There is nothing more hilarious when people give wondrous powers to the United States. It’s no surprise that Russia Today would feast on a the idea that the “Green Revolution” is a US orchestrated plot. Russia already convinced itself that every colored revolution was cooked up in Langley.
And this makes Craig Roberts a perfect guest (I know nothing about Wayne Madsen, but his wiki entry suggests that he’s a crank). He argued that the Iranian protests are “classic CIA destabilization” in an article on Counterpunch. What a sad convergence of opinion between some in the American Left, Russia’s conservatives, and the theocrats in Iran.
The idea among some Leftists that every uprising they don’t like is the work of the CIA (or Mossad) always strikes me as orientalist.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
Boris Kagarlitsky’s analysis of the Belarusian elections is a breath of fresh air at a time when what exactly Belarus is has been so muddled by the ideological dueling between East and West. I encourage readers to check out his column “Nine Lives of the Belarusian Cat”. Here are some excerpts.
On why Lukashenko won:
The Russian and the Western mass media have split up into two camps: fervent partisans of the Belarusian regime and its furious enemies. With all that, either of the camps wouldn’t even make a guess, what this regime looks like, and especially, what kind of opposition that is.
Unlike Russia or Kazakhstan, Belarus is not rich in natural resources, therefore, it cannot export raw materials. Unlike Ukraine, it does not have siderurgy. Its domestic market is quite limited as well, for the country is not big. In the times of the USSR it served as the Soviet economy’s “assembly line”. In other words, only the developed processing industry will keep the Belarusian economy floating, given it produces goods of high enough quality to be exported to the former Soviet Republics and anywhere else if possible.
Implementing Russian model of privatization will result in an immeasurable disaster, against which all horrors of Neoliberal reforms implemented by Egor Gaidar would seem just a joke. The entire country would just die out. The more relaxed Ukrainian version wouldn’t work out either, due to the shortage of the resources available. To stay alive, the Belarusian economy needed guaranteed secure and modernized industry, simultaneously keeping wages low; otherwise, the Belarusian enterprises will not be competitive on the exterior market. Holding the wages and trying to avoid the collapse could only be made possible, preserving the social security protection, which inevitably handed the control over economy to the state, making it act as an investor, a proprietor, responsible for the healthy functioning of the industries, and as a distribution system. The Soviet type of economy has slowly been modifying in Belarus into an East Asia type of “export economy”, though with local flavor: not a tiger, of course, but a cat. The “Belarusian cat” model predetermined Lukashenka’s political endurance. Bat’ka was doing what the society expected him to. He did it roughly, undemocratically, enjoying support of the bureaucratic structures, inherited from the Soviet times. In return, he got the unlimited power for himself and his team.
And on why the opposition made little headway among the population:
The opposition was rejected by the Belarusian population in the first place because it hasn’t come up with something inspirational to suggest. Liberal programs and promises to prosper in the European house were nothing but bluffing. Paradoxically, what did add some weight the opposition was its persecution by the authorities. It raised the opposition’s moral prestige, stirred up sympathy. It was not enough to compensate for the narrow social basis, though. And the narrower the social basis is, the more significance is attached to the foreign sponsors. The attempts to repeat Kyiv Maidan in Minsk failed, as would other similar activity. Dumb Russian bureaucrats and mediocre journalists may of course trust the omnipotent political technologies. In practice they work out only under certain conditions and may not be thoughtlessly replicated. Lukashenka didn’t even bother to break up the demonstration. The cold did a better job than police squads would have done.
Neither the current opposition, nor its updated version, which will undoubtedly be created after the elections, will ever seize power. This absolutely must not lead to thinking that the future of the Belarusian regime is cloudless. Lukashenka as a political phenomenon was produced by specific circumstances back in mid-1990s. Since then, the situation has changed and keeps changing. The survival matter is no longer the case, but the further development issues will eventually become more and more acute. Lukashenka’s new term will not just be another one in a row.
