Thursday, October 23, 2008

#225: Cartoonistan

Finally, someone decided to start a political caricature blog on Kyrgyzstan.  Although AKIpress has Beshbarmakia, they had stopped drawing cartoons and focused on the writing by disguising the identities of politicians, businesspeople, and other public figures under funny names.

Here are the first two caricatures from Cartoonistan.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

#224: Georgia-Russia

South Osetia = Kosovo!
Georgia = Serbia!
US = Russia!
Were they justified?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

#223: Saunapore, Singlish, and Good Food

I just wanted to share my first impressions (which might as well be wrong) of my first couple of days in Singapore.

It is Saunapore, not Singapore. So far it has been about +30 during the day (+25 at night) with about 90% humidity, which is extremely humid for people coming from the dry Central Asian region. I have to take shower 3-4 times a day. But glory to whoever invented the air conditioner, which are omnipresent (buses, elevators, classrooms, malls, etc). But the good side of humidity is that I don't have to use moisterizers here unlike in Bishkek.

People here don't speak English as good as I expected. Singaporeans speak English with strong Chinese, Indian, Malay accents. Just imagine Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Georgians, Armenians, etc. who speak Russian with strong accents living on an island. But in family, among friends, or street people speak their own languages (Mandarin, Tamil, Malay,) with lots of English words. All four languages are official in Singapore, which means that all the signes are duplicated in four languages. This also means that people speak Singlish (Singaporean English) with their specific accents and words from their own languages. They add meaningless "lah" to the end of ALL sentences. I am afraid that my English will deteriorate if I continue listening and trying to understand Singlish. Hopefully, I will be saved by professors once the actual classes start in August (I am taking math and economics classes right now).

Food is excellent here. It is the paradise of very delicious and relatively cheep cuisine with Chinese, Indian, Malay, and various other SE Asian flavors. Since a bunch of us are staying in one area, we found a 24/7 food court with excellent halal Thai (Halal!), Chinese (from different provinces), Malay, Indian, Korean and other food. I have been trying different dishes for every meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and I have not been disappointed or had problems. You have to love spicy food though, but you can ask for less spicy version of dishes which negates the whole point of eating local food.

As for the cleanliness of the Singapore, yes it is clean, but not as clean as people say. Singaporeans, as people everyone, throw trash on the ground, but their system of fines and efficient cleaning system keeps the how city, especially downtown, very clean. The place where we live (20 min on a bus from the central Singapore) has trash (one paper cup here and there) on the lawns and streets. But, don't get me wrong, it is much more clean than Bishkek.

Second impressions (that might prove the first impressions wrong) will come soon.

Friday, July 04, 2008

#222: Last Day in Kyrgyzstan

This is my last night in Kyrgyzstan before I move to Singapore to study for the next two years. I apologize for the 3-week hiatus; and I have excuses for it. I quit my job, started refurbishing my apartment, drank lots of beer when Spain kicked Russia's ass in Euro2008 (twice), visited bunch of relatives, and spent one night in Issykkul. I will write more about each of these stories and more once I settle in Singapore.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

#221: Euro2008

The Euro2008 craze hit Bishkek when cafes started charging visitors money, in addition to the drinks and food ordered, for watching the game. The only problems is that the games start at 1am. But, people are zealously watching the games, or closely following the results. I am predicting that Portugal will meet the Netherlands in the final at the end of the month.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

#220: We Need Your Votes

One of the best Kyrgyz photo-bloggers Azzzik is participating in a photo competition. His picture below is short of a few votes to be #1. So, please take a few seconds and vote for him HERE.

#219: Chingiz Aitmatov

Photo courtery of Kommersantъ

Kyrgyz author and statesman Chingiz Aitmatov dies at 79

International Herald Tribute/The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 10, 2008

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyz author Chingiz Aitmatov, who introduced his mountainous Central Asian nation to the world through novels about ordinary lives under the Soviet regime, died in Germany on Tuesday, relatives, colleagues and Kyrgyz officials said. He was 79.

