I heard back from my friend Gulmira in Bishkek over the weekend. She told me that because of a general news blackout last Wednesday, following the protests in Talas, she and her brother had gone along to Ala-Too square in central Bishkek to find out what was going on – and ended up being shot at and seeing grenades go off beside her. She reckons there were 40,000 people protesting outside parliament, and that the general feeling is that the new government has the people’s trust. Still, after the old one indiscriminately opened fire on you, I guess anything is an improvement.
There’s a lot of stories going around about how Russian TV was stirring up discontent over the last few months, because the Kremlin fell out with the previous regime in Kyrgyzstan over the US airforce base in Manas. It’s been widely reported that the Kyrgyz president, Bakiev, was likened to Genghis Khan for his brutal chicanery and selfish nature. The actual protests, though, were sparked by a huge increase of up to 400% in domestic energy prices. In part, these increases were because Russia increased its wholesale tariffs on power to Kyrgyzstan – which means that Putin’s government would probably struggle to beat Bakiev’s in opinion polls rihgt now.
Even if there was some propoganda as a backdrop, though, it’s not like the Russian media was actually lying. This was, and presumably still is, a country in which corruption is endemic and you have to be able to afford a bribe to see a doctor or get your kids into school. It locks people into a downward spiral of poverty.
I’m hoping to return some time soon to see whether or not the new administration can deliver on the promises of change that it’s made to people.