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Kyrgyzstan: The Long Wait For The Law

Flawed parliamentary elections are only partly to blame for the chaotic conditions in Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev's administration fell on 24 March amid chaotic street clashes, and a night of looting followed in the Kyrgyz capital. While events never careened out of control, the prospect of unrest has clouded the horizon ever since.

This ever-present unease has focused attention on several outbursts of violence in recent weeks: the 10 April murder of Usen Kudaibergenov, a well-known film personality and ally of First Deputy Prime Minister Feliks Kulov; the crowd-driven eviction on 1 June of protestors who had occupied the Supreme Court since late April; a near-riot at the Kara-Suu market in southern Kyrgyzstan on 10 June; the 10 June murder of businessman and legislator Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev; an attack on the campaign headquarters of leading presidential candidate and acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev on the night of 11 June; and a shoot-out at a hotel in Osh resulting in several injuries and a death on 13 June involving supporters and opponents of legislator Bayaman Erkinbaev, who also controls the market in Kara-Suu.

There is a temptation to link these disturbing events to the destabilizing impact of sudden political change, as well as the scramble for power in the lead-up to the 10 July presidential election. While there is more than a grain of truth in such explanations, they ignore the deeper cause. Acting Deputy Premier Daniyar Usenov, who heads a commission charged with investigating the alleged business interests of former President Akaev, pointed to that cause at a 13 June cabinet meeting. Usenov charged that Akaev, his family, and their associates spun a corrupt web that enmeshed a vast array of lucrative businesses, subordinating them to the overriding aim of personal enrichment at the expense of the national interest. Usenov said, "We've given our assessment that all of this was an organized criminal group," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported.

In his 2001 book, "The Graves Are Not Yet Full," Bill Berkeley, a journalist with years of experience in Africa, argues that the worst ills that have plagued the continent, from ethnic strife to genocide, are not the result of any "age-old tribal hatreds," but rather a grimly logical consequence of tyranny, the absent rule of law, and a resulting culture of impunity. Just as those evils produced calamity in Europe in the 20th century, so have they in Africa. Early in the book, Berkeley writes, "Inflamed ethnic passions are not the cause of political conflict, but its consequence. In a lawless world, ethnicity is a badge of legitimacy and protection -- and justice. It is the bond by which men high and low adhere to a vigilante code." Describing Chief Gatsha Buthelezi's KwaZulu Police (KZP) in South Africa, Berkeley notes that the KZP "was supposedly responsible for neutral law enforcement in KwaZulu; in reality it was Chief Buthelezi's personal militia. Thus does crime become combustibly blurred with politics, when the rule of law becomes identified with a partisan political interest."
Central Asia has been spared the horrors that ravaged Rwanda, but it has been the scene of many of the lesser crimes that have paved and continue to pave the way to greater crimes in Africa and elsewhere.

Turning to the tragedy of Rwanda's genocide, Berkeley focuses on the lawless political culture that formed its historical context:

In Rwanda -- very much as in Liberia, Zaire, Sudan, Uganda, and KwaZulu-Natal -- the law of the jungle, a culture of impunity, obtained. Rwanda's Hutu elite, those who excelled in this lawless culture, established a clear example of the state as a racketeering enterprise. Juvenal Habyarimana had governed Rwanda for twenty-three years after the model of his mentor, Mobutu of Zaire. Amply funded and armed by the French, Habyarimana ran lucrative rackets in everything from development aid to marijuana smuggling. He and his in-laws operated the country's sole black-market foreign exchange bureau in tandem with the Central Bank. Habyarimana also was implicated in the poaching of mountain gorillas, selling the skulls and feet of baby primates. Habyarimana's brother-in-law was the principle suspect in the murder of the American anthropologist Dian Fossey.

This was the criminal culture in which the genocide was hatched. Like gangsters and despots through the ages, Habyarimana apparently was consumed by the monster he had created."

Central Asia has been spared the horrors that ravaged Rwanda, but it has been the scene of many of the lesser crimes that have paved and continue to pave the way to greater crimes in Africa and elsewhere. When Usenov alleges that an "organized criminal group" ran Kyrgyzstan, he eerily echoes Berkeley's description of Rwanda under Juvenal Habyarimana as a "racketeering enterprise." Berkeley makes the point even more strongly in his introduction: "It is as if men like Vito Corleone seized control of not just 'turf' on the margins of society, but of the state itself and all its organs: police and army, secret police, the courts, the central bank, the civil service, the press, TV, and radio."

The chaotic conditions that sparked the precipitous collapse of President Akaev's government were only in part the result of flawed parliamentary elections. To a greater extent, they were the product of a decade-long failure to construct legitimate institutions to ground the rule of law. As Berkeley's richly documented study of African politics shows, lawlessness begets anarchy, and anarchy breeds horrors. That post-Akaev Kyrgyzstan has largely avoided anarchy is a testimony to a very real chance to lay the foundation for the rule of law. Each of the episodes enumerated above represents an opportunity to proceed with that process through an honest investigation of circumstances and impartial application of justice. At the same time, each of them underscores the dangers that lurk if the process is deferred.

See also:

Kyrgyzstan: Violence On Rise As Election Nears

Kyrgyz Parliamentarian Assassinated In Bishkek

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