Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 13

Dismissing the idea of an “orange revolution” in Uzbekistan , President Islam Karimov said in a rare interview printed in the Russian news daily Nezavisimaya gazeta on Friday (January 14) that foreign influence would play no role in Uzbekistan because, “Foreign interference is effective only when the country has allowed conditions to be created for it.” The Uzbek leader said that the potential for public protest only exists when government fails in promoting socio-economic progress over a long period of time.

Responding to a question about frequent assertions in the Russian press that Western influence played an important role in Georgia ‘s 2003 Rose Revolution and Ukraine ‘s 2004 Orange Revolution, Karimov discounted the idea of outside influence. “Neither America nor Europe is in a position to control events if the population of the country itself has not exhausted its patience and is thirsting for change,” Karimov said. An orange or rose scenario “is not possible” in Uzbekistan , Karimov said, because the country did not consist of a “gray silent majority” but of people who took pride in their country. Karimov stressed that Uzbekistan set out on a course to build a democratic society in the early 1990s and remained on that course. But Karimov cautioned, “Every country must follow its own path.”

In the interview Karimov acknowledged that there are contemporary pressures for countries to adopt democratic processes, sometimes even under duress. He noted that efforts to address what he called “a deficit of democracy” through external democracy promotion were associated with the idea of a “velvet revolution,” a situation in which an aging leadership is ushered out of power in way that avoids open conflict and bloodshed.

Karimov said the government was actively engaged in preventing the conditions that could lead to instability in Uzbekistan . He cited the influence of non-governmental institutions that claimed to have humanitarian goals but were in reality focused on undermining the government. Karimov said, “We are now actively researching these organizations and the sources of their financing to determine whether their real purpose is to foster a ‘colored’ revolution.”

Karimov called attention to the situation in neighboring Kyrgyzstan , where over the previous week, some demonstrators had called for the resignation of President Askar Akayev. Karimov said that Akayev had publicly announced that financial resources from Western sources were financing Kyrgyzstan ‘s anti-government demonstrators. The Kyrgyz press reported that Akayev had made speeches in Kyrgyzstan’s southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad on January 12 and 13, 2005, in which he attributed the financial support of the political opposition to funding from philanthropist-financier George Soros and called upon the public to not support the “orange plague” (Gazeta.kg, January 15). Akayev called for national unity in Kyrgyzstan to avoid the fate of the former Yugoslavia , a country that Akayev claimed fell prey to regional divisions and divisive politics (Vremya novostei, January 12).

This is a particularly resonant appeal in Kyrgyzstan , a country that is divided by geography into the northern and southern regions. It is also an appeal that appears to open the first exchanges in the presidential election scheduled for October 2005. Akayev may be blocked from running for the post of president unless a constitutional amendment permits him to run for a third term.

The possibility of a constitutional amendment is adding to the importance of the parliamentary elections scheduled for February 27, 2005. The new parliament would be called upon to act on any proposed constitutional amendments. According to Kyrgyz election law, formal campaigning for the parliamentary elections cannot begin until February 2, 2005, but the various factions are already positioning themselves for the campaign.

In the past, Akayev’s reputation as a paternalistic, intellectual, pro-democratic reformer has sustained his political career. But Akayev’s political position has weakened as well known and influential political leaders have left the president’s camp in order to join the opposition in recent years. One of the most visible of these is Roza Otunbayeva, former minister of foreign affairs and former ambassador to the United States and Canada . Otunbayeva was for a period blocked from registering for a seat in the February parliamentary elections, but just last week won the right to appear on the ballot. Otunbayeva, the leader of the political movement “Ata-Zhurt,” has become one of the leading intellectual forces in the popular demonstrations that started in Bishkek last week.

The outcome of Kyrgyzstan ‘s February elections will be closely watched in Uzbekistan , as Uzbek leaders strive to prevent the conditions that would lead to popular protest. Parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan took place without political incident on December 26, 2004. Elections for the post of Uzbek president were originally scheduled for 2005, but a popular referendum in January 2002 extended Karimov’s current term until 2007.