Friday, December 28, 2007

#162: Happy New Year!

Forgot to congratulate all the "western" Christians with Christmas ("eastern" Christians will celebrate it on January 7). Merry Christmas! This week many people are recapping the past year and making plans for the coming year. Was my life better this year? I don't know. Changing jobs was the biggest event of 2007. Other than that everything was ok. Politically and economically, I am disappointed with the way Kyrgyzstan is developing.

At least 2007 was very good for the 53 $billionaires and 119 000 $millionaires in Russia.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

#161: Snowboarding in Kyrgyzstan

The last weekend I went with friends to snowboard/ski in Karakol, the easternmost town in Kyrgyzstan. For most of us it was the opening of the season.

The ski base replaced their old (probably Soviet) T-bar lifts with "new" French chairlifts, thus making our lives much easier. Although chairs were for 3 people, they only allowed two because of difficulties with getting off. This is the view from the lift.
Apparently it used to be somewhere in the French Alps.
Me, Boris, and Beka on the top of the ski base with Karakol Gorge behind us. Stunning and breath-taking view.
Boris preparing to cut through powder snow.

A few people went back country skiing. They made it up to the summit and returned 4 hours later.
I started to experiment with jumping and making tricks. I can barely make a 180.
A small video of Boris and Beka.
video

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

#160: Top Secret ?

10 days passed since the election day, but nobody has seen the results. The Central Election Commission has not published them , but it already distributed all the 90 seats to the Ak Jol (71 seats), Social Democrats (11), and Communist (8). With elections conducted in the worst way, one thinks that results are being drawn up to match the distribution of seats. Even the CEC website is disabled. One more thing, I should have ticked 'against all' on the ballot paper. Very much disappointed with the party I voted for.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

#159: Debating Politics

As a Kurman Ait tradition, my extended family (uncles, aunts, and their children) slaughtered a sheep and had an evening dinner. As a tradition, we ended up discussing Kyrgyz politics with the family divided into two groups of supporters and opponents of the current government and its policies.

One group argued that it was southerners' turn to rule Kyrgyzstan (my family is from the south) because northerners Turdakun Usubaliev, the former Secretary of the Kyrgyz Communist Party ruled for 30 years during the Soviet Union, and Askar Akaev ruled for almost 15 years after independence. During these years, the southerners were treated as second sort citizens and economically the south lag behind the more developed north. Therefore, Kurmanbek Bakiev, a southerner, should be given a chance to consolidate power at any cost. The other group challenged it by arguing that nothing really changed since March 2005. The whole system of corruption, family rule, accumulating power and money through deception still remains. That there is no long-term policy of developing Kyrgyzstan (building homes, schools, protecting land on borders, etc.) However, we all agreed that not a single asset of Askar Akaev and economic misdeeds of his family are being investigated right now. We just assumed that it was divided up among the new rulers.

The most frustrating thing is that before 2005 many of my relatives used to say that Askar Akaev was the only person who could run the country and nobody else could do as well as he did. The same logic is being applied right now. And again, I am blaming the Kyrgyz people. Kyrgyz people forget things easily and like sheep blindly follow the shepherd. At the end of the dinner, we decided to continue the discussions at the Near Year dinner in 10 days. Who know what might happen before that.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

#158: Kurman Ayt

Eid Mubarak, everyone! Aytīñar maarek bolsun!
Submission: The man seems to have problems with his knees.
Kid reciting Quran
Amin!
Congratulating

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

#157: Shit Hit The Fan

is the only way I can describe the situation. The government put itself in a very tough - and stupid - situation. Even the decision of the Supreme Court not to apply 0.5% to the whole list of registered voters - the ambiguity of the 0.5% threshold is still in the law - does not help to resolve the situation. There is information that opposition Atameken Party does not even pass the 0.5% of actual voters in the city of Osh. Atameken, who received 8.7% of votes nationwide according to official, but very questionable, statistics, decided not to recognize the election results. What will happen next? The government is probably negotiating with all political groups to prevent the situation from getting out of control. Let's see...

Monday, December 17, 2007

#156: Thinking

I am appalled by massive violations during yesterday's voting process (not counting the pre-election irregularities). The authorities are making enemies out of all the political parties, including the pro-governmental ones as the Communists and Turan.

Even with a little over than 48% of votes, Ak Jol is headed to claim at least 70 out of 90 seats because of the 0.5% regional threshold. Moreover, it is feared that no other party except Ak Jol passed this barrier.

I voted. Although, for the first time I did not participate in the election observation missions. Final and official elections results are not in, and I am now just thinking what might happen next.

Friday, December 14, 2007

#155: Elections Word Play

There are so many different party slogans. They actually don't mean anything, because in principle they all call for a better future and don't differ at all. In fact, Kyrgyz voters are unaware of party platforms, their political, economic, and social policies. They associate each party with their leaders. Nothing more, nothing less. Since names of political parties, except for the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party, have primary meanings in Kyrgyz, I thought they can be easily used to make a single slogan.

So, this is the result: I wish you a bright path, my fatherland! Liberty bestows new power! Dignity for people's voice! Long live, a free Kyrgyzstan, and raise the blue banner over the universe! Forward, Kyrgyzstan, Go Forward!

