The news out of Kyrgyzstan is awful, and the latest events there should serve as yet another reminder that the Bakiyev regime has been significantly worse for Kyrgyzstan than the government Western governments and media outlets were so happy to see overthrown in yet another “color” revolution. Of all the governments challenged by “people power” protests in the last decade, Akayev’s was probably the most inoffensive and Akayev himself was a fair sight better than some of the other Central Asian rulers Washington continues to embrace to this day. Akayev’s overthrow never had much to do with “people power” or “democracy vs. dictatorship,” but was simply a contest between the ruler and the country’s elites and the replacement of one family’s control of the government with that of another. As Leon Hadar wrote after Akayev’s fall:
In fact, there are actually a few American experts on Kyrgyzstan and several Western journalists even traveled to Bishkek, and after a day or two they succeeded in getting their message across, and we discovered that, as the New York Times concluded, the uprising looks now less like a democratic revolution and more “like a garden-variety coup, with a handful of seasoned politicians vying for the spoils of the ousted government,” that is, “a plain old coup.”
The ousted Mr. Akayev is now being described as one of the more progressive political figures in Central Asia, while its opponents are depicted as members of the political and economic elite, mostly politicians from the country’s southern and northern provinces, trying to overturn the results of the last parliamentary elections and inciting mobs to commit acts of vandalism.
Bakiyev has since imitated Akayev’s authoritarian habits and became even worse than Akayev ever was. The dead protesters in Bishkek are proof of that. The good news in all of this is that Bakiyev seems to have fled, but not before his forces have killed at least 17 and perhaps as many as 100 people according to AP reporting of the opposition’s death toll claims. These are the fruits of yet another “color revolution” that far too many Westerners enthused about out of misguided idealism, weird anti-Russian hang-ups or ideological fantasies of a global democratic revolution. Perhaps the most absurd expression of the enthusiasm for the so-called “Tulip Revolution” was a Chicago Tribune op-ed celebrating Akayev’s downfall and lauding John Paul II (no, really) as being somehow ultimately responsible, but there was virtual unanimity in the Western press that one more bad authoritarian was succumbing to the inevitable, glorious triumph of democracy. As it turned out, Akayev may have been the best Kyrgyzstan was going to be able to get, and ever since he was deposed Kyrgyzstan has been less stable, governed less well, and now joins Georgia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a new scene of violent repression of civilian protesters by a U.S.-allied government. Might we begin to learn from this that foreign political clashes are not usually clearly-defined ideological contests between democrats and authoritarians, and that there is not much reason to celebrate the destabilization, political upheaval and disorder that such things usually involve?