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.
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.

Monday, October 15, 2007

#119: Vote!

Nobody cares about the referendum, because elections are coming. No doubt about that. Today the President openly endorsed Ak-Jol (Bright Path) People's Party and was elected the party chairman. Nobody from the party questioned the constitutionality of it. Country's presidents cannot be member of any political party.

He told everyone that Ak-Jol is not a party of nachal'niks (roughly translated as 'bosses'), but a party of workers. However, if you look at the list of its core members, you will hardly find any workers, but if you do, they want to become bosses the most. University president, businesspeople, sportsmen, leaders of smaller political parties, singers, and other "workers" joined the party either under pressure or to show their loyalty. Clearly, Putin's United Russia and Nazarbaev's Nur-Otan are prototypes of Ak-Jol.

Luckily, the opposition is showing some activity as well. Rumors have that major opposition parties might as well form a coalition, if not a single party.

#118: Eid Prayer

Last Friday I went with my father, brother, and two uncles, along with another 10 000 people to the Old (Lenin) Square for the Orozo Ait (Eid ul-Fitr) prayer. People usually start gathering starting from 7 am to occupy the best spots close the the Mufti and other imams. Before the actual prayer, which usually starts closer to 9am, the Mufti "leads the sermon" with a long lecture on the importance of fasting, alms (zakat), charity (sadaqa), prayer (namaz), and just being good Muslims.

As always, he then praised the Kyrgyz government for allowing the religious freedom and giving support to Islam "unseen in other Central Asia countries." His lectures usually have covert political messages. This time too, he called Muslims for "patience in the light of rising prices, because it was a way for Allah to test us."
Following the 10-minute prayer, people rushed to shake hands with the Mufti (in green) and Bishkek's Head Imam (in white) for soopchuluk or to "get their blessing."
I got the backstage access to take pictures
A colleague of mine, KB, was also there that morning. I always wanted to take picture of people bowing and kneeling down. These are her pictures. Great shots!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

#117: Imminent Elections

Parliamentary elections, following the referendum on October 21st, seem inevitable. Today's reshuffle is a clear indicator of this. Bakiev brought back his infamous ally Daniyar Usenov, former Vice-PM, as the Mayor of Bishkek, while moving Arstanbek Nogoev, one of his closest allies, to another, yet unknown, but surely an important position. Also he dismissed the Minister of Economic Development and Industry for failed efforts to battle the recent surge of price of wheat.

Yesterday the President and his lackeys also spoke at the national convention of teachers and the Minister of Transportation spoke at the 60th anniversary of the KyrgyzPost. These two events, widely covered by the National TV, had one thing in common - awards. Awards in Kyrgyzstan, like salary increases, are usually given when something big is coming up. Lots of rumors within the government and the parliament about parliamentary elections, which might actually happen as early as December 23.

AKIpress launched an interesting feature on political parties ahead of elections. These elections are important because for the first time in Kyrgyzstan elections will be based on party-lists and the winning party or parties will form the cabinet. The only problem is that AKIpress has not yet included the National Party of Unity and Labor (RBEP), which is the #1 pro-presidential party of all other pro-presidential parties. President's brother Janysh, who briefly worked as the deputy head of SNB (former-KGB), is actively involved in RBEP.

There is not a single party that I would like to vote for.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

#116: Iftar Dinner

Since this is the last week of the month of Ramadan, iftar dinners (for breaking the fast) became very frequent. For almost a week I've been visiting relatives' houses for big feasts (to give you an idea, it is as big as Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.), although I did not fast this year. Usually, friends would also get together for an iftar, however, for some reason, very few friends of mine fasted this year. At my previous job, I had iftars with colleagues, but at my current job, nobody fasts.

This Friday is Orozo Ait (Eid ul-Fitr in Arabic), a holiday marking the end of Ramadan. Last year I took a few pictures from the holiday namaz (prayer). I bought Canon 350D for my office last week and I will go out and test it during the celebration.

Monday, October 08, 2007

#115: The Turkestan Album

The Library of Congress scanned and posted on their website all the images from Turkestanskii Al'bom, which "provides a visual survey of Central Asia from the perspective of the Russian imperial government that took control of the area in the 1850s and 1860s. About 1,200 photographs, with some architectural plans, watercolor drawings, and maps, are arranged in four parts."