  • Ata Meken - Fatherland
  • Ak Jol - Bright Path, (used in the meaning of "Bon Voyage!")
  • Erkindik - Freedom, Liberty
  • Jangy Küch - New Force, New Power
  • El Dobushu - People's Voice
  • Ar-Namys - Dignity
  • Aalam - The Universe
  • Asaba - The Standard, Banner
  • Erkin Kyrgyzstan - Free Kyrgyzstan
  • Alga, Kyrgyzstan - Forward, Kyrgyzstan. (It was Askar Akaev's party before March 2005 and is not running for the parliament this time.)
In Kyrgyz: Ата-мекеним, ак жол сага! Эркиндик жаны күч берет! Эл добушу ар-намыстуу болсун! Ааламда көк асабаны көтөргөн эркин Кыргызстан жашасын! Алга, Кыргызстан, Алга!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

#154: Elections Update

I see the following main election-related problems that can affect the results:

  • Apathy: Many Kyrgyz, if not majority, seem to have lost hope in influencing politics through elections and lost confidence in themselves. One can observe people's sense of powerlessness and voluntary detachment from politics.
  • Migrants: How will the votes of immigrant workers be counted? Because we now have a regional threshold, which oblast and city will get their votes?
  • Ballot Stuffing: Approximately 500 000 out of 2.7 million registered voters are abroad. The possibility of their votes being used in their absence to inflate the popularity of the pro-governmental parties is very high.
  • Boot Licking: Each governor, each akim (rayon heads), each aiyl ökmötü (village heads) will be competing against each other to show maximum loyalty to the central government in Bishkek by helping Ak Jol get the most votes.
  • Intimidations: Party activists, especially those of the opposition ones, are being attacked by thugs not only in rural areas, but also in Bishkek.
  • Unfair Rules: Political parties are being denied access to state TV, while the President, in all his speeches and public appearances, widely covered by the media, is openly campaigning for Ak Jol.
Yesterday and today I, like hundreds of thousands of users of Bitel cell phones, received text messages saying "Number 11! Don't forget! Vote! Ak Jol is our true path!" (11 nomer! Ty ne zabud'! Progolosuy! Ak Jol nash vernyy put'!) and "Go, Ak Jol, Go forward! The future is waiting for us!!" (Vpered 'Ak Jol' vpered! Nas buduschee jed!!). Although the Central Elections Commission says is it is ok, the law on advertisement says that sending ads - and I include campaign ads in this category - through internet (email), short message service (SMS), and fax is illegal and should be considered as spam.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

#153: Trading With China

According to the official Chinese statistics, the trade turnover between Kyrgyzstan and China is around $1 billion, while our government puts it at $289 million. The Kyrgyz government met with their counterparts from Xinjiang (China's western province) to discuss the trade issues.

Where is $711 million? Corruption resulting from poor accountability and lack of transparency is the cause. This striking difference ends up in the pockets of traders, who lower the actual amount of goods being imported from China in order to avoid paying the tariffs, and of customs officials, who agree to register for a kickback. As a result, it is rumored that positions of customs officials on a border post cost from $5000 to $20000.

You can read more about trade between China and Kyrgyzstan here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

#152: Watching Russia

Despite the peak of pre-election campaigning and the voting day in 5 days, Kyrgyzstan is closely watching the breaking news from Russia. Putin's backing of Dmitri Medvedev as his heir put an end to various speculations. Today's news also ends the debate on how Putin stays in power after March 2008. Medvedev, as a return of favor, also asked Putin to be the Prime Minister, with extended powers to control the entire security forces.

As for Medvedev's background, I amazed to learned that he is a big fan of Black Sabbath (remember Ozzy Osborn?). He is seen as a liberal politician without confrontational intentions towards the West, although he already made a Putinesque statement regarding the rise of Russia. Putin's protégé was involved in several big economic deals. After all he is not as white and fuzzy as we have known him so far.

This news is important to Kyrgyzstan because mainly Putin is very popular in Kyrgyzstan and many wish that we had a president like Putin, as a result President Bakiev tends to imitate his Russian counterpart. For example, since coming to power in March 2005 Bakiev has been cultivating the image of a boxer similar to Putin's image of a judo master, although Putin can parade sports credientials of owning a black belt.

Russia is also important because of Kyrgyz immigrant workers numbering from 300 000 on a conservative count to 1 millions on a liberal count. These are mainly voting age people. They left their children with relatives, mainly grandparents, in Kyrgyzstan. Despite this, the Central Elections Commission is sending only 29,000 ballot papers to Russia. Moreover, the CEC is installing voting booths in bazaars as if they expect difficulties of using all the ballot papers.

The World Bank also issued a report claiming that immigrants in 2007 send approximately $1billiob, which is around 27.4% of our GDP. By contract, the 2004 figure was around 8% of GDP.

Monday, December 10, 2007

#151: Best Central Asia Blog 2007

If you think that your blog is the best and you deserve a prize for for all the time and effort you put into it, apply here. Good luck!

Friday, December 07, 2007

#150: Alga... Ak Jol

It is incredible how people by a slip are saying Alga Kyrgyzstan (Akaev's Party) instead of saying Ak Jol. Yesterday, a guest speaker on National TV by mistake said "Alga..." and quickly corrected himself and said "Ak Jol" while discussing party campaigning. A local newspaper also reported how a dean in the Kyrgyz National University during a meeting with students said "Vote for Alga Kyrgyzstan... sorry for Ak Jol."

The elections process is continuing with the media substantially favoring President Bakiev's Ak Jol party and unfairly humiliating the opposition parties.

#149: Bookshelf

Thanks to a very good friend, I got hold of Lee Kwan Yew's The Singapore Story. Although I am not even half way through the book, Lee Kwan Yew's economic and political policies in making Singapore South-East Asia's financial center is very similar to Nursultan Nazarbaev's policies of making Kazakhstan a first-world country by 2030. Policy similarities, especially the rhetoric of putting economic developing and stability as priority and arguing for the Asiatic way in democracy building, are striking.