Aitmatov died of pneumonia at a clinic in Nuremberg, said Lucien Leitess, the head of Unions-Verlag, his publisher in Germany, where he had been hospitalized after falling ill last month. His family was with him.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's press secretary, Dosaly Esenaliyev, also confirmed Aitmatov's death.

Aitmatov first found fame with his 1958 novel "Jamilya." Set during World War II, it tells the story of a young Kyrgyz woman who leaves her husband and runs away with a crippled war veteran. The novel sparked heated discussions in the majority Muslim and male-dominated society about whether a woman could leave her husband for another man.

French poet Louis Aragon praised "Jamilya" as "the best novel about love."

In other books, Aitmatov described life in the Soviet Union, introducing the term "mankurt" to describe people turned into slaves through torture and memory loss. Kyrgyz nationalists use the term derogatorily to describe ethnic Kyrgyz who have abandoned their ancestors, history and culture for the Russian language and the Western way of life.

Aitmatov was an advocate of preserving the cultures and languages of non-Russians in the Soviet Union. In his novel "The Day Lasts Longer Than A Century," he wrote about a boy who kills his mother because he doesn't remember her.

One of the few Kyrgyz known outside his nation of 5 million people, Aitmatov strongly influenced the country's political life. His backing of Askar Akayev, who was president from 1990-2005, was crucial for Akayev's initial election as the Soviet Union was breaking up.

Chingiz Torekulovich Aitmatov was born Dec. 12, 1928 in the village of Sheker, in northwestern Kyrgyzstan's Talas region, to a family of Communist Party activists. In 1935, Aitmatov's family moved to Moscow.

Three years later his father, Torekul Aitmatov, a Kyrgyz Communist leader, was sent to a camp where he was executed as part of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's purges. His body was found 60 years later in a mass grave in northern Kyrgyzstan. That personal tragedy was reflected in a number of Aitmatov's works.

His 1986 novel "The Scaffold" was among the most widely read books of the perestroika years. The story of a defrocked priest who meets a violent death after infiltrating gangs of drug traffickers and poachers, it was filled with Biblical references and contemplation of the nature of evil.

Aitmatov "was flooded with awards, medals and state adoration but always remained honest and incorruptible," the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted Russian writer Viktor Yerofeyev as saying. "He was an example for the intelligentsia of the 1970s Brezhnev era, when there was no hope that literature could maintain its innocence."

Several Soviet films were based on Aitmatov's novels, which lovingly evoked Kyrgyz folklore and color. Renowned Russian film director Andrei Konchalovski's "First Teacher" follows Aitmatov's book about Soviet authorities' battle for people's hearts and minds in remote areas of Kyrgyzstan.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Aitmatov's novels found a new audience in the West and gained popularity in Germany.

Amid the Soviet breakup, Aitmatov entered the diplomatic sphere and served as the Soviet and then Russian ambassador to Belgium from 1990 to 1993. In 1995, he became Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and also represented his home country in the European Union, NATO and UNESCO.

His son Askar Aitmatov was Kyrgyzstan's foreign minister between 2002 and 2005.

Aitmatov's 1994 novel, "When Mountains Fall (The Eternal Bride)," won several awards in Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz authorities proclaimed 2008 the Year of Aitmatov in honor of his 80th birthday.

"A man who was close to all of us is gone," former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said, according to Interfax.

Aitmatov is survived by his widow, three sons and a daughter.

His body is expected to be brought home from Germany on Thursday and his funeral is expected to be held Saturday, his daughter-in-law Anara Nasirova said.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

#218: Watch Out, Kyrgyzstan!

Does anyone know who Robert Fletcher is? I saw this guy yesterday on Manas Avenue (near the Kyrgyz National University) where he was posing for a picture with his usual "thumb-up" and a limo in the background. Judging from the crowd outside the building where he apparently rented room for his lectures, people are falling for the aggressive ad campaign in Bishkek. Everywhere he is described as a "millionaire-mentor," who can teach people how to make millions of greenbacks.

