PRAGUE, March 24, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev opened the celebrations today in Bishkek's central Alatoo Square to a crowd of guests and others involved in last year's events.
"Dear compatriots! Dear participants in the 'People's Revolution!' I congratulate you with all my heart on the first anniversary of the March 24 'People's Revolution!'" he said.
Not In The Classic Sense
But some question whether the events of last March were a revolution. John MacLeod, of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), gave an idea of why there is some confusion.
"It wasn't a revolution in the classic sense, there were sort of a confluence of events: [the] weakness of the ruling administration combined with a growth of various kinds of public protests. Nobody could have expected that the regime would go so quickly -- but at the same time this was not an organized political, nationwide movement directed against President [Askar] Akaev, it began as something else," MacLeod says.
A Regime Draws To A Close
Protests against perceived bias in the treatment of opposition candidates started in Kyrgyzstan ahead of the late February first round parliamentary elections and gradually took on an anti-Akaev character. The popular discontent culminated on March 24 when a crowd stormed the presidential and parliament building, or Kyrgyz White House, in Bishkek.
"Expectations that suddenly the economy would improve and social provisions would get better were entirely unrealistic and I think no government could have delivered that."
Hours later, the leader of the opposition For People's Power bloc, Kurmanbek Bakiev, announced the end of the old regime.
"The president of the republic, Askar Akaev, has left the republic. He is no longer on the territory of Kyrgyzstan," Bakiev said. "The head of the government, Nikolai Tanaev handed in his resignation."
Bakiev was made acting prime minister, then quickly acting president, despite the fact that only in the last days of unrest did he emerge as a leader of the protesters.
Celebrations in Bishkek to mark the first anniversary of the March 2005 events (RFE/RL)
Popular opposition leader Feliks Kulov was freed from jail, where he had languished for five years. Kulov was immediately given the task of reigning in the lawlessness and looting that broke out in Bishkek while euphoric crowds celebrated their victory.
Constitutional uncertainty remained as to the transfer of power but ousted President Akaev cleared that up at the start of April: "In accordance with the constitution, I would like to come to Bishkek, address parliament, and declare my intention to give up my powers [as president]."
Euphoria Replaced By Skepticism
Akaev never returned to Bishkek, though he did formally announce his resignation in a televised broadcast from the Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow a few days later. Akaev has still not visited Kyrgyzstan, and President Bakiev said yesterday that there is no need for him to come back.
As euphoria faded in the days that followed, it became clear that the new government was having problems of its own in dealing with the multitude of problems the country faced. The IWPR's MacLeod notes economic conditions have not improved, though that is not surprising.
"Expectations that suddenly the economy would improve and social provisions would get better were entirely unrealistic and I think no government could have delivered that," he says.
The new authorities really did not have much time to implement reforms. Protests continued in Bishkek and elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan for months after the March events. Additionally, three members of parliament were assassinated between June and October. After early president elections in July, even President Bakiev admitted that criminal elements had penetrated the government and he made the fight against corruption his main priority.
The new Kyrgyz authorities also did not receive much help from their neighbors, as MacLeod says: "The [Kyrgyz] government's main task really was to survive, certainly the initial six months, in the face of considerable hostility from other regional actors -- Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan -- who were not happy to see this happening in Central Asia."
Waiting For Results
Leaders in neighboring Central Asian states tightened their laws on public demonstrations and media and cracked down on the opposition. Less than two months after the March events in Kyrgyzstan, troops in Uzbekistan fired on demonstrators in Andijon, killing at least 187 people, by official estimates. Most other reports say that several hundred people were killed.
For many in Kyrgyzstan, these internal and external problems are no excuse for what they see as the new government's failure to improve their lives.
Among them are opposition figures who sided with Bakiev before and immediately after the events of last March. One is Roza Otunbaeva, a former ambassador to the United States and Canada and Kyrgyzstan's acting foreign minister during the first months of Bakiev's leadership. Otunbaeva is now a leading critic of Bakiev's government, and she explained why to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.
"People had to feel something new within the last year [after the revolution]. It is okay that you cannot immediately make the factories work. However, if [the Kyrgyz government] would stamp out corruption, then there would be a lot of money available [for reforms]."
Veteran opposition leader Azimbek Beknazarov also served in the post-March government as acting prosecutor general. Like Otunbaeva, he did not receive a post after Bakiev was elected president in the July elections. And, like Otunbaeva, Beknazarov is now a leading critic of the new government.
"The new government led by Bakiev is making a lot of mistakes. The main point is that [Bakiev's government] did not take any crucial steps to change Akaev's system. Until now, there is no breakthrough in constitutional reforms. No ideology that would promote the ideas and victory of the 'People's Revolution,' was carried out during the year [since the revolution]."
Bakiev acknowledges that there are still great challenges facing the nation but also regularly notes that the government was overwhelmed by unexpected problems since last March that demanded immediate attention. He has pledged this year will be one of economic improvement in the country and that the basic needs of the people will be a priority for himself and the Kyrgyz government.