Also, while looking through The Economist's list of books of the year 2007, I came across Swedish economist Anders Aslund's new book titled How Capitalism Was Built: The Transformation of Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia. He was the adviser to Kyrgyzstan's first President Askar Akaev, who fled the country following the March 2005 events. It would be very interesting to read what he has to say about Central Asia. In an article to MSNBC in October 2006, he said: "One can say that half a billion to $1 billion was probably what the [Akaevs] family amassed."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

#148: Impunity

... is the cause of all these beatings here, here, here, and there. According to these news reports, party activists from Atameken, SDPK, Asaba parties are being attacked by unknown people as they are preparing for the December 16 vote. Not only political activism is becoming too dangerous, but journalists who are trying to do their jobs well are being attacked (or killed). Even if these cases are not political motivated, victims (and observers) are losing hope that the police will find the attackers. These cases are not being investigated and the criminals are not being held responsible.

I even stopped confronting the pick-pockets in public transportation in fear of being beaten by them. Most of the time they get away with it because they enjoy the protection of the Kyrgyz police for a share of booty. Kyrgyz law enforcement has the lowest public trust, and as a result criminals, like late Rysbek Akmatbaev, are enjoying the trust because they are seen as Robin Hoods who can protect the poor and the desperate. Plus, our authorities and politicians, including opposition ones, like to flirt with the criminals for own purposes.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

#147: Kyrgyzstan is not Russia...

Or maybe it is. In either case, the results of the December 2 elections with United Russia grabbing 64% of votes can plant wrong ideas in the heads of the Kyrgyz rulers. Ex-PM Atambaev already warned about it. I doubt that our authorities, unlike Russia's, can get away with it. As for Russia, '"If Russia is a managed democracy then this was a managed election," Luc van den Brande, the head of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly said.' [from here.]

SDPK's Edil Baisalov is being taken off the race by the CEC for taking picture of the ballot paper from the printing press and posting it on his blog before the actual voting day. Although he removed the picture, the CEC decided it was in illegal act. Earlier Edil criticized the CEC for printing the ballots on regular paper without any tamper-proof features (watermarks, etc.)

Campaigning is going rather peacefully, although there are accusations that Ak Jol is being given all the airtime on TV, while other parties, especially SDPK and Atameken, are being refused airtime even for paid ads under the excuse that there is no free spot. In terms of creativity, party slogans are suffering as well. Turan, a fake opposition party, plagiarized from United Russia's slogan "Putin's Plan - Russia's Victory" to make "Plan of Turan - Victory of Kyrgyzstan." At least it rhymes.

I still have not decided which party to vote for, although I know whom I will not vote for.

On a less-political and holiday-moody note, Kyrgyzstan is apparently Santa's home. A Swedish consultancy concluded that Santa Clause has to live in Kyrgyzstan to visit all the children on earth to deliver the presents on time. A great image for Kyrgyzstan to build upon. Kyrgyzstan - Santa's Headquarters!

Monday, December 03, 2007

#146: Flash Mob

40 days since Alisher's murder. He was murdered on October 24. Please come to the White House at 1300 on December 4 for a flash mob.

24 октября убийство. 24 ноября месяц. 4 декабря 40 дней. 40 дней как нет Алишера Саипова, убитого за профессиональную деятельность. 4 декабря в 13:00 возле Белого дома будет стоять саженец, выдранный с корнями. Ему не дали расти, давать плоды также как Алишеру. Каждый может прийти и завязать на нем черную ленточку в знак траура по Алишеру.

The New York Times published an article about the murder. “This was not an assassination, but an execution,” said one Western diplomat working in Kyrgyzstan, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the delicacy of the issue. “It was a message saying, ‘We can get anyone, anytime, anywhere.’”

Thursday, November 29, 2007

#145: Thoughts

Judging from the pre-election campaigning, it seems that the government will want to have as many small non-opposition parties in the new Parliament as possible. Atameken and Social Democratic Parties regularly attacked by the pro-government media.

The logic is that these harmless parties, even with 1 or 2 seats, will win at the expense of bigger opposition parties. Therefore, smaller parties like People's Voice (ex-MP Bolot Maripov), Aalam (ex-MP Aslam Maliev), Erkindik (Topchubek Turgunaliev), ErK (ex-Ombudsman Tursunbay Bakir uulu), Turan (ex-MP Kanybek Imanaliev) will get just enough votes in percentage to have from 1 to 3 candidates from their party lists in the Parliament.

The assumptions here is that the real elections results are ignored. There might be an agreement between these small parties and the authorities.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

#144: Campaining...

I observed the official opening of pre-election campaigning from Naryn. All the billboards with political ads in Naryn (except cell phone and other commercial ads) belonged to Ak Jol Party. This one is located in downtown Naryn. Their slogan 'Bir tütün Kīrgīzstan' is a paraphrased version in Kyrgyz of Akaev's slogan 'Кыргызстан - наш общий дом' - Kyrgyzstan is our common home.
President Bakiev made a few unexpected (some say very much expected) cabinet reshuffles. PM Atambaev, the leader of the Social Democrats (SDPK), was reportedly asked to leave. Edil Baisalov, SDPK's executive secretary, already said that it was an "involuntary" step-down. Atamabaev wanted to remain in the position, thus not run for the parliament, as a counter-balance to prevent the usage of state machinery in favor of Ak Jol Party.

The President also fired the Governor of Osh, Jantörö Satybaldiev, who had pro-opposition inclinations. He was charged with "abuse of power." He apparently was replaced by a more obedient person 20 days before the election day. The Governor of Jalalabad, Iskender Aydaraliev, was promoted to be the Acting PM. He is our 16th prime minister in the history of an independent Kyrgyzstan. This raises the question whether we need a prime minister whatsoever.