According to Kagarlitsky, Lukashenko’s lease on life might begin to wear thin once Belarusian bureaucrats look to get a bigger piece of the pie they’ve only had a taste from. This, not an opposition, will force Lukashenko to proceed with more privatization. If not then, Kagarlitsky concludes,
One way or the other, the political crisis is inevitable, perhaps, resulting in a “color” revolution, conducted (like other color revolutions) not by the opposition, but the part of the ruling elites, determined to make changes. This is exactly how the story in Ukraine unfolded.
I highly encourage reading the rest.Post Views: 126
By Sean — 8 years ago
I haven’t done an update on Kyrgyzstan in several days. While things seemed to have calmed in the southern part of the country, tensions are high, the humanitarian crisis is deep, and the political outcomes are uncertain.
Two questions have been occupying most commentators: Why the violence, or, specifically why didn’t we see it coming? and What are the international ramifications, particularly for the US and Russia? I’m personally less interested in the second question, and for the most part discussion on this has ranged from the ludicrous (for how ludicrous see Michael Hancock’s undressing on Registan), the paranoiac and uninformed, the all too typical, to the regurgitated. Basically, I’ll leave it to the foreign policy wоnks to untangle this mess. I just hope to hear something new as they do.
The “why” question, however, is the thing that seems to be occupying the minds of most Central Asia watchers. This is an observation based on discussions on Registan and articles on Eurasianet.org. The debates on Registan are informed, measured, fresh and invaluable. Posts by Sarah Kendzior, Michael Hancock, and Christian Bleuer are must reads.
As I noted in my last post on Kyrgyzstan, there are a lot of people skeptical of the ethnic roots of the violence. It’s not that they are saying that ethnicity doesn’t matter. It does. Rather, skeptics of the ethnic conflict thesis are questioning the tendency to reduce everything to ethnicity. As always, media commentary tends to engage in this reductionism thereby making ethnic conflict, and therefore the idea of ethnicity or nationality itself, into something that is primordial and eternal. One interesting thing I’ve noticed in some articles is to locate the origin of the conflict in how Stalin drew the borders of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as a means to realize some kind of “divide and conquer” strategy. For example, Peter Zeihan writes, “Kyrgyzstan is an artificial construct created by none other than Stalin, who rearranged internal Soviet borders in the region to maximize the chances of dislocation, dispute and disruption among the indigenous populations in case the Soviet provinces ever gained independence.” Or, Edward Stourton, “The way Stalin designed the region ensured that it would regularly be shaken by inter-ethnic violence.” And the Economist, “In 1924 Stalin divided the region into different Soviet republics. The borders were drawn up rather arbitrarily without following strict ethnic lines or even the guidelines of geography.” These statements misunderstand the history of ethnicity as a concept of identity in this region. True, the borders were drawn by Stalin, as Commissar of Nationalities, but, as Francine Hirsch contends, these borders were to purposely create these nations since the Bolsheviks believed in their evolutionary teleology that becoming a nation was necessary in order for “backward people” to overcome nationality.* Was it a colonial strategy? Most certainly since what Hirsch calls “state-sponsored evolutionism” was the Bolsheviks’ own version of White Man’s Burden. Ironically, in their efforts to destroy nationality and nationalism, the Bolsheviks were their midwives. So if there is anything to blame Stalin for it was playing a pivotal role in creating the geographical foundation for “Kyrgyz” and “Uzbeks” were none “existed” in the first place.
The roots of the conflict, therefore, are quite recent, and though there were tensions between the two groups in the Soviet period, they have exacerbated since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In particular, thanks to the widening gap between rich and poor. Inevitably, class and ethnicity became intertwined as the Kyrgyz majority saw themselves losing out to the Uzbek minority. The conflict therefore has local and international economic motors. One of the more interesting analyses on this point is Balihar Sanghera’s “Why are Kyrgyzstan’s slum dwellers so angry?” which puts the inter-ethnic violence in a global economic frame. I found this passage very revealing:
The International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation have imposed upon Kyrgyzstan and many other developing countries a package of neo-liberal economic policies. Powerless to resist, governments have had to sign up to these structural adjustment programmes in return for international loans, foreign direct investment and other financial support. Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has undergone an extensive programme of liberal marketisation and privatisation: privatisation of land and property, a break-up of kolkhozes, reductions in subsidies and import tariffs, liberalisation of commodity prices, cuts in state expenditure, relaxation of foreign ownership rules in key sectors (such as gold mines), opening up of home markets to imports, floating the exchange rate and so on. The shock therapy approach to the ‘transition’ to a market economy has had negative consequences on the Kyrgyzstani agricultural sector, and indirectly on urban slums and land invasions.
