Publication: Prism Volume: 6 Issue: 10

By Sadji


Until August 1999–that is, before the incursion by guerrillas from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (Russian abbreviation IDU) over the southern borders of Kyrgyzstan–life in the republic moved at a measured and tranquil pace, despite the fact that the socioeconomic situation in the country was continuously deteriorating because of the ineffective implementation of market reforms. After bankrupt factories and organizations were closed, most of the population of working age took to trading. This is why the republic’s capital, Bishkek, is now reminiscent of a huge marketplace, where people converge from every corner of the country. On the one hand, the innumerable markets help a certain section of the population to survive in tough market conditions. In this way, trade has been alleviating socioeconomic tension to a considerable extent for the last nine years. On the other hand, at the same time the markets are highly explosive places. The deputy minister for national security, U. Chinalev, admitted as much at a government meeting in September last year. At the time he suggested that the Bishkek authorities should take tough steps against those owners and managers of markets whose exorbitant fees for a market stall provoke people into spontaneous demonstrations against the authorities. It must be said that the deputy minister’s warning is not without foundation. In the last few years there have been several riots at large markets such as Osh and Alamedinsky. On those occasions the city authorities managed to quell the riots.

In addition to this, everyone still remembers the spontaneous demonstration by the people of the capital in 1997, in which local police stations were ransacked and burnt down. That riot could only be put down by using troops. It started at the capital’s central market, and erupted out of a very insignificant incident. Two drunken soldiers were arrested by the police on duty at the market. One of the soldiers appealed to the buyers and sellers for help. Everybody at the market rushed to soldiers’ defense and gave the policemen a beating. Then the discontent of the crowd spilled into the streets of the capital. The representatives of the local authorities remember these events and, while displaying administrative zeal, at the same time they try not to aggravate the market and street traders.

It may be said that until the attack by the Islamic fighters, President Akaev’s regime governed according to Leon Trotsky’s slogan: “Neither war nor peace disband the army.” The army was indeed on the brink of being disbanded. In 1993-94, under pretext of writing off obsolete weapons, Ministry of Defense chiefs sold off military aircraft and small arms to neighboring states. Having lined their pockets doing that, the military leaders lobbied in parliament and the government for the idea that the republic did not need an army. In this absurd way these high-ranking soldiers attempted to conceal their illegal activities. And whenever it could the government tried to withhold funding for the army. As a result the army eked out a meager existence: Soldiers went hungry, officers went for months on end without receiving their pitiful wages. The unexpected raid on the southern borders by IDU fighters dramatically altered the fate of the army. From last year the republic’s leaders began paying it much more attention.

What are the potential repercussions of strengthening the military oligarchy?

After the IDU fighters were pushed out of southern Kyrgyzstan last year, the government began responding quickly to the army’s financial requests. This year, for example, during a month of armed clashes with the fighters, the ministry of defense was allocated 400 million som (US$8 million) in addition to the funds already budgeted for the army. On the one hand, this efficiency on the part of the government is commendable. But on the other hand, there are some factors which give grounds for caution.

There are currently about 4,000 soldiers concentrated in the south of the republic. Most of them are serving on a contractual basis. They are paid 1500 som a month (about US$30). The daily food ration for one soldier costs 26 som.