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Interview: Kyrgyz Ambassador Discusses Changes Since Ouster Of Akaev

Rina Prijivoit, Kyrgyz ambassador in Vienna (file photo) (RFE/RL) Rina Prijivoit has been a journalist since 1972. In the 1990s she worked at the newspaper "Vecherny Bishkek," then in 2001 at the opposition newspaper "Moya Stolitsa." That newspaper was closed by court decisions several times, only to reappear under a new name each time. Prijivoit became a respected figure in the opposition and on September 13, 2005, was named Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Austria (as well as the Czech Republic and Hungary) and the OSCE and other international organizations based in Vienna. RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondent Venera Djumataeva interviewed her recently about the changes that have taken place since the March 25, 2005 ouster of President Askar Akaev.

RFE/RL: Rina Negmatova, you were one of the leading and most influential critics of the former authorities. It has been one year since the revolution that overthrew the old regime. Are you satisfied with the results? President Kurmanbek Bakiev declared the 24th of March the Day of the People's Revolution. Some of our listeners are ready to celebrate this day as the day of the people's victory over the authorities. However, there is another group of people who view the 24th of March last year as a day of disappointment considering the looting, the mass contempt for the law; a day of an illegal seizure of power and so on. This view is shared by many others who suffered material losses on that day. What would you say to these people?

"As concerns constitutional reform, I have always been against a constitution for the country that is written in two or three months, and then after two or three years needs to be amended.

Prijivoit: The looting that afflicted big businessmen as well as small-business owners was the worst consequences of that day, more correctly the night of the people's revolution on March 24. There won't be any pogrom, the supporters of the holiday are more numerous than opponents. However it would be wrong to forget who the initiators and organizers of this bacchanalia were. Those who couldn't hold on to power and robbed the people of wealth, they organized violence and looting by "guys with white caps."My friend lives [in the center of Bishkek] on the corner of Toktogul and K. Akiev streets. With her own eyes she saw trucks with Kazakh license plates pull up to the back of the Narodny store and fill up with goods. And then well-dressed guys with mobile phones ordered the group to break the shop windows.

I couldn't call March 24 a day of illegal seizure of power. Our fugitive president forced the people to this through 15 years of rule. And his (Akaev's) picks for power structures created all the conditions for looting. For me it is completely obvious that this action was planned in advance with the intended goal of blackening the people's revolution. The only thing that could bring peace to the innocent citizens who suffered that night is compensation for their losses. According to media reports, the prosecutor-general has opened 86 criminal cases against members of Akaev's family and their friends. Logically, that would be the means, we hope, that would succeed in returning money to the state coffers and compensating people for their losses from the looting.

RFE/RL: A number of yesterday's revolutionaries, friends of President [Kurmanbek] Bakiev, express disappointment that the new authorities are not taking decisive steps toward building a democratic government, [and have instead postponed] constitutional reforms; and there is no genuine improvement in the lives of the people. What concrete promises, made during the course of the revolution and [presidential] elections, have the new authorities succeeded in fulfilling?

Prijivoit: It is far from the case to say that all the former friends of Kurmanbek Bakiev have become his opponents and critics on principled ideas, as sometimes personal insults served as the reason that [someone] didn't get a position, or their role in the revolution was inadequately valued. As they say in the famous song, "the honey-cake isn't always sweet enough for everyone." The published claims against the current president today are more than enough -- from the mouths of his previous friends, and also from the mouths of sworn enemies who lost a huge amount of power and money after the people's revolution. For them, and for others, it is now easy to do this without worrying about the consequences.

By the way, during Akaev's era a number of his supporters went over to the camp of his opponents literally only several weeks, or even days, before the fall of the "anti-people's regime" -- when the fires could be smelled clearly and it became obvious that revolution was unavoidable. I know this absolutely. Our newspaper was forced to change its name four times, for four years it printed stories exposing the hypocrisy, the low-down tricks and greed of the Akaev authorities, which were concentrated in the hands of members of [Akaev's] family and a small group of friends close to him. During that time the majority of "ardent revolutionaries" breathed quietly into their fist and expressed their indignation in whispers, only in secret. Now these people "have torn the vest off their chest" and shout that they made the revolution.