This is one of the billboards in Bishkek (Robert Fletcher is the first from the left). There was also a big article in one of the biggest-selling newspapers in Bishkek. Smaller ads are on trees and poles around Bishkek.
Global System Training (rus/eng), the company that he founded in Ukraine, says this:

And he really has lots of experience and knowledge to share. He has 25-year experience in sales and marketing, 20 years in advertising, investing in stocks, business, real estate, during 10 years he was a National Sales Director of the USA, along with this he has been a consultant and adviser for a number of big American companies and made more than 2000 seminars and training.
I did not find where he worked as the National Sales Director (of the whole United States of America?) and which successful companies he consulted. He also has very impressive credentials - Honorary Professor, Doctor, Academic, Millionaire-Mentor Roberts Fletcher. Professor where?
I have a feeling that this guy is a big swindler and on a path to take advantage of poor and credulous people of Kyrgyzstan. Apparently, he has gotten in trouble in Ukraine when he tried to enter Russia with a fake passport.
The incident throws light into one of the murkier corners of ex-pat culture here in Eastern Europe - the small group foreigners who come to the former Soviet UNI0N to take advantage of what remains of this region's 'Wild East' spirit and profit from whatever prestige their Western 'credentials' give them among naive natives.
Watch out, Kyrgyzstan!

Monday, June 09, 2008

#217: No Comments

Zigeunerin, an excellent photo-blogger, took pictures of these random MPs in Kyrgyzstan as they were voting for their fellow colleagues. Regulations allow MPs to vote for their colleagues within the party in their absence. Although all parties enjoy this regulation (seen in a picture below), it was introduced to make it easier for the ruling Ak Jol Party, which is President Bakiev's creation, to pass any bill. Often, only half of 90 MPs are present, but when voting results are announced, it turns out that almost all have voted.

#216: Lazy Test Takers

Last week my boss asked me to prepare a test for people who had applied for my position. I decided to give them a text in English drafted by some of my colleagues for editing. Judging from the test results, it is obvious that none of them had bothered to look on our website, where an edited version of that text was posted. In fact, one of them just moved one paragraph to the end.

I am so ready to leave my job, because the closer is the last day of my work (next Friday), the bigger the workload.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

#215: Untitled

Many interesting and disturbing things are happening in Kyrgyzstan, but I don't want to write. Desperation? Maybe. Hopelessness? Maybe. Disinterest? Maybe. Laziness? Maybe.

Friday, May 30, 2008

#214: Short Memory

The Kyrgyz people have very short memory. We tend to forget and forgive people, including notorious criminal leaders or corrupt officials, very easily. This short memory is sustained by the system based on lack of reliable information and where any political/economic/social debate is based on rumors. Kulov, for example, was several times pronounced "politically dead," but every time he came back as if nothing had happened. Madumarov is now pronounced "almost dead," but he will come back. The worst thing, however, that can happen to us is that if Askar Akaev comes back... as if nothing has happened.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

#213: Posner

Vladimir Posner was in Bishkek and I was able to attend two of his events using my alumni network at AUCA. He was invited by the president of AUCA (to the left of VP in the picture. Photo courtesy of murzakimov) as a guest lecturer.

I was interested in listening to a person who was born in France, grew up in the U.S., worked for the propaganda machine of the Soviet Union, and had lost faith in the Communist Part. He admires the U.S., loves Europe, and, it seems, still has hopes for Russia. This is a synopsis of what he said (not verbatim):

  • The Soviet Union was an artificial formation and was doomed for failure.
  • Yeltsin is a more pleasant person than Putin, although the latter has his own merits.
  • Yeltsin did not appoint Putin in 1999. He was removed by the oligarchs, who then thought that Putin would a weak politician and could be manipulated. They were a bit wrong.
  • Putin did tighten the screws in Russia. All the major media is controlled by the government, directly or indirectly.
  • Putin did a major thing: he resigned although he had the tools (Duma, referendum, public approval) to stay for the third term.
  • There will be some liberalization in Russia under Medvedev, who will stay for 2 full terms.
  • Medvedev is different from Putin, not completely, but in some ways.
  • When launching his program Vremena (Times) seven years ago he was politely asked not let 3 people on air for political reasons.
  • There was big disagreement with Dariga Nazarbaeva over one issue and told her that he will never come to Kazakhstan.
  • China is dangerous

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

#212: Kamchy Kolbaev

More often then never I want to believe that the Kyrgyz police is at least trying to fight crime. However, after I reading this article, my respect for the Kyrgyz police (not for ordinary Joebek the police officer, but for higher-ranking officials, like the minister and his deputies) has plummeted way below the imaginable level.

