“The upheavals that have taken place in Kyrgyzstan indirectly allow us to speak about the existence of regularities – the desire from democratic transformations, as a rule, slide down to authoritarian encroachments,” mentioned researcher and analyst Konstantin Larionov, in an article written specifically for CABAR.asia.
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Kyrgyzstan is experiencing the consequences of the third coup, which, like the previous ones, was accompanied by the removal of the president, as well as the resignation of the government. There are common features and common internal logic between the past coups. If in 2005 the “tulip revolution” was well planned and organized by the opposition forces (which included Bakiev, Otunbaeva, Sariev, Atambayev, Tekebaev, Beknazarov), then the events of 2010 and 2020 took place much more spontaneously and unpredictably. In addition, the events of October 2020 contributed to the seizure of power by the most enterprising political actors.
In the events of 2005, 2010, and 2020, the coming opposition united completely different political forces. This ultimately led to the fact that the goals of “revolutions” were usually not achieved, because immediately after the protesters seized the White House, the leaders of the protests began to engage in the redistribution of resources.
The upheavals that have taken place indirectly allow us to speak of the existence of regularities: the desire from democratic transformations, as a rule, slide down to authoritarian encroachments. At the same time, the increasing usurpation, until recently, was liquidated through a coup – the only effective way to rotate political elites.
Economic negative consequences
In Kyrgyzstan, an unfavorable economic situation affects social and political stability. It certainly got worse due to revolutions. Since the beginning of independence, there has been a decline in industrial production and GDP (in 1994, GDP fell to -20.1%, and in 2021 there was the most significant drop among the CIS countries – by 8.1%), an increase in the price of consumer goods, a devaluation of the national currency, mass emigration, a high level of corruption, growing external debt, violation or disregard of laws by the authorities – all these are the main problems that existed earlier and are present now, which have not yet been resolved.
Kyrgyzstan, together with Tajikistan, appeared to be the poorest in the post-Soviet space. The economic situation of the country with a crumbling branch of heavy industry rolled its development back into the pre-industrial period. Only by the beginning of 2000, the official number of unemployed and people living below the poverty line began to decline gradually.
In this vein, in 2005, according to the data of the National Statistical Committee, there were 184 thousand unemployed, in 2006 – 198 thousand, in 2010 – already 204 thousand, in 2011 – 212 thousand people. In 2019, 162.7 thousand were classified as non-working (or 6.2% of the economically active population of the country). However, after the state of emergency introduced by the authorities in the spring of 2020, the number of unemployed began to reach approximately 700 thousand people. In addition, the socio-economic situation began to deteriorate after the return of a large number of labor migrants who were left without work in other states.
The rise in prices was especially painful after April 2010, as well as at the end of 2020. According to international experts, in the south of Kyrgyzstan, after the tragic events in the summer of 2010, there were signs of a humanitarian catastrophe. In 2011, according to a study carried out by experts from the United Nations World Food Program at that time, approximately 1.4 million people experienced a lack of food and about 2 million more people were consuming poor-quality food.
In 2020, after the coup in the country, prices also quickly crept up and continue to rise even in February 2021. Of course, the most important factor was the introduction of a state of emergency and the closure of borders. However, the coup also had its negative impact on food prices. The government headed by the former acting Prime Minister Artem Novikov had to admit that it was not coping with the current situation. Former Minister of Agriculture Tilek Toktogaziev mentioned that despite the ban on the export of meat to neighboring countries, large-scale smuggling is rampant. He also pointed out that there are three to five months of stocks left in the country for certain food products.
Some experts believe that the Kyrgyz Republic, having chosen the wrong model of economic development (a kind of shock therapy, where the government’s intervention in the economy still remained), contributed to the destruction of the economic potential, which affected its further development. Enterprises and practically all industrial potential were destroyed and, in principle, was not capable of full-scale competition with foreign companies, and the economy was increasingly focused on the transit of goods from China. In addition, the service sector, light, and mining industries developed, and a fairly high level of labor migration remained.
As a result of mass migration and brain drain, the country was losing not only human capital, but also deprived of those resources that, with purposeful strategic management, could serve for the development of the state.
After each coup, processes of internal migration are observed, when residents from different regions began to move massively, hoping to improve their socio-economic situation.
