BISHKEK. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov.) Kyrgyzstan has made a fresh attempt to become a secular, democratic country with a market economy, in line with the Western model, while still retaining traditional Asian features.
Its main challenge now is to achieve these goals without causing deep social shocks or provoking the people into taking radical steps, as has happened in the recent past.
The future of Kyrgyzstan hinges on the alliance between President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Prime Minister Felix Kulov, who won the July 2005 presidential election. The majority of local politicians and businessmen say that this alliance offers the best chances of painlessly restoring stability and preventing escalation of social and clan tensions and the worsening of inter-regional problems (north - south), which could endanger the republic's territorial integrity.
The main task of Bakiyev and Kulov, which everyone expects them to tackle as a priority, is to revive the deeply troubled economy and finally reverse economic stagnation. The country's stability and national security will to a large extent depend on the success of economic policies. However, this is not an easy task.
There is rampant unemployment in the republic and the average monthly salary is just 200-250 rubles ($7.02-$8.78, or �5.71-�7.14). Former doctors, lawyers, lecturers and engineers, who had been the elite of Kyrgyzstan in Soviet times, receive pensions of less than $20, of which most is eaten up by accommodation costs. Over half of the population is living below the poverty line and GDP is growing by no more than 4%.
There are several foreign policy factors that could have a serious impact on the domestic situation.
Kyrgyzstan is bankrupt, with foreign debts accounting for 70% of GDP. In this situation, the Kyrgyz government cannot afford to pursue a policy that disregards the great powers and neighboring states. The key players in Central Asia are China, Russia and the United States. Experts say these countries have embarked on "a serious game" to assert their interests. Now Kazakhstan is entering the game as another serious contender.
Each of the four states has its own interests in Kyrgyzstan and its own aces. China and Kazakhstan are exploiting their positions as direct neighbors to pursue a policy of creeping economic expansion. This is a long process that is usually based on mutual trade and economic interests.
The U.S. has no choice but to participate in this "game," as the situation in Afghanistan and relations with Iran demand its presence in the region. But the president of Uzbekistan recently called the American presence into question by demanding the withdrawal of the American base from its territory in accordance with the declaration of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which asked Washington to set a date for its withdrawal from Central Asia. The U.S., which is Kyrgyzstan's main foreign creditor, promptly doubled payment for its military base in the republic. Pentagon head Donald Rumsfeld promised the new Kyrgyz authorities an additional $10 million for the fight against Islamic radicals, about whom Bishkek is supposedly "very concerned."
Russia is remaining fairly aloof. Local politicians and experts say that for the time being Moscow is nonetheless managing to preserve its leading position in Kyrgyzstan, but that this is largely thanks to historical factors. This situation cannot last forever.
Other countries will move in to take advantage of opportunities in the republic. For example, Turkey has already opened two Turkish universities in Bishkek (one of which is in the same building as the Institute of Russian Language and Culture), and a chain of Turkish schools where children are taught Islam and the history of Turkic nations, and also a number of hotels. In addition, it is building a giant retail and entertainment center and many small, cozy cafes.
But why is there little evidence of Russian enterprise? Where is the Russian Trade House, which Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has promised to build? Or does Moscow think that it can return to Kyrgyzstan any time it wants because it is so loved by the Kyrgyz people? If it does think this, and it seems that it does, it is mistaken.
Kyrgyzstan's first attempt to promote democracy and a market economy has completely failed. During the 15 years of the experiment, the republic, which was economically self-sufficient in the 1980s, when it was still part of the Soviet Union, has slid into default. All of the Central Asian republics experienced difficult times in the years following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The situation has stabilized now, but not to such an extent that Kyrgyzstan could survive without the American presence, for which it is paid so handsomely.