The collection includes pictures of historical sites, faces of Central Asian people living at that time, their clothes, traditions, holidays and celebrations, trades, maps (even the siege of Tashkent), and just everyday life. Since it presents things from Tsarist Russia's perspective, viewers should pay attention to the way pictures are taken (after all Russia was a colonizing power in a "backward region") and captions to them.

Another note. The Kazakhs in the pictures are described as "Kirgiz-Kazakhs," while the Kyrgyz are "Karakirgiz." Russians called the Kazakhs as Kyrgyz not to mistaken them for Cossacks, because words "Kazakh" and "Cossack" are pronounced very similarly in Russian, and the Kyrgyz became Karakirgiz, which means "Black Kyrgyz."

Here are some pictures of the Kyrgyz people from 1850s.

Jolbors (Yul Bars)
Dresses of Kyrgyz women

The Library of Congress did a truly great job. These pictures could help the Central Asians to learn more their history (and present). The Kyrgyz government could borrow, copy, or even bring this collection and organize a big exhibition.

Update: Russian version of the post is here.

#114: Snowboarding '07

The season is open! The last week was marked by sudden chill that fell on Bishkek. It apparently snowed in mountain passes, but also at some high-altitude skiing places. So fanatical snowboarders went to try the first snow undaunted by possible scratches on their equipment. I envy them and I have a feeling that unlike last year there will be more snow this year. Hurray!

Friday, October 05, 2007

#113: Our Hearts Beat For Change!

Russian rocker from 80s Viktor Tsoy and his band Kino had a song with a line saying "Our hearts beat for change, our eyes want to see change, our laughter and tears want change, our veins pump for change. We want change!"

Перемен! - требуют наши сердца.
Перемен! - требуют наши глаза.
В нашем смехе и в наших слезах,
И в пульсации вен: "Перемен!
Мы ждем перемен!"

There is a lot of frustration with the ways things are going in the country. Or, is it only me who is feeling this?

Update. On a separate topic, a fellow blogger, zimka, posted the film Submission of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was shot and stabbed to death by Mohammed Bouyeri in 2004. Always wanted to see it. This is what he was killed for. Also frustrated how Islam is used for inhumane and totalitarian purposes. During the month of Ramadan, all the moderate and sane Muslims should speak out to overwhelm the voices of ignorant extremists and crazy fanatics.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

#112: More Inflation

All the basic food items have gone up so much, that I am already losing track of how much things cost last week.

Flour costs 50soms/kg in stores, or 1700soms/50kg in bazaars. It was 25soms a few months ago. There is a scarcity of wheat in the market.
Cooking oil costs 100soms/lt. It was 50soms a few months ago.

And to add insult to injury, currency exchanges lowered USD from 37 to 33soms and Euro from 52 to 46. I took this picture on the intersection of Manas and Moskovskiy.

#111: Wi-Fi Country

A few months ago I read in the news about a USAID project in Macedonia to connect all public schools in the country to a wi-fi network, effectively making Macedonia the first wi-fi country in the world. It even has country tourist ads in The Economist claiming so, although the project is not complete. I don't know how successful the project is, it is seems a great initiative. Kyrgyzstan , or at least Bishkek, could do a similar thing.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

#110: Not So Stable, Not So Transparent!

Eurasia Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers and released Political Stability Index in the world. According to the ranking based on country's capacity to withstand shocks and crises (political, security, and economic), Kyrgyzstan is in the low stability category. Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, which actually ended up in the Asia map, is doing better on political stability, while Turkmenistan is the doing worse than us. Uzbekistan is unstable as we are. Transparency International also released its Corruption Perception Index for 2007. Kyrgyzstan shares 150th place along with Kazakhstan and Tajikistan (142nd in 2006). Turkmenistan rolled down from 142 in 2006 to 162nd this year. Uzbekistan is 175th, down from 151st. As usual, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Singapore (where I want to go to study), and Sweden top the transparency chart. Uzbekistan, Haiti, Iraq, Myanmar, and Somalia are on the bottom.
PS. It suddenly became really cold today. Have to wear a jacket or overcoat.