Concerning the fulfillment of promises, the main thing is they succeeded in keeping the country from falling into civil war, didn't allow the boat to be rocked, although there are many in the country to this day who want just such a change in events. All last year the country was at a fevered-pitch, which simply didn't allow the authorities to work, they were forced to shift [their attention] to endless problems, to resolve the many political problems and not the economic problems. When there is quarreling at home the head of the house has to calm tensions. I hope that now the situation will allow the president and the government to concentrate on the economy. But in such a complicated situation the new authorities led by President Bakiev are doing a lot that their opponents do not wish to speak about. Factories, idle for many years, have started to operate again, new jobs are being created, and problems with housing construction and obtaining mortgages [are being resolved]; much attention is also being given to agriculture, questions of culture, and education. All of this is the subject of especially detailed discussion.

In spite of the all the difficulties of postrevolution construction and the need to overcome these most difficult economic and social problems left behind by the fugitive president and his team, it is impossible to speak about any cutting back of democratic processes in Kyrgyzstan. In the republic there are more than 7,000 nongovernmental organizations operating. There are 900 media outlets registered: 631 newspapers, 191 magazines, 35 radio and 39 television stations, 25 tele-radio companies, and more than 1,000 websites working. Illegal restrictions have been lifted on the right to peaceful meetings and demonstrations. The opposition press is not experiencing any pressure from the authorities, as was so often the case in previous years. And, if some overly zealous bureaucrats from time to time show a desire to use their power to cause harm to democratic norms, civil society will quickly put them in their place.

Our civil society is still in the process of formation, however it is considered a branch of power. For example, the coalition "For Democracy and Civil Society" looked upon the declaration of the Bishkek prosecutor, a warning to some journalists and political figures, as an infringement on the right to freedom of speech and freedom of political activity in Kyrgyzstan. Other NGOs and media outlets joined the coalition. As a result, on March 14 the prosecutor-general of the Kyrgyz Republic, Kambarali Kongantiev, signed a memorandum on "Partnership in the Name of the Law" with the leaders of NGOs and representatives of the media. Among the social organizations that signed this document were many well-known groups, and representatives of almost every publication. Television stations and radio companies signed this document. The Union of Journalists also signed on to the new agreement. After reports in the media that the Justice Ministry planned to control the sources of financing of nongovernmental organizations, civil society hurled criticism at the justice minister. In the end information came out that the minister was misquoted and that the ministry had never even considered this question.

After the people's revolution, Azimbek Beknazarov exchanged his seat in parliament for the post of prosecutor-general, then later was dismissed [as prosecutor-general]. But he ran again for a seat in parliament and again won the election. Almazbek Atabaev, leader of the Social-Democrat Party, is now the industry, trade and tourism minister. Melis Eshimkanov is a deputy in parliament. The person who really suffered is Roza Otunbaeva, but the president is not responsible for that. President Bakiev presented her candidacy to be foreign minister (immediately after the revolution of March 24 she carried out the duties of acting foreign minister) to the parliament. The deputies rejected her candidacy. Such a fate happened also to Alevtina Pronenko, who carried out the duties of acting minister of labor and social protection. Later, the well-known Otunbaeva ran for one of the vacant seats in parliament but didn't receive enough votes.

Now, as concerns constitutional reform, I have always been against a constitution for the country that is written in two or three months, and then after two or three years needs to be amended. In European countries, just the debate devoted to changes in the text of the constitution can take years. In Kyrgyzstan today variants of a new constitution are not even being considered. Paper is being wasted and they are all practicing their speaking skills, those who are not too lazy. In such a situation it is practically impossible to bring these "fathers" of the constitution to any consensus. To make haste in this situation would be to make people laugh again.

