as well as that of other countries ruled by unpopular authoritarian leaders, suggests that clashes between the regime and civilians do not pass unforgotten. Rather, civic discontent continues to breed, creating more opportunities for opposition leaders to gain both domestic and international support.

Effectively, Lukashenko has three options lined up for him in the next few years: consider giving up his power, opening up to the opposition, or suppressing the next round of protests with more violent means. Bakiyev’s experience might come in handy, though Lukashenko should not rely too much on his friend in need.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Moscow’s Two-Track Response to Tbilisi’s Constructive Unilateralism

By David Iberi

In his highly publicized speech in the European Parliament on November 23, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili unveiled peace initiatives aimed at reducing tension between his country and Russia. They include the commitment of non-use of force against Russian occupying bodies and their proxies and a readiness to engage in high-level talks with Moscow without preconditions. The Kremlin’s response to what is called Georgia’s constructive unilateralism so far has been a mixture of diplomacy by proxy and a reinforcement of Russia’s military presence in the occupied Georgian territories in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia.

Although Georgia has vowed to seek reunification of the country within its UN-recognized borders only through peaceful means, it nonetheless retains the right to self-defense if Russia perpetrates new military attacks against the Georgian government and people.

On November 24, a day after Saakashvili spoke to the European Parliament, the Russian Foreign Ministry made its first comment on his speech only to argue that Russia is just a mediator and there is no conflict between Russia and Georgia. Instead, according to the Foreign Ministry, “at issue is…the long-running conflict between Tbilisi and the peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” Therefore, the statement went on, there should be “a legal enshrinement of obligations not to use force” between Georgia and the two Russia-sponsored proxy regimes.

In a matter of days, the proxy regimes themselves issued statements in which they pledged that they would not resort to force “against Georgia” and requested that non-use of force agreements be signed between Abkhazia and Georgia and South Ossetia and Georgia, “preferably under international guarantees.”

Then, on December 7, the Russian Foreign Ministry made another statement to sum up the non-use of force pledges by Georgia and the Russian proxies in the occupied Georgian regions. Hailing the “exceptionally important step…taken towards sustainable peace and security, Moscow stressed the importance of building “equitable and neighborly relations between Abkhazia, “South Ossetia” and Georgia. The “full-fledged legal enshrinement” of a regime of non-use of force between the three was again underlined in the statement and with that, apparently, Russia’s role as that of the guarantor of peace and security in “Transcaucasia” – Russian jargon for the South Caucasus used to make clear that the region is part of the Kremlin’s geopolitical orbit.

In parallel with these “multilateral” diplomatic overtures, Georgia announced in early November that it broke yet another network of Russian intelligence operating within its territory and arrested 13 people, including four Russian citizens, who were accused of spying for Russia’s military. This was the fourth time since 2006 that Tbilisi made a public announcement about the arrest of a Russian spy network. The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, called the latest incident a “farce” and “anti-Russian hysteria.”

In early December, Georgian police arrested several people accused of organizing, carrying out and participating in a series of explosions, including one fatal incident, that took place in September and November 2010. Police claim their activities were directed by a Russian general, Yevgeny Borisov, stationed in one of the Russian military bases in Abkhazia. It is not immediately clear from the statements made by Georgian law enforcement if Borisov’s activities were closely coordinated by Moscow.

On the ground in the occupied regions, Russia has continued to build up its military infrastructure and capabilities. New military garrisons were inaugurated in both Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, and in addition to S-300 systems already stationed in Abkhazia, Russian media recently reported the deployment of the BM-30 “Smerch” heavy multiple rocket launchers to the Tskhinvali region, within striking distance of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. According to Georgian estimates, there are at least 12,000 Russian troops in both territories.

Georgia has continually tried to disentangle itself from Moscow through a two-track approach of “diplomacy of peaceful de-occupation.” On the one hand, it asks the international community to condemn Russia’s illegal occupation of its territories and demand its termination. On the other, it shows willingness and readiness to engage in high-level talks with Moscow.

Russia seems to be using a two-track approach of its own, as well. On one side, it has proxy regimes in the occupied territories through which it reacts diplomatically to Georgia’s peace offers and, on the other, it continues to strengthen its military presence in the occupied lands in order to underpin the “proxy” diplomatic response. The irony is that the regimes in de-populated Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia are mere extensions of the Russian state structure and by no means do they represent the local populations, the majority of whom live in other parts of Georgia as victims of the two-decade-old ethnic cleansing.