Kyrgyz media in their reporting and volume of campaigning ads is heavily leaning towards Ak Jol. Once an opposition newspaper, Agym now became feverishly pro-government after its owner, Melis Eshimkanov, was appointed to head the State TV. Yesterday's issue of the newspaper had Ak Jol Saga, Kīrgīzstan! (Kyrgyzstan, we wish you a bright path) on its front page. Agym usually runs 20 000 copies, but now it is 180 000 copies.

All in all, it is getting politically hotter in Bishkek. Plus, not much snow in the mountains to escape Bishkek and spend a day snowboarding.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

#143: Euro 2008

As I have said in the past, Kyrgyzstan is a Russia-oriented country (two Russia-based TV stations get the most viewership in the country, ahead of the Kyrgyz National TV, and Putin is probably the most popular politician in Kyrgyzstan, ahead of you know who), we tend to follow the European football closely. We cheer when Russia wins a game. We use the word nashi (Russian for 'our') for the Russian team. With England's defeat to Croatia, Russia got a chance to play in the European Championship in 2008.

Commenting on the Russia-Israel game, Russia's Channel1 news reader said that it would be an interesting game because Israel's coach is a Russian citizen (Russia's is a Dutch) and wondered how loyal he would be to Mother Russia. Plus, the news reader mentioned all the Israeli football fans who had emigrated from Russia. Which team they would root for? Regardless, the Russian team lost to Israel. Shame on the English team though.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

#142: Thresholds

Kyrgyzstan is buzzing with discussions of the 5% and 0.5% thresholds for the parliamentary elections. Because of the ambiguous wording of the Elections Code, it was unclear how these thresholds to be calculated. As I've already written, political parties have to secure 5% of all registered voters (135,000 votes), not 5% of the actual number of people who voted on the election day, to get seats in the Parliament. If the turnout is 50%, then this will require parties to get 10% of voters on the actual voting day.

CEC's ruling on the 0.5% threshold caused more anger from political parties. It interpreted that the political parties will have to get 0.5% of votes (13,500 votes) in each of 7 oblasts (provinces) and cities of Bishkek and Osh separately to get any seats. Because of different size of populations in each oblasts and cities, some oblasts, especially the small ones, will be unfairly given more power to decide the outcome of the elections.

Table below shows how, for example, political parties will have to get at least 10% in Osh city, 11.3% in Talas oblast, and 9.4% Naryn oblast to get to the parliament. Political parties will have to work especially hard in those oblasts, similar to the battle for Ohio during the 2004 U.S. Presidential elections. If a party wins in all provinces, but gets only 9% of votes in Osh city, it will be refused to enter the parliament. Trouble expected after December 16.

City/Oblast

Voters Registered (appr.)

% required (13,500 votes)

Bishkek (city)

430,000

3.1%

Osh (city)

133,000

10.2%

Batken (oblast)

221,000

6.1%

Chui (oblast)

437,000

3.8%

Issykul (oblast)

232000

5.8%

Jalalabad (oblast)

492000

2.7%

Naryn (oblast)

143000

9.4%

Osh (oblast)

592000

2.3%

Talas (oblast)

120000

11.3%

This is if the turnout if 100%. If 70% of people, vote the real threshold will be higher, for example, as high as 15% in Talas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

#141: Islam and Politics in Ferghana Valley



RFE/RL also reports that another prisoner on charges of Islamic extremism reportedly died after being tortured. It just adds up more fuel to the fire.

Monday, November 19, 2007

#140: Rock in Kyrgyzstan

After the hard work of writing essays and sending off my application to a graduate fellowship program, on Friday night I made myself a present. I went to listen to Chizh & Co, a Russian rock and blues band, who were playing at Promzona. They were very popular in the 90s, especially after they released their ballad About Love in 1995. The crowd was accordingly older than the usual visitors of the rock club.
I was a bit disappointed in their performance. They did not play many of their songs, especially About Love. Primarily because Chizh (below) was too high and wasted. He even made a vodka shot between songs.
The drummer was good. He gave a long jam session closer to the end of the night.
Being a fan of rock music, I admit that rock in Kyrgyzstan is unfortunately mostly a Russian thing. 90% of visitors of rock clubs are ethnic Russians. Other non-Russians, including members of rock bands, are ethnic Koreans. You don't see many ethnic Kyrgyz, who actually prefer rap and hip-hop to rock.

Friday, November 16, 2007

#139: Face Control Elections

Political parties are officially allowed to campaign only starting from November 26, but here and there you can see, read, watch, listen to how certain parties, both government and opposition, have already started their campaigns. Party lists have been the most interesting thing to analyze. Some of the lists are disappointing, some surprised me, others were not interesting at all. As of today, 22 parties have registered. They have to complete their registration by November 25.

Because elections fully based on party lists are new to us, people still associate them with specific names. It reminds of all these people that are lined up to get the privilege to enter a night club (our parliament has long become one). You have to be associated with the political party leaders (celebrities of sort). Ak-Jol is clearly associated with President Bakiev, SPDK with PM Atambaev (although is not in the party list), Atameken with ex-MP Tekebaev, Communists with ex-MP Masaliev, Arnamys with ex-PM Kulov, etc.

While looking through party lists, I could not find Marat Sultanov, the last speaker of the Parliament and one of Bakiev's supporters. Another important thing is that religious (Muslim) people have openly expressed interest in entering politics. Country's Ombudsman Tursunbay Bakir uulu, a pious person himself, had Imam Rashot Kamalov, son of late Imam Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin (Kamalov), killed last year by Kyrgyz security forces, in the list of ErK Party. Another new-born Muslim and TV host Myktybek Arstanbek, is #2 in Zamandash Party.

