Thursday, March 25, 2010

The View from PDX

Above: RBM checks exactly 100 pounds of luggage through points east ahead of Peace Corps service in Kyrgyzstan. Next stop: Phoenix. Then Philadelphia. Then Istanbul. And finally, Bishkek.

Meanwhile, on the fifth anniversary of the Tulip Revolution, the AP is running a retrospective. An excerpt:
In recent years, government opponents have faced physical intimidation, threats and legal prosecution. Last summer, Bakiyev was elected to a second term as president in an election described as fraudulent by international election observers.

Independent reporters and political analysts critical of the government have been subjected to vicious beatings. And in recent weeks, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Kyrgyz radio service has been taken off the air, while prominent Central Asia-focused Web sites have been made inaccessible.

Kyrgyz authorities deny they are trying to silence dissent, but experts are skeptical.

"The Tulip Revolution marked a negative turning point in the democratic development of Central Asia," said Alexander Cooley, a political scientist at Columbia University.

Some hoped Kyrgyzstan's revolt would help bring democracy and the rule of law to other former Soviet countries, but the opposite may have been the case.

"In countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus and Azerbaijan, alarmed governments equated democratization with regime change and clamped down on the activities of domestic civil society, externally sponsored non-governmental organizations and their media," Cooley said.

Initially, the Tulip Revolution stoked expectations that the country might move Westward. Those hopes evaporated last year, when Bakiyev ordered the United States to vacate the Manas air base on the same day that Russia pledged billions of dollars in aid and loans.

Moscow appeared victorious in its apparent effort to squeeze the United States out of a region it views as its own fiefdom. But within months, the Kyrgyz again turned the tables, agreeing to allow the Americans to stay in exchange for higher rent for Manas.

All the diplomatic double-game seems to have achieved is to anger Kyrgyzstan's most steadfast allies.

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