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Kyrgyzstan: Killing Points To Postrevolutionary Dangers

  • Daniel Kimmage --> Kudaibergenov was an ally of Feliks Kulov Gunshots rang out in Orto-Say, a town about 8 kilometers from the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, on the night of 10 April. The victim was Usen Kudaibergenov, a prominent Kyrgyz personality who gained fame as a stuntman in Soviet films. But this time the bullets were real, and when his two assailants fled, Kudaibergenov was dead. He played a visible role in the upheaval that followed the ouster of President Askar Akaev and was an ally of the leading candidate for the newly scheduled 10 July presidential elections. The motives behind Kudaibergenov's killing remain mysterious, but the fact of his death points to the dangers that lurk in postrevolutionary Kyrgyzstan.

Born in 1949, Kudaibergenov came to film through the circus and went on to a career as stuntman and stunt director that spanned more than 100 movies. Trouble struck in 2000, when a Kyrgyz court sentenced the stuntman to a 10-year prison term for financial misdeeds. But Kudaibergenov, who was amnestied after spending five years behind bars, maintained in one of his last interviews, published by on 11 April, that his friendship with Feliks Kulov, a political foe of then President Akaev, was the real cause of his problems with the law. Kudaibergenov said that his imprisonment was part of an official attempt to "sink" Kulov, and recounted that prison authorities held him in solitary confinement for nearly two years in a futile effort to force him to testify against Kulov.

Kulov, whose own Akaev-era corruption convictions were only recently voided by the Supreme Court, has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in Kyrgyz politics ever since protesters freed him from prison on 24 March. A recent poll of 630 Bishkek residents showed that Kulov, who is a presumptive candidate in the 10 July presidential elections, would garner 52 percent support if elections were held today, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. His nearest rival, acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, received the endorsement of only 18 percent of respondents.

Naturally, some speculation about Kudaibergenov's death has focused on the link to Kulov. wrote on 12 April that Kudaibergenov was the informal head of Kulov's guard, suggesting that the killing may have been intended as a warning to show that no one is safe. Kulov spokesman Ruslan Chynybaev told on 11 April: "Kulov doesn't yet link the killing of Kudaibergenov with himself, but he doesn't rule out that one of his enemies might have removed a friend of the presidential candidate. So you can look at yesterday's killing from various angles." At Kudaibergenov's funeral on 13 April, Kulov's own comments were cryptic, however. "We know who killed Usen. He was never a politician. But he was always a man with a capital letter," Kyrgyzinfo quoted him as saying.

Kudaibergenov's recent activities were, in fact, less political than practical. On the night of 24 March, he helped to organize ordinary citizens in Bishkek into civil-defense brigades to combat a wave of looting. More recently, he spoke out against a spate of land seizures in the capital that has seen thousands stake dubious claims to plots and thus far stymied official attempts to resolve what could prove to be a serious crisis for the fledgling postrevolutionary government. Ernest Adylov, who heads the movement For Law and Order, told a news conference on 11 April: "[Kudaibergenov] organized civil-defense brigades [to combat looting] and infiltrated his people into the groups that are seizing land in order to identify the leaders. Apparently, someone didn't like what he was doing," Kabar reported.

For now, the speculation about Kudaibergenov's death rests on too few facts to support any viable theories. But the troubling possibility that the killing may have resulted from the stuntman's ties to a prominent political figure or his involvement in combating looting and land seizures underscores a real danger. Revolutions flare as a result of many factors, but they quickly come face to face with hard issues of power and property. And they can founder fast if conflicts over power and property are resolved through violence.

For more background on the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, see RFE/RL's dedicated website "Revolution In Kyrgyzstan"