It seems that at least 5 political parties will make to the Parliament on December 16. They are Ak-Jol, Atameken, Social Democrats, Communists, and another small party, in order to dilute the power of the opposition parties in the parliament. The government will need to get in the worst case a majority of seats, but it will need 2/3 of seats to pass any law it wants. Right now, the fight is primarily between Ak-Jol and Atameken. SPDK is trying to keep away from it, but they are being attacked because, I think, the government wants to avoid the repetition of the situation in Ukraine, when Yulia Timoshenko's Bloc won many seats, while the two Victors were fighting with each other.

On a non-political note, the National Bank announced that for the first time since 1991 Kyrgyzstan will have its own coins. Up until this time, we only had paper-money. Most foreigners consider our tyiyn (Kyrgyz cents) as monopoly money, as they are square and in pink, blue, and green colors. We will have coins for 1, 10, 50-tyiyn and 1, 3, and 5-som banknotes. It will be hard to get used to coins again. This is how the new coins will look.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

#138: Grad School

This Friday is a deadline for a graduate fellowship program in the US. Finished the first draft of my statement of purpose. Waiting for two more reference letters from a former employer and a former professor, who actually said we [AUCA graduates] never change and do things at the last moment. Damn procrastination!

I am applying to programs on Public Administration/Policy. Found several good schools in the U.S. and one in Singapore.

Last week I went to see three European films, picked by their embassies in Bishkek. Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's The Man Without a Past, nominated for Academy Awards and a Grand Prix winner in Cannes, was the best of all. If you get a chance, try to watch it. Good humor.

What really pleased the Bishkek crowd was when an employer at a steel plant in Helsinki said that 80% of her workers were from Kyrgyzstan, when the man who lost his memory said he did not know his name to fill out the necessary paperwork. Bishkek viewers did not care that Kyrgyz workers were being portrayed as illegal workers. Kyrgyzstan is rarely mentioned in Western movies (Asian movies are not popular, because we are a Russia-oriented country) that we are happy when we are mentioned at all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

#137: Traffic Accidents

While reading reports from GAI (Kyrgyz traffic police) in the news, I get a feeling that on an average day at least two people die from traffic accidents in Kyrgyzstan. The most dangerous zones are Bishkek and the 500km-long Bishkek-Osh highway. You also get some accidents in Issykkul, especially during the summer swimming season, and Naryn.

Friday, November 09, 2007

#136: Kyrgyz Internet

The Kyrgyz blogosphere is widening. A new blogger is Bakyt Beshimov, AUCA's Vice President as well one of active political leaders in the country. His blog is both in Russian and English.

Also, learned that a Kyrgyz newspaper, DeFacto, is now available online. Not only that, now you can download the whole issue in a PDF file.

Today is a great day. First significant snowfall this year. Now I am praying that it will not stop for couple of days so I can get my snowboard out on the hills. As always, snow came suddenly in Kyrgyzstan. It was pretty warm for the past 7 days, as warm as 20C, although last night I could smell snow. And today in the morning I woke up to this view. This is a picture of zigeunerin.
Meanwhile, everyone is awaiting to see the lists of political parties offering the voters for the upcoming Parliamentary elections. Opposition Atameken has already published their list.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

#135: Religion

The Economist published a special report on religions, politics, public life. I suggest every to read it when you have free time. Here are some quotes that I thought were interesting:

We thought that the relationship was between modernisation and secularisation. In fact it was between modernisation and pluralism.” Religion is no longer taken for granted or inherited; it is based around adults making a choice, going to a synagogue, temple, church or mosque. (from here)

Ignorance rules on all sides. Most Muslims seem totally unaware that Arabs can vote in Israel. Many Jews, even in Israel, are separated from the routine miseries of Palestinian life. American evangelicals are shocked to discover that some Palestinians are Christians. (from here)

Hidayet Tuksal [wife of Turkey's PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan] is a confusing figure. Headscarfed and imposing, she grew up in a strict Muslim household in Ankara. At university in the 1980s, she focused on the Koran's teaching about women. She has since made a name arguing that much of the discrimination against women in the Islamic world has scant basis in the sacred text (because Eve was described as weak and flawed, it does not follow that all women are). For this she has got into trouble with traditionalists. (from here)

All in all, the newspaper argues that there is a strong revival of religion, which in the 20th century was suppressed by secularism in US and Europe and atheist policies in Russia (Soviet Union) and China.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

#134: Dushanbe

It was the my first time in Dushanbe and felt like it was between my hometown of Osh and Bishkek, which is my home now. Because I was there on a short work-related trip, I did not have much time to see the town. Here is my story of the trip in pictures:

This is the view from a plane flying over Kyrgyz (Alatoo) and Tajik (Pamir) mountains.
As we approached the city, we made a big circle above it and I got some understanding of how Dushanbe looked like.
Because of the 1-hour time difference, I woke up at 6 am to this view from my hotel room. Unfortunately, I did not ask the people of the name of this mosque.
I was also very surprised to see banana palms. Apparently, the warm season was long enough for bananas to blossom, but too short for them to reap.
I took a sneak picture of what Tajiks claim to be the biggest sleeping Buddha in the world.
It is 13 meters long. It is probably of the same origin as the Bamiyan Buddhas, destroyed in 2005 by the Taleban in Afghanistan.
Apart from this, I did not see much. Dushanbe is another Soviet city in Central Asia, although their sidewalks on the main Rudaki Street were wide. Plus, they banned all marshrutkas (chaotic system of vans imitating public transportation) from Rudaki. I also bought an Afghan hat, which you can see on my profile picture.