The article is based on the police report about an "operation to expel" a notorious criminal leader Kamchy Kolbaev, who apparently replaced the late Ryspek.

I have several problems with this report. Firstly, according to the report, the police in Naryn stopped several SUVs, check identities of people, including Kamchy Kolbaev, and let them go. Remember, he is #1 person on the wanted list. (Putting a gun in my mouth). The report also says that two of these SUVs had government license plates, although one of them was on the stolen list. The police did not see a problem with it... and they let criminals go. (I am pulling the trigger.)

However, the dumbest think that the Kyrgyz police can do is to announce that they carried out an operation to expel criminal #1 from Naryn province. Expel where? Naryn borders 4 other Kyrgyz provinces and China in the south. Of course, Kamchy Kolbaev would not be expelled to China. He is expelled to another province, probably to Issykkul, where he is originally from. Why in the hell didn't they arrest the guy? (Blood and brain all over the keyboard.)

So much for fighting crime. Remember the finger and ear case?

Plus, small complaint for AKIpress. It has become very lazy. They stopped asking questions, asking for comments from different sources, basically doing what journalists are be expected to do, but decided to publish press releases/statements as they are. Mostly verbatim.

#211: Missionaries

I don't mind missionaries, Muslim of Christian, - they tend to be very nice people - except when they tell me I am on the path to hell and the only salvation is their way. Unlike some of my friends, I don't like to pester them with endless questions trying to find a flaw in their reasoning. However, I am dumb struck when I see an American football team called Evangel Crusaders (OMG!).

"They [Kyrgyzstani] were totally lost in the darkness. They had no clue about Christianity."
Darkness? They probably had no clue about the half a million of Orthodox Christians. In fact, these guys probably think that Orthodox Christians are not even Christian enough.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

#210: Russian Singapore

Thanks to friends of friends of friends I found a forum of Russian-speakers in Singapore. To my amusement, I found that there are three things that Russians miss while living in Singapore: buckwheat, Russian crackers, and marshmallows, while some also try to make condensed milk and kefir in their kitchens. The rest of the Russian diet or their substitutes seem to be available in stores. I am not fanatical about any of these products and can do without them, but I am thinking of taking some of the famous dried fruits (apricots, prunes, etc.) and mountain honey from Central Asia.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

#209: Talas

Last week I was in Talas (east of Kyrgyzstan) for couple of days and I took a few pictures. I am posting some of the interesting ones here. This is the mausoleum of Manas, the epic hero. Karool Choku (Peak of Guards) is in the background.
Herders moving to the Suusamyr summer pasture on this old Moskvich with the self-made trailer from another Moskvich with yurt parts on it.
It seems that the Kyrgyz traffic police (GAI) found a way to address the problem of deadly traffic accidents on Kyrgyz roads. GAI decided to place crashed car carcasses along this major artery.

#208: Pioneers...

I would not have written about this if I had not seen the firework near a cafe in Bishkek and later, as I was driving by, a group of people in their 30s wearing red berets, red ties, and white shirts, and the Pioneer pins (below). It was apparently the 86th anniversary of the creation of the Pioneers, which represented the one of the stages (Oktyabrenok in 1-4th grades, Pioneer in 5-10th grades, and Komsomol in university) in becoming a member of the Communist Party in the USSR.
I remember myself when in 3rd grade the whole system disappeared along with the Soviet Union. That year I was really excited that I was moving up from Oktyabrenok to Pioneer. I was really sad that I did not get to become a Pioneer and never wore the red tie. Not that I regret it now, but a lot of people feel pride in those "good ole times" when everything was (seemed) good.

