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Kyrgyzstan: The Bittersweet Fruits Of The Revolution

Did the events of March 2005, dubbed the Tulip Revolution, change anything in Kyrgyzstan? (AFP) This is the first year Kyrgyzstan is officially marking People's Revolution Day to commemorate March 24, 2005, when widespread demonstrations chased President Askar Akaev from office. It was an emotional time and the event still evokes strong emotions when people talk about it.

But was it a revolution, as so many Kyrgyz people and the government say? Roza Otunbaeva, a former foreign minister and now a leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, says that there was a revolt against the old order.

"A big historical event always has some contradictions in it. On March 24, people genuinely revolted. That was a real revolution. People were fed up with corruption, with injustice," she tells RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

"And people said, 'we want to follow the constitution.' It was written in the constitution that the president can be elected for two terms only, but Askar Akaev violated that constitution, and lots of his assistants helped him," Otunbaeva adds. "The Constitutional Court let him be elected for a third term. But when he was going for a fourth term, people stood up and revolted."

Otunbaeva is one of many political figures in Kyrgyzstan who is adamant that there was a revolution, and she adds that the revolution did not end in 2005, but that it continues today. She says Akaev may be gone, but the man who replaced him, current President Kurmanbek Bakiev, is not much better.

"This day will be marked in Kyrgyz history. But our revolution, our victory, was stolen," she says. "We witnessed only how one clan was changed for another one. When we were discussing [in parliament] whether we should celebrate this day or not, I said that the revolution is still ongoing. Those people who wanted to arrest us [in 2005], who became very rich under Akaev's regime, they are still here [around Bakiev now]. But those who made this revolution are left on the streets. That's why they are all disappointed."

Has Anything Really Changed?

And that is a debate that has been going on since 2005. But what evidence can be offered to support whether the Tulip Revolution, as it was called, was actually a revolution?

Presidential spokesman Nurlan Shakiev says that it was a revolution, and that there were some changes. "I can say that all the demands of that revolution are almost fulfilled by now," he says. "Because, first of all, the regime was changed. That was the first demand. And second was constitutional reform. It didn't happen immediately, as the revolution demanded, but in 2007 we adopted a new constitution though a national referendum."

Shakiev adds that the third change was "a struggle against corruption. This struggle is already yielding its first results. To prove this, we can say that if in 2005 Kyrgyzstan's budget was about 18 billion soms [more than $500 million], now we have almost 2 1/2 times more, about 50 billion soms in our budget."

Meder Usonov was a protest leader in the southern Jalal-Abad province in March 2005. He says Kyrgyzstan and its people gained nothing after March 2005, so the events of that time are not a revolution as much as the government running away.

"Not a single demand of the people has been realized," he says. "Our demand was do not sell our land, do not violate the people's rights. We demanded that the parliament dissolve parliament, but it was dissolved only after three years and after big scandals. [Bakiev's] government traveled a very rough road; some people say it was easy, that the old regime just fled. We are now celebrating March 24 as a holiday. It's shameful, because on that day the Kyrgyz authorities ran away from the country, and it's a shame for our republic."

Only Raising Expectations

It seems impossible for everyone to agree on the events of three years ago. But some basic details may help, given that a revolution usually brings major changes following the ouster of the old regime.

Gala celebration in Bishkek on March 24 (RFE/RL)

The parliamentary elections held in December 2007 resulted in an overwhelming victory for the party that President Bakiev helped create, the Ak Jol Party, two months before. It marked the first time Kyrgyzstan has ever had a president's ruling party in parliament. Some see that as a negative development.

But among the new deputies in parliament, nearly one-third are women, which most regard as progress in terms of gender equality. There were no women in the previous parliament.

Despite the publicized battle against corruption, scandals involving government officials still surface, and opposition groups have also pointed out that President Bakiev's relatives either have received state jobs or are enjoying great success in their business activities. Such nepotism also existed in the Akaev-era government, though to a much greater degree.

Presidential spokesman Shakiev notes some economic progress in Kyrgyzstan, but for most Kyrgyz the economic situation has hardly improved. The average wage is about $40 per month and many thousands of Kyrgyz workers have gone to Russia, Kazakhstan, and Europe as migrant workers.

The energy situation has also not improved much -- the country's vast hydroelectric resources are still underdeveloped and electricity shortages occur during the winter months, as power rationing recently hit the capital, Bishkek.

In terms of foreign policy, the last three years have seen little substantial change. Russia is still Kyrgyzstan's main ally and trading partner and Kyrgyzstan's relations with other world powers are much the same. The biggest change is the suspicion with which its immediate neighbors now view Kyrgyzstan, since the authoritarian rulers in the other Central Asian states do not want to see any kind of similar people's revolution in their countries.

It's easy to see why many people inside and outside Kyrgyzstan view the events of March 24, 2005, with mixed emotions. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that popular discontent led people in Kyrgyzstan to rise up against the president, who the people saw as standing in the way of progress and greater democracy.

But despite the new government making improvements in some areas, the high expectations of the Kyrgyz people after the events of March 24, 2005, are far from being met.

Venera Djumataeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report

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