Although people in former-Soviet Union and abroad always laugh at the Tajik Air, as you can see from cartoonist Ted Rall's depiction below, I did not have a bad experience with it. On the way back, I flew a faster Kyrgyz carrier.
On the road back from the airport to Bishkek, I saw this sign. Just thought that I would share it with you. Just an off-the-topic picture.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

#133: The Economist on Kyrgyzstan

The Economist published an article on Kyrgyzstan. As always, the article is well written, but it is obvious that the author, who seems to be based abroad, wrote the article without understanding some intricacies of political playground. It a sophisticated one with shifting alliances. Appointment of opposition figure Melis Eshimkanov to head the State TV or of notorious Osmonakun Ibraimov (Akaev's State Secretary and ex-Ambassador to India) to Kyrgyz Embassy in London (although the appointment was recalled a day later) are examples of this.

The author wrote: " The outgoing parliament was always going to clash with Mr Bakiyev, for it was a product of the Akayev political hegemony that Mr Bakiyev overthrew." Yes, the outgoing parliament was a product of Akaev and was made up of former Alga Kyrgyzstan Party. However, right after the March 2005 events, the very same MPs who supported Akaev started fervently supporting Bakiev. In fact, he enjoyed full support of the parliament, except a few noisy and irritating MPs. One might ask, so why did he get rid of the parliament?

By writing "The fact that such a tarnished parliament was allowed to continue operating was, in itself, surprising in a country supposedly embarking on a new beginning" the author is being overly optimistic. Nonetheless, the article is finished with the right question. "The Kyrgyz Republic was lauded in the 1990s for having the greatest level of political pluralism and civic freedoms in the CIS. If Mr Bakiyev is minded to restore stability by monopolising power in the more customary CIS manner—by strengthening presidential authority and turning parliament into a rubber stamp—it is worth asking whether he has at his control the resources necessary to buy off opposition as Nursultan Nazarbayev does in Kazakhstan, or the policemen to silence opponents as Islam Karimov does in Uzbekistan."

Monday, November 05, 2007

#132: Horse Games

On the weekends, I went with friends to watch At-Chabysh horse games in Barskoon, Issykul. Here are some pictures from there. They had various traditional games: tyiyn engmey (picking up coins), oodarysh (wrestling on horses), kyz kuumay (chase the girl), eagle and taygan (Kyrgyz shepherds) shows.

Kyrgyz men are watching the games.
Tyiyn engmey: a Kyrgyz сhabandes (horserider) on a galloping horse picking up small stones wrapped in red cloth.
This guy was the best and had the best horse. He picked up 6 at a time.
Oodarysh: wrestlers trying to pull each other off the saddle.
Kyz kuumay: a guy is trying to reach a girl and kiss her. She can fight back with her whip.
Because the guys did not kiss the girls, it was girls' turn to chase and beat them.
Bürkütchü. Eagle-handler.
The French and Kyrgyz teams then competed in a game of horseball. The French team, in pink, won the game.
This is me in an Afghan hat the I bought last week in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, showing off again.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

#131: One-Party System?

Parliamentary elections are officially on. Official campaigning will start only on November 26, but authorities are already using questionable methods to establish a one-party system, similar to Kyrgyzstan with Alga Kyrgyzstan Party before March 2005, Kazakhstan with Nur-Otan and Russia with United Russia today.

Last Saturday, new duke of Bishkek Daniar Usenov organized a concert with Russian "gangster rapper" Serega and a quasi-lesbian duo Reflex in honor of the new Constitution, but it was shamelessly used as a platform for President's Ak-Jol party.

These pictures were taken by morrire. Here the President is seen wearing a scarf with Ak-Jol logo.
An expensive laser show for Ak-Jol.
Meanwhile, authorities organized a putsch at the National TV (KTR or NTRK), which is the only Kyrgyz TV station with nation-wide coverage. President Bakiev appointed ex-MP Melish Eshimkanov (I wrote something about him earlier) as the new Acting Director of the National TV. However, to legitimize the appointment, the government went to subvert the work of the Supervisory Board, which was elected by the Parliament about a month ago and had the only powers to appoint the National TV management. 8 members of the Board resigned, reportedly under government pressure, leaving the board with the remaining 7 members paralyzed. The Board will be able to function only after the parliamentary elections and after the new Parliament elects the 8 members.

#130: Football

Thanks for everyone who bought tickets, donated money, and cheered for the teams. We raised a bit more than $1100 for the Uchkorgon Orphanage.
This is a picture taken just before the game started.
Boris, captain, is talking to players about making the game more interesting.
Another of our offenses.
The expat team made the biggest donation that day.
By the way, we won. 4-1.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

#129: Gallery of the Fallen

Today's been a terrible day. In fact, it started last night when I received a call from a friend in NY who told me about the death of Alisher Soipov. I am appalled by this merciless murder of a prominent young journalist of Kyrgyzstan.

I've known him for 4 years primarily as a very brave journalist with unbreakable desire, however utopian it seemed at times, to free Central Asia of authoritarian rule. The pen is mightier than a sword. It was probably his slogan. Pan-Turkist and pious by nature, Alisher used to be an interesting company in many of the chaihanas (teahouses) in Osh. He had the ease and natural talent in what he did. Most importantly, he had the courage.

At twenty six he was not able to see the demise of what he fought against. Alisher left a wife and a 3-month-old daughter, and a cause, which will be upheld by many other people.

This picture of Alisher in a chaihana in Osh was taken one day before the tragic evening.
"The last entry on the newspaper’s blog which he produced (at http://siyosat.uzbek.kg) was headlined “Bye, Bye, Bye”. The piece was about a poem in an Uzbekistan newspaper lauding the cotton harvest in Andijan, but the title now looks like an ominous portent." From the obituary by IWPR.

I have a poster which says "Anna Politkovskaya was killed on October 7, 2006" on a wall behind me in my office. A colleague, having heard of the news, told me today that I might have a gallery soon. A gallery of the fallen. I hope not.

Update: Journalists of Bishkek will gather tomorrow at 11am in front of the Ministry of Interior for a silence protest againsts authorities' negligence to protest journalists. Join!