Given the small allocation of land that each family received in the 1990s in South Kyrgyzstan, most farmers struggle to eke a living, and are unable to absorb family labour, resulting in rural unemployment and underemployment. In addition, marginal and small farmers lack funds to buy adequate fertilisers, to invest into a proper irrigation system, to pay for effective livestock immunisation, or to capitalise their farms for future growth. Many farmers survive by pooling their resources, reviving some aspects of the Soviet kolkhozes. Some have abandoned farming, either by leasing their land rights to larger farmers, who possess the capital to undertake successful commercial farming, or by giving back their tenancy rights to ayil okomotu (local state administration), who then lease them to rich farmers. As a result, the rural society has become pauperised.
How many times have we seen this around the world?
Boris Petric also places the violence in the context of privatization (along with political clan and mafia struggles and the drug trade thrown in the mix):
As the free market ideology gained ground internationally, Kyrgyzstan launched massive privatization initiatives and opened its borders. This led to the collapse of industry and the agricultural sector, as well as causing increased social inequality. With new opportunities in cross-border trading, a new upper class formed, while most of the population lived below the poverty threshold. Structural adjustment policies, which Akayev followed to the letter, encouraged the emergence of new familial economic powers. In the south of the country, and particularly in Osh, many Kyrgyz often associated these economic powers with urban Uzbeks.
After the 2005 Tulip Revolution, Kurmanbek Bakiyev quickly put an end to the advantages gained by some Uzbeks in Osh during the privatization period. These politico-economic entrepreneurs, of which Deputy Batyrov is a good example, were gradually marginalized. The Bakiyev brothers then set about gaining control of the economy, and encouraged other “Uzbeks” to monopolize major economic resources from the Akayev administration’s former protégés. Control of the economy passed into the hands of Bakiyev’s allies. These new economic leaders were soon required to set up various dummy companies benefiting the presidential entourage.
Events took another turn when Roza Otunbayeva came to power in April 2010. President Bakiyev’s allies in the Osh region were quickly dispossessed of the advantages they had enjoyed. The situation deteriorated rapidly and tensions arose between different groups which aspired to control economic activities. An Uzbek businessman, Aibek Mirsidikov, was murdered in mysterious circumstances. According to rumor, Mirsidikov was involved in Mafia and other criminal activities. He was closely linked to the Bakiyev family, and it was even said that the President’s brother put him in charge of the lucrative Afghan drug trade and reorganizing economic relations in Osh. The fall of President Bakiyev therefore led to a new politico-economic shakeup in the region. The current conflict was probably triggered by the rise to power of some politico-Mafia groups, and the fall of others. The groups that had flourished under the previous government were not willing to accept defeat. Adopting extremely violent tactics, they began settling scores, aided and abetted by the Bakiyev brothers. The extent of these retaliations meant the conflict finally took an interethnic turn.
In her “The ethnicisation of violence in Southern Kyrgyzstan,” Madeleine Reeves notes some of the ways these social conflicts have become ethnicized in the Ferghana Valley:
In recent weeks, political tensions, economic anxieties, criminal violence, the freezing of legal process, and what seems to be a quite concerted attempt at ethnic mobilisation and provocation by supporters of ousted former-president Bakiev mean that in southern Kyrgyzstan, mothers, brothers, school-friends, colleagues, neighbours and drinking partners have been “pinned to the wall” of nationhood, reduced to the single category, “Kyrgyz” or “Uzbek” in this historically most complex and socially variegated of regions.
