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Toktayim Umetaliyeva: “They are creating breeding ground for conflicts and shocks in Kyrgyzstan”

Toktayim Umetaliyeva

The political voice of the population traditionally increases in Kyrgyzstan each time as spring comes. On March 24, the opposition will hold kurultai (mass assembly) in Osh. What may this meeting result in and what has prompted the current wave of public discontent? Read about these and other problems of the present-day Kyrgyzstan in EADaily’s interview with Toktayim Umetaliyeva, a leading human rights defender, three-times presidential contender in Kyrgyzstan.

Who will be participating in the kurultai in Osh? What are the goals and tasks of the organizers?

The kurultai is initiated by the united opposition comprising well-known retired politicians, such as Adakhan Madumarov, Akhmatbek Keldibekov, Ravshan Jeenbekov. We have not yet learned what goals and tasks the oppositionists have. According to some politicians, particularly, Azimbek Beknazarov, social issues will be discussed at the kurultai. They will surely discuss the growing prices of energy resources, and the incumbent government’s failure to implement anti-crisis programs. Participants in the kurultai may urge dissolution of the parliament or address the transparency of the past elections.

Will this kurultai grow into another outbreak of unrest, considering that many groups of the population in mountain regions were deprived of their benefits while wage arrears in state-run companies have been taking place more often?

Well, there are both political, social and legal problems coupled with preconditions for such outbreak. The passions run high, as arrears of wages increase, benefits and pensions are being delayed. Socially vulnerable groups of population are facing even more difficulties. The life has become very hard especially for residents of rural areas that have no enterprises. Unlike big towns, social infrastructures are less developed in rural areas and people exist on the government benefits only. The corrupt judiciary and police make the situation even more stressful. The low qualification of the local bailiffs and operational staff amid high crime rate is a big problem for the country. During the last 1.5 year, more than 20 people were killed under pretext of the fight against terrorism. Some families have even lost by two persons.

Tortures are applied during initial investigation. The professional skills government officials are worsening with every year, which is a common problem in Kyrgyzstan. The continuous, almost yearly government reshuffle has shattered the fundamentals of the government… Yet I do not think the kurultai in Osh will spark public unrest, but it will increase the current tensions anyway.

The economic crisis and sanctions against Russia have affected Kyrgyzstan’s economy too. Earlier this month, President Almazbek Atambayev arrived in Moscow and met with Vladimir Putin. Some experts supposed that Atambayev arrived to ask for money. These views appear to be substantiated, as Minister of Economy Aleksey Ulyukayev was present at the meeting. However, no statements on the given issue were made during the meeting. What was the goal of Atambayev’s visit to Moscow?

I think it was an attempt to relieve the tensions after the Kyrgyz side denounced the agreement with Russia on construction of the Kambar-Ata-1 Hydro Power Plant and made some spontaneous and in some cases even demonstrative actions and decisions on geopolitical issues. I am speaking about the agreements to open industrial zones for Turkish businesspersons in Kyrgyzstan almost immediately after denouncement of the above agreement that has seriously affected the confidence and stability of the relations in both bilateral format and within the Eurasian Economic Union.

What are the pros and cons of Kyrgyzstan’s first year of the EEU membership?

There are many hopes, but there are frustrations too. For instance, the problems in the transport field and border search have not been settled yet. The Kyrgyz producers proved non-competitive. After the Khorgos customs post was opened – all the cargoes to Kazakhastan are transported through it – and after the customs fees have been increased (on external borders), the largest wholesale market in the region - Dordoi – with more than 350,000 workplaces has come to a standstill. This prompted a new wave of migration of the reproductive part of the population. Anticipating price hikes in the car market in the new integration union, representatives of the small and medium-sized enterprises purchased cars for resale, but the prices fell dramatically and people suffered big losses.

Of course, there are pros too. A new sales market for the agricultural and other products has opened, though de-jure, so far. The Kyrgyz migrants have received a right of free movement and employment in Russia and Kazakhstan. The Russian-Kyrgyz Investment Fund operates, though with problems. Kyrgyzstan now has a permission to export meat and dairy products to the EEU markets subject to the existence of all the necessary documents. We are anticipating an increase in the commodity turnover in general.

This year Kyrgyzstan will commemorate the centennial of the rebellion of 1916. There is still no single historical assessment of those tragic events, and some politicians even gamble on the matter. What do you think about it?

It is no secret that memorable dates connected with inter-ethnic clashes have always been used by both foreign and domestic opposing forces. This problem has become pressing again. For instance, March 2005 (overthrow of president Askar Akayev), April 2010 (overthrow of president Kurmanbek Bakiyev), June 2010 (inter-ethnic clashes in Osh between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek) coincided with the 15th and 20th anniversaries of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek conflict. The forces that seek to destabilize the situation in our region will sure “keep busy” their emissaries. There are already signs of such activity. For instance, they say about 500,000 Kyrgyz were killed then – it is an extremely exaggerated figure. Such “discussions” coupled with the growing influence of various religious currents may create a breeding ground for conflicts and shocks. Therefore, much depends on wisdom, true, not false, patriotism of politicians and the leadership of the country.

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