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.

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

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.’”