RFE/RL: The U.S. State Department recently published a report about the situation regarding human rights. In it, the department said that in Kyrgyzstan during the last year there were some improvements, but that the attitude of law-enforcement agencies toward human rights was unchanged, that these bodies use excessive force, beatings, and so on, as they did before. The International Crisis Group assessed the situation in Kyrgyzstan as unstable. Do you, as ambassador to Austria and the OSCE, agree more with the negative or positive assessment of the situation in Kyrgyzstan?

Prijivoit: The relationship of Kyrgyzstan to the OSCE since the people's revolution has been exclusively friendly. As the ambassador of an Eastern European country told me with a hint of jealousy: "if a speck of dust from your country blows this way, people will carry it in their hands." Certainly, there are moments when remarks are made about Kyrgyzstan. For example, after the publication of the [Kyrgyz] Justice Ministry's intention to check the sources of financing for nongovernmental organizations, there was criticism from several countries, members of the OSCE and Austria, on behalf of the European Union. We responded to the Permanent Council of the OSCE that the ministry had not raised this issue with colleagues. That answer was well taken put into consideration.

RFE/RL: The OSCE, together with other international organizations, called on Kyrgyz authorities not to extradite four Uzbek refugees, and their fate remains unknown. Is there any progress in the dialogue between Bishkek and the West [on this issue]?

Prijivoit: Such calls continue to now. Moreover, it is always emphasized with appreciation that Kyrgyzstan sent 439 Uzbek refugees to third countries. The official position in regard to sending or not sending the four Uzbeks will be taken after the Supreme Court puts its dot on the "i." However, the final decision of the Supreme Court of [Kyrgyzstan] to this question has not been made yet.

RFE/RL: According to our information, the number of legal and illegal migrants (factory contract workers) from Kyrgyzstan in the Czech Republic is growing every year. Some of them came to us at the radio and said that they have become an example of human trafficking, that someone in Bishkek promised them mountains of gold and they came to the Czech Republic and now live on the streets. And how in these illegal conditions they are forced to work until they are exhausted in order to earn money. Is there any work being done to help such people?

Prijivoit: In regard to citizens of Kyrgyzstan living illegally in the Czech Republic, the consul service of our government supports a plan of constant contact to offer legal help -- filling out documents, solving passport problems. In just the last six months, embassy employees have traveled to Prague twice, as it is difficult for our citizens to come to Vienna, and this was expensive for them. We are working with law-enforcement bodies in the Czech Republic if they detain one of our citizens, who was staying illegally and committed some offense. We learn their identity and help repatriate them to Kyrgyzstan. And citizens of Kyrgyzstan who [through their own will or through trickery of some firm] come to the Czech Republic illegally and find themselves without the means to live have appealed to us for help more than once during the last two years. We need to start this work, obviously. In cases where an appeal is made the embassy is prepared, with competent authorities in the Czech Republic and International Organizations on Migration, the office of which is located in Prague, to give aid to those people for their soonest return to Kyrgyzstan. But how to find those who are hiding from the law in the Czech Republic? If anyone wants to receive more information on the ability of illegal migrants from Kyrgyzstan to appeal to the embassy, tell them our number is 00431-535-03-78 or 00431-535-03-79.

(Translation by Bruce Pannier)

The Tulip Revolution

The Tulip Revolution

ONE YEAR AGO: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's archive of coverage of Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution from the beginning, including biographical sketches of the key players and photo galleries of the demonstrations.

See RFE/RL's special review of the March 2005 Kyrgyz events:

Questions Remain About March 24 'Revolution' (Part I)

Did Revolution Sow The Seeds Of Democracy? (Part II)

Was 'Revolution' A Worthy Successor To Rose And Orange? (Part III)

See also:

Reporter's Notebook -- Witness To The Uprising

THE COMPLETE KYRGYZSTAN: To view an archive of all of RFE/RL's coverage of Kyrgyzstan, click here.