Monday, December 13, 2010

UzbekKino Releases List of Banned Movies

By Erica Marat

Everyone in Central Asia knows where to buy pirated copies of the latest movies. DVDs burned in Russia, China and Eastern Europe flood the local markets as soon as they appear on big screens in the West. Controlling this part of the black market is inefficient and costly for the authorities. Pirated movies and music are relatively cheap ($0.50-$3 per DVD) according to the local standards, and the quality is often quite acceptable.

Nevertheless, in an attempt to regulate the market, UzbekKino published a list of 744 movies banned in Uzbekistan during 2005-2010. The list includes Western, Russian and Uzbek movies. All movies on the list were produced during the past decade.

The list was comprised of mostly horror and pornographic movies, including “Eyes Wide Shut”, “The Secrets of Kamasutra”, “Saw” and “Hostel”. Russian movies about the war in Chechnya are banned in Uzbekistan as well.

Movies by the famous Umida Akhmedova, who was persecuted in Uzbekistan for slandering the Uzbek nation, are banned as well.

Some family cartoons, like “Shrek” and “Madagascar”, are also in the list. Epic movies including “Lord of the Rings” and “Eclipse” are banned in Uzbekistan as well.

UzbekKino has not explained why certain films are banned or what type of punishment can be expected for breaking the rule. Inevitably, some movies that could have made it onto the list but for some reason were left out, are in the grey zone. For example, most of Quentin Tarantino’s films are banned, but “Pulp Fiction” is not. Does UzbekKino recommend that people avoid watching it?

It is also unclear as to who decided the contents of the list. UzbekKino’s staff mostly includes actors, directors and scriptwriters. Members of the agency’s higher administration have backgrounds in cinematography as well. Were the decisions made based on ethical, cinematographic or political views?

UzbekKino’s website also offers a list of movies allowed to be shown and watched in Uzbekistan. Nearly all of them are movies produced by local directors. Each year UzbekKino lists 8 to 16 of such movies.

While the logic behind UzbekKino’s choice of prohibited movies is difficult to define, the effectiveness of this ban should not be overestimated. In 2008, Jamestown watched “Madagascar 2” on a train from Samarkand to Bukhara. Dozens of fellow travelers enjoyed the cartoon as well.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Troublesome Coalition Formation in Kyrgyzstan

By Erica Marat

After weeks of negotiations, the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) finally formed a ruling coalition with the Ata-Meken and Respublika parties. The coalition, however, fell apart the next day when Ata-Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev failed to gain enough votes to be elected parliament speaker, a position he coveted since becoming MP.

Several members of the Respublika party prevented Tekebayev from earning the position. From the very beginning, Respublika was against Tekebayev’s leadership.

President Roza Otunbayeva has now granted Respublika the responsibility to form a coalition. The party will have several weeks to do so. Respublika’s deputy chief, Bakyt Torobayev, has said that the party is seeking to form a wide coalition comprising either all or four out of five parties represented in the parliament. All five political parties have agreed to form a special working group that would facilitate the process of coalition formation.

Even if Respublika is unable to gather all parties into one alliance, the likelihood that Ata-Jurt will be included in the ruling coalition is high. Ata-Jurt is infamous for its nationalist views; most of its members are still loyal supporters of deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Ata-Jurt’s inclusion in the ruling coalition, however, will bridge the gap between the so-called “northern” and “southern” parties. Indeed, Ata-Jurt’s main electorate is concentrated in the country’s south.

Whatever the interplay, Respublika’s leader, Omurbek Babanov, will seek the prime minister position. He will likely be challenged by SDPK’s Almazbek Atambayev, who has been determined to earn the post.

Ata-Meken, in the meantime, is facing a leadership problem. Tekebayev has become a victim of his own achievement. He authored the current constitution that allows for transparent and balanced political leadership. Tekebayev’s opponents, however, have used the process of coalition formation to marginalize him within the parliament.

Kyrgyzstan today lacks a functional government and parliament. Its judicial system is deeply ineffective and the president’s control over police forces is lacking in southern parts of the country. Yet, there are grounds for optimism. The prolonged process of coalition formation has considerably improved the parliament’s transparency. Voters and mass media are able to observe what guides individual MPs and their parties. Distribution of key government posts is an obvious divide behind coalition formation.

The coalition formation process has also been a steep learning curve for MPs who have never before had to function is such a transparent environment. If a stable coalition emerges, for the first time in its post-Soviet history Kyrgyzstan might be experiencing elements of deliberative politics. Judging from the past two months, however, a coherent, ruling coalition is still far away.