#128: Brutally Murdered

Prominent journalist killed in southern Kyrgyzstan
Committee to Protect Journalists

New York, October 24, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns today’s murder in southern Kyrgyzstan of Alisher Saipov, editor of the independent Uzbek-language weekly Siyosat (Politics) and contributor to several regional news outlets. Saipov was shot three times at a close range at around 7 p.m. in downtown Osh, a city bordering Uzbekistan, by an unknown gunman using a silencer, according to CPJ sources in the region. He died at the scene.

Saipov, 26, covered Uzbekistan’s political and social issues for Radio Free Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and the Central Asia news Web site Ferghana. He had interviewed members of the banned Islamic groups Hizb-ut Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to local CPJ sources. Exiled opposition activist Shakhida Yakub, who was close to Saipov, told The Associated Press that the journalist had recently become politically involved with Uzbek opposition groups.

“We are shocked and saddened by the brutal murder of Alisher Saipov and send our condolences to his family and friends,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Saipov reported extensively on repression in neighboring Uzbekistan and criticized Uzbek President Islam Karimov. The authorities in Kyrgyzstan must now launch a thorough and timely investigation into our colleague’s murder and bring those responsible to justice.”

An ethnic Uzbek, Saipov lived in and reported from the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, just across the border from the Uzbek city of Andijan. Saipov covered the aftermath of mass killings in Andijan in May 2005, when government troops shot at crowds of civilians protesting Karimov’s regime. He reported on Uzbek refugees who fled and resettled in Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbek government put the Andijan death toll at 187; human rights groups say more than 700 were killed.

Prior to his murder, Saipov had received anonymous threats warning him to stop his press and political activities, a local source close to the journalist told CPJ. A state television channel in the Uzbek city of Namangan recently aired a program smearing Saipov as a provocateur who tried to destabilize Uzbekistan with his reporting. Several state publications ran similar articles, the same source told CPJ.

Following the Andijan killings, Uzbekistan has moved aggressively to expel, drive into exile, imprison, and harass independent jouranlsits, human rights defenders, opposition activists, representatives of international nongovernmental groups, and witnesses. Many found refuge in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, but Uzbek security services have infiltrated the area and continue harassing them there, according to human rights groups and local news reports. According to local press reports, Uzbek security agents have been spotted in the heavily ethnic-Uzbek city of Osh.

Saipov had helped scores of Uzbek refugees in southern Kyryzstan, assisting them with lodging and linking them with resettlement agencies, the AP said. He had also reported on the fate of Uzbek refugees in Iran for Ferghana, the news site said.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

#127: Kyrgyzstan

President Bakiev last night signed the constitution. He also signed a decree to hold the parliamentary elections on December 16. In less than two months from now, we will have a new parliament. Authorities gave political parties only 3 (three) days to register.

As promised earlier, PM Atambaev and his cabinet resigned, but they will remain acting until a new cabinet is formed by political parties in a new parliament. Meanwhile, I see - and I see not much - interesting political maneuvering among political parties.

Tekebaev's Atameken is coming out as a clear leader among the irreconcilable opposition. A number of smaller opposition parties agreed to run under its banner to the parliament, although they will keep their parties live. Atambaev's Social Democrats are running as a moderate opposition party, with some active party members.

Real political standing of President's Ak-Jol, I think, is pretty low. However, the so called 'administrative resource' will do its job. The referendum on weekends showed how the authorities on all levels and in all spheres did everything for the referendum to pass. Governors, akims, aiyl okmotu, schools, hospitals, and all the government bureaucrats who receive salary from the government were forced to vote one way. If the parliamentary elections will take place with the same violations, Ak-Jol is guaranteed to get the majority of seats in the parliament.

Authorities have to be careful not overuse the administrative resource, because a result of over 75% will be too ridiculous and a sign of greed from the government.

#126: Kymyz or Vodka or Coke?

As a continuation on one of my favorite topics, I present you posters depicting the eternal human dilemma: Kymyz or Vodka or Coke?
These are parodies to the Soviet anti-vodka posters.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

#125: China

120 reports ago I wrote about an increasing interest in China and the Chinese language. Last week NA, my younger brother, left to Guangzhou, China. He will be there for at least a year at a language school. I know at least half a dozen Kyrgyz students there now.

By the way, NA tells me that all blogging servers, Blogger, LiveJournal, WordPress, etc. are blocked in China. Plus, it takes 100 times longer to open a web server located in Kyrgyzstan (.kg). I am now sending him news from Kyrgyzstan and copies of this blog by e-mail.

Monday, October 22, 2007

#124: Ole! Ole!

As I promised earlier, I am posting more information about the chairty game this Saturday. Boris, who annually organizes the game, said that it is more important than all that referendum and politics crap. He is right. The game at least makes the orphans happy. If you are in Bishkek, enjoy the game and donate! If you are abroad, just send your money! :) Contact Boris at bpilipenko@irex.kg.
THIRD ANNUAL CHARITY FOOTBALL MATCH -- COME OUT AND SUPPORT!!
IREX and alumni of exchange programs would like to invite you to the Third Annual Charity Football Match, which will take place on Saturday, October 27th, 2007, at 11:00 AM in Bishkek's Spartak Stadium, rain or shine!

IREX staff and alumni organize this annual charity football match between alumni of US government-sponsored exchange programs and representatives of international organizations working here in Kyrgyzstan.

The purpose of the charitable event is to collect donations to buy winter clothing, footwear and educational games for the children from Uch-Korgon orphanage in Batken oblast.

In addition to supporting your team, you can look forward to various competitions and games during this match, as well. This year, gifts for the competitions and raffle that will be held during halftime will be provided by Hyatt Regency--Bishek, Metro Bar, Soros Foundation - Kyrgyzstan, Embassy of the USA, and the Network of cinemas "Синематика", Fashion City.