Writing to me a few weeks ago, a tri-lingual (Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Russian-speaking), “Kyrgyz”-identifying friend, with Uzbek and Uighur heritage on his mother’s side, described how his “Uzbek”-identifying wife was increasingly conscious of the appearance of ethnic slurs in the playground when she took her (ethnically “mixed”) children out to play. An Uzbek-identifying friend from Jalalabat noted in the same period a growing sense of disillusion amongst Jalalabat Uzbeks, as ethnically-marked political-criminal groupings sought to take advantage of the change of leadership in the wake of Bakiev’s ouster to seize control of businesses traditionally dominated by Uzbek elites in the city. For both of these acquaintances, ethnicity was a constitutive part of their identity, just as was their age, their gender, their education, and their identification with a cosmopolitan, urban Ferghana culture. Each, in different ways, has written of the horror of being reduced in recent days to that single dimension, “Kyrgyz” or “Uzbek”. Talking of this as an “ethnic conflict” misses that essentially processual dimension: it is essentialising; it is depoliticising and it acts as an analytical “stop”. It takes ethnicity as being analytically causal, rather than asking about the complex, messy, deeply political dynamics through which, in a moment of state crisis, conflict has come to be ethnicised.
. . . What we have been witnessing in Osh and Jalalabat over the last few days is a disturbing and distressing spiral of violence. Much of this has been articulated in ethnic terms: evident in targeted attacks on property, homes and in the brutal wounding of those perceived as ethnically “other” whether they be Kyrgyz or Uzbek.
Less reported are the multiple instances where ethnicity has been irrelevant to action: when property has been looted because “they” represent wealth and opportunity that is inaccessible to “us”; when Kyrgyz have sheltered Uzbeks and vice versa; when neighbours have sought to defend their street or their mosque from attack not because they are of the same ethnicity, but because they live in the same neighbourhood and want to have the chance of continuing to do so.
Reeves goes on to add that ethnicity in this case is more like poisonious silly-puddy with its ability to be molded and graft onto a multitude of existing social processes.
“Inter-ethnic conflict” as an explanatory frame is problematic, then, not because ethnicity doesn’t matter, but because the “ethnic group” by itself doesn’t do any meaningful explanatory work (unless, of course, we assume that some ethnic groups are “naturally” pre-disposed to violence). Ethnicity in Osh is socially constituted, as well as socially and spatially organised. It is produced and reproduced in a host of domestic, educational, social and political institutions, from schools to television broadcasts, from religious celebrations to the organisation of domestic and neighbourhood space. Critically, moreover, it is reproduced in a host of business networks, patronage relations, and crimino-political groupings, the activity and violence of which has increased dramatically in the weeks since former president Bakiev was ousted in an uprising on April 7th.
Perhaps it is this hornet’s nest which has made Russia hesitant to dive in military first despite the pleads of the Kyrgyz interim government. Indeed, I agree with the view that the US and Russia just hope the crisis goes away. But crises like this rarely do. Unfortunately for the Kyrgyz, the situation remains dire and continued destabilization may generate the very things that Russia and the US fear the most: regional civil war, increased drug trafficking, and Islamism.
The big test is coming in the next week. The continued “state of emergency” threatens to put the June 27 referendum on a new constitution on hold. The interim government hopes that turning Kyrgyzstan into a parliamentary republic will bring political stability. However, if RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier is right it could only exacerbate ethnic tensions. According to him:
“Everyone that I’ve talked to in these Uzbek neighborhoods points out that they don’t have any representation in the government at all — the soldiers are Kyrgyz, all the police are Kyrgyz. If they hold the referendum and then there is something the Uzbeks don’t like, they are going to say, ‘This isn’t our constitution. This is a Kyrgyz constitution.”
*Francine Hirsch, “Toward an Empire of Nations: Border-Making and the Formation of Soviet National Identities,” Russian Review, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Apr., 2000), 202-203.Post Views: 418
By Sean — 8 years ago
I’m no expert on Kyrgyzstan. I only play one on the Internet. In my travels around cyberspace in an attempt at a quick education, I’ve run into a lot of punditry, a whole lot of “What Kyrgyzstan means for the US”, a slew of saucy reductions of the situation into Russia vs. America, the Great Game, Cold War revisited, and a whole lot of stupidity. Sadly, this silencing of Kyrgyzstan is merely a symptom of a more pervasive disease. As Sarah Kendzior wrote on Registan,
Central Asia is the black hole of international media. It is not the “other” but the other’s “other” — Russia’s orient, a region whose history and political complexities are poorly understood even by some who proclaim to be experts; a region whose best-known ambassador