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Kyrgyzstan: Youth Playing Key Role In Pro-Bakiev Political Movement

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova

http://gdb.rferl.org/58D586AD-29A6-474A-8841-92D97B56BF3D_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/58D586AD-29A6-474A-8841-92D97B56BF3D_mw800_mh600.jpg Young people in Bishkek Young people played a significant role in the so-called colored revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. And several youth organizations -- including Kel-Kel and Birge -- emerged in Kyrgyzstan ahead of the March unrest there as well. Youths make up some 56 percent of the Kyrgyz population. So should candidates court their vote ahead of the 10 July presidential election?

Bishkek, 7 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The pro-Bakiev youth team is headquartered on Gorky Square in central Bishkek.

About 10 people, mainly young men, are standing under the tent, looking at computer monitors and talking. Traditional Kyrgyz rugs line the floor inside the nomadic tent, or yurt. There is also music equipment, national costumes, and T-shirts and baseball caps printed with slogans like "We are for Bakiev!"

Two of the men, Ryskul Jumabaev and Alexander Ivanov, introduce themselves as the leaders of the youth center. They offer black tea and sary mai -- a concoction made from melted butter, honey, raisins, and bread.

Jumabaev, a 32-year-old university instructor from southern Kyrgyzstan -- Bakiev 's native region -- explains his decision to join the youth movement.

"We in our [region] have known him for many years," Jumbaev told RFE/RL. "Kurmanbek Salievich Bakiev was the only person who united the opposition and fought against the regime [of ousted President Askar Akaev]. There were many opposition groups, but only he was able to unite all of them and lead them and the people. That’s why we support him."

Ivanov, who is 29, told RFE/RL how he came up with the idea of organizing a pro-Bakiev youth center. He says the group's primary goal is raising the political awareness of the country's young people ahead of the elections.

'We are on the eve of a very important political and historical event -- the presidential election," Ivanov said. "In this particular case, we needed to have a different approach to the election. That's how we got the idea to do something unusual that capitalizes on the wave of revolution and inspiration we got from the popular revolts in Ukraine and Georgia. Youth were the main movers behind those revolutions. They were sitting [on the central Independence Square in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv] and fighting for their rights, their position, and their president. So we got the idea to base ourselves at this square."

Ivanov might dream of seeing comparisons between Kyiv's Independence Square and Bishkek's Gorky Square. Three days before the presidential election, however, there are few noticeable similarities.

Gorky Square is not only much smaller, it is also empty. The Bakiev supporters say they hope to see more people turn out after the hot midday sun begins to fade.

Their publicity methods also seem to differ from those of Viktor Yushchenko's supporters in Ukraine.

Ivanov says his group is showing movies and organizing concerts in Gorky Square to attract young audiences. This week, young Kyrgyz were treated to a free showing of the Hollywood movie "Troy," as well as "The Turkish Gambit," a Russian blockbuster about the 19th-century Russo-Turkish war.

On 8 July, the group is hoping to stage a large concert. Among the invited guests is Ruslana, the Ukrainian pop diva who won the Eurovision song contest in 2004 and supported Yushchenko during his presidential campaign.

But what else can be done to attract young voters to Bakiev's cause? Ivanov says he helped the interim president think of ways to bring in the youth vote.

"If you look at the program, it's very broad, but there is a shorter version for voters. And unfortunately, it doesn’t say much about youth," Ivanov said. "We pointed this out [to Bakiev]. The program is about general economic and political development. It doesn’t pay particular attention to the youth as a separate group. Then we worked out a separate program for youth. It is Bakiev's program now."

But it may take more than a youth platform to attract young voters. The pro-Bakiev tent received few visitors that day, and Gorky Square remained largely empty.

When asked, several young people in the area said they had never heard about the youth headquarters. But when told about Ruslana's possible appearance at the 8 July concert, they said they would probably go to Gorky Square.

For RFE/RL's full coverage of Kyrgyzstan's presidential election, see "Kyrgyzstan Votes 2005"
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