In 2005, proceeds bought winter footwear to 74 children of the Uch-Korgon orphanage, and in 2006, they helped to buy the Nizhe-Serafimovsky nursing home an electric water pump and a hand cart for their heating facility.

Invitation cards for the game are available from Boris Pilipenko, Educational Programs Coordinator, contact him at tel: (+996-312) 65-68-48; 61-08-11, or email: bpilipenko@irex.kg. Suggested minimum donation is 50 som for locals and 100 som for expatriates. Invitation tickets also will be available at the gate.

P.S. 100som is about $3.

#123: Referendum

As in the past, yesterday's referendum was just another show. Almost everyone who went to vote encountered the same problems: somebody had already voted for them, their parents, siblings. Plus, don't forget that every family in Kyrgyzstan has at least 1 person abroad, temporarily or permanently.

My fellow bloggers all wrote about similar stories how they found other people's signatures against their names in the voters' lists. I went to vote after 6pm on the way to buys some food. I did not find my name in the list although I had been living there for almost 2 years. They included me in the additional list, but they did not check my propiska, Soviet-era residence registration stamp. You have to have your propiska to be able to vote in one place.

Ballot-stuffing was omnipresent. People witnessed hundreds of cases. One of my colleagues said a person dropped around 500 (!) ballots at a time. Observers are saying that in reality only 30% of people voted, while officially the turnout was more than 80%. As by divine intervention, 75% of people voted both for the Constitution and the Elections Code, according to the government. It did not want to look shameless to put 99% of "approval of government's policies."

Although I was starting to have doubts about early parliamentary elections - President's Ak-Jol party is not doing particularly well among the public (although public opinion never mattered in Kyrgyzstan) - the President today dissolved the Parliament. Elections are expected to be in mid-December, probably 16th.

In a way, I blame the Kyrgyz people for letting this happen to our country. We forget things easily. On Saturday I was watching the National TV, which was showing "special edition of news" on Bakiev's visit to his homeregion Jalalabad. In every village he visited, the local government had prepared dejurniy aksakals (literally, 'on-duty elderly'), who were ready to praise the president "on behalf of the whole community." The National TV also portrayed these speeches as a sign of "community support and confidence in the President's policies." We have been there with Askar Akaev.

Friday, October 19, 2007

#122: Kindergarten Politics

There is a lot of shady movement behind curtains or under the carpet in Kyrgyz politics. President's initiation of Ak-Jol (Bright Path) People's Party created more mess and confusion on Kyrgyzstan's political arena then expected. Political parties are being formed, re-formed, merged, and split. It is definitely not going the same path of Askar Akaev's Alga Kyrgyzstan Party, which dominated politics in early 2005.

Initially, it seemed that a political party, created by the President, would swallow all the pro-presidential political parties under its umbrella. It was expected that the opposition would have the toughest task of uniting. However, the situation seems as uncertain as before. The merger of political parties in the pro-presidential camp created as much disorder as among opposition parties.

Because Ak-Jol seems to be dominated by Medet Sadyrkulov, President's Chief of Staff, some rival groups within president's camp are not interested in merging it. Surprisingly, Jangy Kyrgyzstan party of Usen Sydykov, President's former Chief of Staff, and Erkindik Party of Topchubek Turgunaliev, who built his career as a human rights activist, are not with Ak-Jol. Another pro-presidential party, Ata-Jurt, (Keldibekov and Co.) seems to be falling apart, some of its members wanting to join the party, others not. Keldibekov and Sadyrkulov have been publicly accusing each other of corruption and embezzlement.

First rumors of merger among opposition parties surfaced right after Ak-Jol's creation. Even Muratbek Imanaliev from Justice and Progress Party and the head of the Institute for Public Policy, somewhat a maverick politician, expressed willingness to join with Omurbek Tekebaev's Atameken Party. Asaba Party might fall apart (even temporarily) with two of its leaders, Azimbek Beknazarov and Roza Otunbaeva, taking two different roads. So far, two opposition camps are taking shape. Irreconcilable opposition might form around Atameken Party, while another group of opposition willing to talk to the government is around current Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev's Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK)

Kyrgyz politicians' incredible political ambitions and "self-esteem" does not help to relieve the tension. Each of them want to be closer to the top on the party lists. Especially considering that the new Elections Code will require a threshold of 5% of all registered voters, not of the actual number of people who voted on the election day, to get seats in the Parliament. If the turnout is 50%, then this will require parties to get 10% of voters on the day to make it to the Parliament.

#121: Social Networking

Earlier I wrote about Facebook and MySpace and how many of my friends are on the first one. The Economist today also has a very small piece that offers a peek into that virtual world of schmoozing. "To many, the vague geek term “Web 2.0” means using social-networking websites to communicate with friends (and, indeed, anyone you've ever met). With some 78m unique visitors in August, News Corporation's MySpace is the biggest such network, and it hopes to grow some more. This week it said it would let outsiders put programs on its site, following the lead of Facebook, its fast-growing rival. Such programs range from the useful, for example to allow users to compare movie tastes, to the inane. Those outsiders would also get to keep any advertising revenue that such programs might earn. "

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

#120: Football

For the past month we've been playing football in one of the rundown fields in Bishkek. It is a preparation stage for a charity game between the alumni of US government-sponsored programs (I joined because I studied briefly in the States, but not through US government programs. I don't owe anything to it, yet!) and the expat community (Americans, Englishmen, Germans, a Serb, a Macedonian) in Bishkek. It was initiated and is being organized by a friend of mine, who works for IREX in Bishkek. The actual charity game is on October 27. Thanks to AA, who took these great pictures on my camera, while I was playing.