KABUL, Afghanistan—To those who claim that democracy is a western concept without roots in Central Asia, take another look at Kyrgyzstan. The upsurge has been bloody, ugly, unpredictable, and it is too early to tell whether the outcome a year from now will be an improvement, but this was a home-grown affair. The Kyrgyz don’t need any help knowing when they have had enough abuse from a pudgy thug posing as their leader.
Democracy doesn’t need to be taught or imposed. It is a social impulse that rises to the surface of virtually every culture because some members want control over our lives, they want a say in how their schools and hospitals are run, how governments operate, how taxes are spent, and how to improve their wages and working conditions. This is not a western concept, this is a human desire that exists in Iran, China, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and everywhere else on the planet.
If the democratic desire can be constructively harnessed, it offers the hope of moving mountains. But most often, regardless of where it surfaces, the democratic impulse is beaten into submission by the state, established religions and other bastions of conservative tyranny that fear the very people they claim to represent. For every society with a democratic tradition, there is a history of activists and organizers who were pressured, intimidated and abused. Those who refused to conform were all too often killed, hospitalized, imprisoned, or disappeared. But the democratic impulse doesn’t die or go away.
If there are no formal or informal structures through which average people have some opportunity to exercise control over the quality of their lives and their loved ones, the impulse will find some other way to express itself. If it is continually suppressed, then frustration, anger and hatred can build to explosive levels and the quest for justice can be easily misdirected or manipulated by demagogues into a mad scramble for vengeance.
Without absolving anyone of their personal responsibility for their actions, the chief cause of the tragic violence that occurred in Kyrgyzstan was the corrupt, authoritarian regime of Kurmankek Bakiev, the deposed president now isolated in Belarus. He plundered the economy for the benefit of his family while ignoring the most basic needs of his poor countrymen and women. When he tired of their legitimate demands for openness, political participation and democracy, Bakiev unleashed his goons and terrorized the brave. It is the denial of democracy, not its pursuit, which produces rivers of bloods.
(And for those who believe that U.S. was behind this regime change, think again, because the U.S. quit caring about Kyrgyz democracy long before it regained the lease on its precious military airbase.}