Bishkek: a tragedy but not a surprise.

April 8 2010
Felt picture from an art installation that was touring round Bishkek in a minibus

Felt picture from an art installation that was touring round Bishkek in a minibus

I don’t know an awful lot about yesterday’s fighting and violence in Kyrgyzstan other than what I’ve seen on the newswires (and the BBC, Guardian and New York Times seem like the best sources of coverage). While I’m shocked and appalled at the number of people dead – estimates up to 100 – and pictures of the police forces firing indiscriminately into the crowds of people protesting outside the government buildings in central Bishkek, I can’t say I’m surprised.

Most reports agree that the trigger for the protests were rising eletricity costs. What they don’t mention is the huge numbers of people even in the capital, Bishkek, who live without power, water and heating during the coldest months of the year, when the temperature drops to -20degrees C. Power-outs in the capital are common, causing enormous problems for local businesses like food stores who need a constant energy supply. The irony is that Kyrgyzstan has abundant hydroelectric potential – and supplies power to neighbouring Uzbekistan – which has been horrendously mismanaged, as this scarily prescient article from last year makes clear.

People’s lives are made worse by the systemic corruption – the picture above was created by slum dwellers as part of an art installation, and it shows a nurse demanding bribes before she’ll offer medicines or treatment. Talking to government ministers last year it seemed as if there was a genuine desire among many in the legislature to do something about the problems, but clearly it’s been too little too late. If anything, I’m more surprised that it’s taken this long for the situation in Kyrgyzstan to lead to bloodshed, given the problems many people there face.

I’m trying to contact friends in the country to find out more about who exactly was involved in the protests, which have resulted in the complete overthrow of the government. I imagine the communications grid is taking some strain, and they’ll be busy doling out medical supplies to those injured yesterday, but I’m hoping they’ll get back to me soon. If nothing else, to confirm they’re safe.

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