Monday, May 12, 2008

#206: Re-writing History

There are individual attempts to rewrite history of Kyrgyzstan, but these attempts are mostly unsuccessful mainly because of Russia's growing influence and revival of its might (both Tsarist and Soviet), while the Kyrgyz government is afraid to contradict the Big Brother (also in Orwellian meaning). The recent debate on marking of the 1916 revolt was muted, largely because of Russia's opposition to it.

Now, how do you rewrite the Basmachi revolts of early 20th century? Russian (Soviet) history clearly depicts them bandits (terrorists, kidnappers, killers) and opponents of the Communist dream. Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz are re-questioning this and re-thinking the history again as the grandsons of Janybek Kazy (Jani Begh in Pakistan) are returning to Kyrgyzstan with investment.

Janybek Kazy (circa. 1861-1933), originally from Özgön (Uzgen), was a nobleman who revolted against the Soviet collectivization and raskulachivanie policies in 1928. Under Russian punishment he fled first to China, then settled in Gilgit, Pakistan after the Soviet sent an army to arrest him. Some of his children in 1950's then migrated to Turkey. Currently, he as grandchildren living in Pakistan, Germany, Turkey, and Japan.

He and his followers were called basmachi for 70 years and the Soviet government told us they wanted to create an Islamic caliphate or a Pan-Turkist state (the current Russian government has pretty much follows the Soviet interpretation of history). With so little information from the archives of NKVD and KGB, the Kyrgyz are trying to re-write their own history. And once again, these attempts might fail due to the fear that Russian government might decide to deport all the Kyrgyz migrant workers (some 300,000 - 500,000people), most of them are illegally working there.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

#205: Which Constitution?

Monday, May 5, was a holiday in Kyrgyzstan. It was the Constitution Day! Like many people in Kyrgyzstan, I tried to celebrate it, but did not know how. How do you celebrate a constitution that has been re-written 8 times during the 17 years of independence of Kyrgyzstan?
1. May 5, 1993
2. October, 1994
3. February 10, 1996
4. October 17, 1998
5. February 2, 2003
6. November 9, 2006
7. December 30, 2006
8. October 21, 2007

And every new constitution was worse than the previous. For many, it has become just a piece of paper that is used for specific purposes and then thrown into a bin. Politicians are already predicting that Kyrgyzstan will have a new constitution within several years.

Monday, May 05, 2008

#204: Media in Kyrgyzstan

Three weeks ago I went to a kurultay (convention), organized by the opposition to listen to what they have to say. I was not much impressed by the speeches, which were dull, and the uncharismatic opposition leaders, who seem to be still divided and lacking a common strategy against the government.

I found a seat in a corner far away from the stage, where there were a few empty seats. I have to admit there were a lot of people, although a few unoccupied seats remained. As I was listening to the speeches, a cameraman, whom I recognized as a cameraman from State TV, came to the corner and started filming the 10 or so empty seats. The next day I watched the State TV's weekend edition of Alatoo News, which they claim to be analytical and professional. I was not surprised when the State TV aired the footage from the kurultay, which showed empty seats and people who had dozed off, some of them with their tongues out. Then it showed me, walking with a friend out of the hall, while the commentator said that people were leaving because the kurultay was boring. I thought to myself that the State TV is going back to the Akaev-era one-sided coverage of the opposition.

The Freedom House released a report on Freedom of Press in 2008, which says:

Central and Eastern Europe/ Former Soviet Union: This region showed the largest region-wide setback, with Russia, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, and several Central European countries, among others, showing declines.
The country report for Kyrgyzstan says:
Kyrgyzstan’s media environment continued to deteriorate in 2007 in the wake of a failure in 2006 to cement the brief gains seen after the fall of long-ruling President Askar Akayev the previous year. Attacks on journalists and crude government attempts to impose censorship were increasingly evident. Legal protections remained uneven, and with the country’s political elite polarized in an ongoing standoff between President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and the opposition, reforms stalled. Parliament debated legislation to decriminalize libel but failed to pass it into law. And while the long-awaited transformation of state television into public television took place, its supervisory board was plagued by conflicts amid signs that the president retained control over the state broadcaster.
IWPR published an article about the law, passed by the Parliament, but waiting for President's signature. The law basically reverts all the attempt to transform the notorious State TV into a public broadcaster, which would now be under complete control of the President alone.
Media-watchers see the latest legislation as part of the downward trend, and note with concern that it was rushed through with minimum publicity.
On the May 3 World Press Freedom Day, Azattyk Radio (Kyrgyz Service of RFE/RL) also seemed to be worried about the state of free media in Kyrgyzstan. The radio station organized an interview with an editor of a state-run newspaper and a journalists of a private newspaper.

