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Who Is Roza Otunbaeva?

Roza Otunbaeva says she is now head of a temporary caretaker government.Roza Otunbaeva says she is now head of a temporary caretaker government.
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Roza Otunbaeva says she is now head of a temporary caretaker government.
Roza Otunbaeva says she is now head of a temporary caretaker government.
By Antoine Blua
Kyrgyz opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva has said she is now the head of a temporary caretaker government, after the opposition said it had taken power following violent protests in Bishkek.

Otunbaeva, 59, is seen as different from other Kyrgyz politicians and has a reputation as "Ms. Clean."

She's considered an articulate and pragmatic politician, and a moderate voice able to negotiate among the country's fragmented opposition groups.

RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier describes Otunbaeva as "one of the most experienced Kyrgyz politicians" and that "she might actually be the most experienced politician in Kyrgyzstan today. By Kyrgyz standards, she certainly has huge international experience."

The former career diplomat speaks several languages -- English, French, and German, in addition to Kyrgyz and Russian -- and her lifestyle is considered "Westernized."

Joining The Opposition

Otunbaeva served as the country's first postindependence foreign minister in 1991 under President Askar Akaev. She again held the post in the mid-1990s and served as acting foreign minister in 2005 after the People's or "Tulip" Revolution that toppled Akaev.

Akaev was forced to flee to Russia in March 2005 in the face of public demonstrations and the storming of government facilities by supporters of opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiev, following disputed parliamentary elections.

Otunbaeva had hoped to run in the February 2005 vote as a candidate for the opposition Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) political movement but was refused registration.

When antigovernment protests erupted weeks later, Otunbaeva played a key role in fanning the flames of discontent. "First of all, we will try to change the whole system," she told a crowd of demonstrators before the elections.

Soon after Bakiev was elected president in July 2005, he named Otunbaeva his acting foreign minister, but she failed to gain parliamentary approval. Many even speculated that Bakiev had a hand in that failure because he wanted to rid himself of a potential rival.

...Then Going Into Opposition

Less than a year later, Otunbaeva was still trying to change the system.

She joined the opposition in January 2006, becoming the co-chairwoman of the Asaba political party. The party's key demands included constitutional reforms that would transform the current presidential system into one that afforded the parliament greater power.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in March 2006, she accused the new government of balking at promised reforms.

"People had to feel something new within the last year. It is [understandable] that you cannot immediately make the factories work," Otunbaeva said. "However, if [the Kyrgyz government] stamped out corruption, then there would be a lot of money available [for reform]."

RFE/RL's Pannier says Otunbaeva's political record means she probably enjoys "one of the cleanest images" among Kyrgyz politicians -- at least as far as the public is concerned.

"The 2005 revolution really started rolling when she was denied registration as a candidate. The fact that the Central Election Commission excluded her for many people proved that indeed it was going to be a rigged election," Pannier says.

He says that after her six-month tenure as Bakiev's acting foreign minister, Otunbaeva left and "didn't show any interest in rejoining the state in any post." After joining the opposition, she "very quickly became the leading critic of President Bakiev and his government."

On the foreign-policy front, Otunbaeva's experience in dealing with diplomatic issues and her pragmatism lead some observers to predict that she would follow a more consistent line than Bakiev when it comes to relations with Russia, China, and the United States.

Early Career


Otunbaeva's career started in the latter years of the Soviet Union and the first decade of Kyrgyzstan's independence.

Born on August 23, 1950, in the southern city of Osh, Otunbaeva studied in Moscow, graduating in 1972 from the philosophy faculty of Moscow State University, where she subsequently completed graduate studies.

Otunbaeva returned to the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) in 1975 and taught for six years at Kirghiz State University before transferring to full-time work as a functionary for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the republic's capital, Frunze (now Bishkek).

In 1986, she was appointed deputy chairwoman of the Kirghiz SSR Council of Ministers, and foreign minister. From 1989 to 1991, she worked at the Soviet Foreign Ministry in Moscow, before returning to Kyrgyzstan in late 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the 1990s, Otunbaeva alternated spells as foreign minister with diplomatic postings as an ambassador -- first to the United States and Canada (1992-94) and then to the United Kingdom and Ireland (1997).

Between 2002 and 2004, she worked for the United Nations in Georgia.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Aibek
April 09, 2010 00:24
I believe when Roza Otunbayeva "worked for the United Nations in Georgia" she was the deputy special representative of the secy general, with an extended period as acting SRSG.

by: J from: US
April 09, 2010 00:28
In other words she is an old Soviet communist party apparatchik
In Response

by: pjakubec from: Oslo, Norway
April 10, 2010 09:19
Yes, she is, but what other option can you find for a post-Soviet Central Asian country? Note when she worked in the higher echelons of the apparatus. This was not a time of uniformity such as we know from the Brezhnev times. Neither was it a time of abolition of the system but a higher degree of openess towards thinking from the "Outer World" is not to deny. If we want to comment Otunbayeva´s career, we should focus on her later stage.
In Response

by: roman from: Vienna, Austria
April 10, 2010 15:51
I expected such a naive comment from the US. A Polish friend managed to leave his home country in 1981, but was refused to emigrate to the US because of membership in the communist party. What do you expect - who, raised in the 50ies and 60ties was allowed to study? Read an interview with Otunbaeva, published in the Austrian political magazine "profil" after her last visit in Vienna. Then you may realize that Kyrgyzstan has chances to develope, although its situation, squeezed between the interests of "superpowers" isnt easy. http://www.profil.at/articles/1014/560/266228/rosas-revolutionen
In Response

by: J from: US
April 10, 2010 21:02
Naive or not I am able to read. It is the 'interests of superpowers' that made a country out of Kyrgyzstan; at least the interests of one of them. Do they even speak their own language? From interviews on tv I can see they a russian speakers.
In Response

by: Salamat from: Kyrgyzstan
April 11, 2010 22:08
you would like some people from the Moon or US for Central asia, and soviet apparatchik at least did not have the habit of too much stealing and promoting tribalism in the country
In Response

by: aigul from: us
April 12, 2010 19:10
what do you mean by referring to "Moom"?

by: N.F. from: Bahrain
April 09, 2010 08:07
I know her personally from when she was in the UK. She is excellent. But it will take more than one courageous woman to clean up the institutionalized corruption of a whole country.

by: Anthony from: Skopje
April 09, 2010 10:07
It sounds like Roza could be the best thing to happen to Kyrgystan in a while. If she consolidates control and her government is recognized internationally, then perhaps this change in power will be nicknamed the "Roza Revolution".

by: AConway from: Seattle
April 09, 2010 23:06
She also served as ambassador to the US in the early 1990s and to the UK as well. She is NOT an "apparatnik" in the traditional sense. She was known for turning down the favors and "perks" of her co-parliamentarians and government officials. Locals describe her lifestyle as "Westernized."

As far as reviewing the contracts... the contracts for the US military base have been a direct source of corruption. Members of Akaev and then Bakiyev's nuclear family have owned the companies with exclusive rights to refuel NATO aircraft. This is possible the single most lucrative business proposition in the country.

She has been a principled moderate her entire life so far, she quit her prestigious position as Bakiyev's foreign minister when he appointed his brother as ambassador to Germany. The question is not, "is she a moderate?" The question is, "can she consolidate enough power to keep this country together."

by: shynar
April 10, 2010 12:33
She has a good education and international work experince. Good combination. She must be far from being apparatchik.
In Response

by: aigul from: us
April 12, 2010 19:11
I agree with you Shynar.

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