Friday, May 02, 2008

#203: Tien Shan Gold Belt

This is written on the website of a mining company that operates in Central Asia:

"The Tien Shan Gold Belt is one of the most prolific gold belts in the World extending from Uzbekistan in the west into China and Mongolia to the east. The Tien Shan Gold belt is host to one of the world's largest concentrations of multi million ounce gold and silver deposits in the world."
A lot of companies looking for possibilities to dig gold in Kyrgyzstan.

Monday, April 28, 2008

#202: Posner

Vladimir Posner, the host of Vremena (Times), the only more or less independent talk show left on Russia's 1 kanal, is coming to Bishkek. He is apparently also meeting with students of AUCA, my alma mater, and I am hoping to make it to the meeting with my alumni card as he is a very interesting person to listen to.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

#201: Dubious Energy Policy

The current government is slowly nailing the lid of its own coffin. Not only privatization of energy companies is controversial, very few people think this the process will be transparent. Read on...

Kyrgyzstan Fast-Tracks Energy Sell-Off
Source: IWPR
Parliament gives away its right to block controversial privatisation deals in the electricity industry.

Legislative changes allowing the Kyrgyz government to privatise the potentially lucrative energy sector without consulting parliament have raised concerns that it wants to speed ahead with sales with little accountability or transparency.

On April 18, parliament passed three bills relating to energy privatisation in the course of a single day. The key law signs away parliament’s right to be consulted before privatisation programmes are approved.

In past years, it would have been difficult to get such bills passed so easily. In its previous incarnation, the legislature frequently raised objections to plans to sell power stations and other energy-sector assets because members felt the process was botched and was not in Kyrgyzstan’s best interests.

That changed after the December election, when the newly-created Ak Jol party swept the board and gave President Kurbanbek Bakiev and his allies the majority they needed to pass bills effectively unopposed.

The two other parties represented in parliament – the Social Democrats and the Communists, with 20 of the 90 seats between them – were unable to slow the rapid progress of the privatisation bills’ rapid progress, let along block them.


In January, Bakiev told his government to make the rapid sell-off of power companies a priority. (For more on this, see Kyrgyz to Pay High Price for Power Privatisation, RCA No. 528, 25-Jan-08.)

Kyrgyzstan's mountainous terrain means it has the potential to produce enough hydroelectricity to meet its own needs and for export as well. For now, the cash-strapped authorities argue that privatisation is the only way of attracting investment to renovate infrastructure, build new plants and eventually become self-sufficient in electricity, and that the state does not have the funds to sustain current losses, let alone fund new projects.

Denationalisation of the power industry, launched in 1998, has been a protracted process, beginning with the breakup of the state-run Kyrgyzenergo into several constituent parts – one company to run the power stations, another in charge of the national grid, and others distributing electricity to consumers in various parts of the country.

The companies that have now been lined up for sale, or alternatively a management lease arrangement, under the current fast-track programme include the electricity distributors Severelektro in the north of Kyrgyzstan and Oshelektro and Jalalabadelektro in the south. Other assets on offer are Bishkekteploset, which pipes hot water to the capital, and the power station that supplies the heating for this system as well as the city’s electricity.

Apart from massive inefficiencies, theft and unpaid bills, Kyrgyzstan’s power industry is just recovering from an unusually harsh winter which placed a huge strain on existing generating capacity. Low water levels in the Toktogul reservoir, where one hydroelectric scheme accounts for 40 per cent of the power generated in the country, are continuing to create blackouts of up to 14 hours a day in many regions and even in Bishkek.

Pro-Bakiev members of parliament have defended the decision to cede control of the privatisation process.

Ak Jol deputy Osmonali Attokurov told IWPR that the decision placed responsibility for the process firmly on the government, where it belonged.

“I personally think the government was right to assume this responsibility,” he said. “Now it is entirely answerable for its own actions and will not shift responsibility onto parliament. Since it is proposing the energy-sector development programme, it should be responsible for the consequences.”

Tursun Turdumambetov, head of the government agency in charge of state property, was a strong advocate of the change and was pleased to see it sail through.

“Privatising any asset requires speed. The republic loses potential investors because of the long-drawn-out procedures for approving decisions,” he said. “That’s why we removed [parliament’s right of] approval, so that government can work with speed and agility.”

He added that ministers would remain accountable to parliament, whose members would be able to look into the privatisation process any time they wanted.

“We aren’t concealing anything from the public,” he said.

Opponents of the new arrangement disagree.

Tolekan Ismailova, the head of the Citizens Against Corruption group, told IWPR that the people have lost their right to scrutinise the privatisation process by means of an elected parliament.

“The decision to implement the programme without going through parliament is anti-constitutional and it will be easy to contest it in court,” said Ismailova. “Parliament is now closed, and no longer exists as a public institution.”

Ismailova and some other human rights activists were ejected from parliament on April 16 when the amendments were being discussed in committee.

According to Azimbek Beknazarov, a leading opposition figure from the Asaba party, recalled how the previous parliament, of which he was a member, used to be the scene of robust debates on this issue.

By contrast, he said, “The current tame parliament does what it’s told. The authorities now do whatever they want, and it’s useless to resist them as they do not listen to anyone else’s opinion. All the key decisions are made in private.”

Isa Omurkulov, a member of parliament for the Social Democratic Party, told reporters on April 23 that the only option now might be to seek a national referendum on the issue of privatisation.

“Today we, the parliament, have absolutely no influence over these processes. Thanks to a certain group of deputies – we know who they are – we’re unable to monitor the implementation of this programme,” said Omurkulov.

The government is currently developing two energy-related documents – a programme lasting until 2010 and a strategy for 2025, both of which are currently before parliament.

Public hearings were held on the two papers on April 23, during which industry and energy minister Saparbek Balkibekov said the energy sector needed at least five billion US dollars in investment, and this kind of money could only come from commercial investors.


For critics of Bakiev’s policies, the underlying concern is that once private companies come in – most likely from more powerful countries like Russia and Kazakstan – they will simply replace the state monopoly with one of their own, and proceed to bump up utility prices as a way of recouping their investment.

These fears will be heightened if the bidding process is less than transparent. At the moment there are believed to be four prospective investors waiting in the wings for privatisation to move forward, but the government has not revealed their identity.

Officials insist that electricity prices will be held down once the private sector takes over, but local human rights groups doubt it will have the legal mechanisms at its disposal to ensure this happens.

“The is a strong possibility that an investor will increase prices and start cutting off the power to hospitals and other public-service institutions,” said Aziza Abdirasulova, head of the Kalym Shamy human rights centre.

One of the other laws passed last week designates electricity as a “commodity” rather than a service. This might seem an academic distinction, but it has become yet another bone of contention between the government and its critics

Those in favour of the re-designation say it is consistent with other pieces of legislation, while minister Balkibekov argues that it will make it easier to prosecute those who steal or waste electricity. or default on unpaid bills

Yury Danilov, an Ak Jol member who chairs the parliamentary committee on energy affairs, told IWPR that the law was in the best interests of the public.

“Until now, electricity has been regarded as a service, so [offences were] only punishable by administrative [civil] law. Now that it is designated a commodity, the criminal code is applicable and it can be dealt with as theft of property,” he explained. “This law is in the interests of honest electricity consumers who don’t steal it, but pay for it,”

Activist Anara Dautalieva said the change deprived people of one of their basic rights.

“Electricity and water are not goods, they are services of social importance to the population; this is about access to a local resource that we produce ourselves,” she said.

“Why have a state at all, if the president says the state cannot be an efficient manager and everything should be handed over to private ownership?”