A reflection of such movements was the development of the so-called adobe belt (саманный пояс) – illegally created new buildings around the capital city, which create an issue for the authorities of the capital and the nearby local self-government bodies. Self-seizure of land also affected the appearance of the capital, contributing to the spread of chaotic buildings, increasing the problems of municipal authorities. Uncontrolled migration, accompanied by violation of laws as one of the aspects of interethnic communications, poses a threat to the security of Kyrgyzstan.
With the first wave of external migration in the 1990s, it can be argued that it was mainly part of the Russian-speaking population and other ethnic groups who migrated, who are beginning to be perceived as minorities. As a result of the events of March 24, 2005, the flow of external migration outside the country increases again. After 2010, the number of migrants increased again, but now mostly from the southern regions of the country. The departure of the population from Osh, Batken and Jalal-Abad regions is due to the deteriorating interethnic, economic, and criminal situation.
It is no secret that at the end of 2020, a large number of the population has a “relocation vibe”. With the opening of borders in the spring or summer of 2021, the country will face an outflow of population. On the one hand, this will reduce the burden of the employment market, but on the other hand, it will contribute to the drainage of the economy.
The coups that took place reduced the investment attractiveness of Kyrgyzstan. During this period, the unstable situation affected the decrease in the purchasing power of the population, as well as the safety of the investors themselves. In the rating of investment attractiveness (Doing Business) Kyrgyzstan did not pose the best ranking: in 2006 – 84 place, in 2010 the country rises to 41, 2011 goes down to 44, in 2019 it slides down to 70, and in 2020 (data for October) – already in 80 out of 190 countries.
Analytical business publications have repeatedly noted that until the authorities enter the legal space, external investors will not seek to invest in the country’s economy. As a result, the situation is such that the sector of short-term foreign investments is mainly developing in the country. Few people risk investing in long-term projects. This led to the fact that lenders began to raise interest rates in the future, which imposes an additional burden on the country’s budget.
Along with the decline in investment attractiveness, there is also flight of funds. Businesses are much more interested in investing in the economies of other developing countries. Flight of funds can be observed by official figures: so, if in 2017, 724 million USD was withdrawn from the country, in 2018 – 708, then in 9 months 719 million USD was withdrawn from the country. It should also be recalled that in the first days of October 2020, the work of the SWIFT payment system was suspended in order to avoid a situation of capital withdrawal from the country. Such actions may indeed be perceived ambiguously in business circles around the world.
Going beyond the legal framework
Every coup in the country is leading to a way out of the constitutional framework. They led to short-term management collapse, the destruction of the public administration system and a decrease in its effectiveness. A distinctive feature of the two previous coups (2005 and 2010) was the desire of the new government to return to the legal framework as soon as possible. The coup that took place after October 5, 2020 demonstrates the disregard for the law by political forces. Many of the actions of the current regime can be taken out of the legal framework.
The last two coups were accompanied by a change in the constitutional foundations. In the 2010 referendum, a new constitution was adopted that proclaimed a parliamentary form of government and imposed a moratorium on changes until 2020.
Unfortunately, the adopted basic law did not serve as a factor in the development of systems of checks and balances between political actors. The President, as before, exerted a decisive influence on parliament and government.
However, despite this, in 2016, Atambayev initiated and adopted amendments that further reduced the significance of the basic law of the state. The negative practice of ignoring the principles established by law as a result led to the erosion and reduction of legal consciousness.
After the events of 2020 and the decision to hold a referendum, the country chose the path of developing authoritarianism. The referendum held on January 10, which can be assessed as valid, demonstrates the fatigue of the population from the emerging events and the relinquishment of responsibility for the future of the country.
According to Marat Ukushov, none of the adopted Constitutions was fully implemented due to the fact that its norms were not specified in the laws. This problem also concerns the post-revolutionary draft constitution. As the analysis of the history of constitutional referendums shows, the less often the constitution changes in the state, the more stability it has.
After each coup in the country, issues related to the interethnic situation were complicated. As a rule, the achievements of the so-called non-titular ethnic groups were erased from the historical memory, and with it their significance in the development of the republic. These processes, by the way, were inherent in the entire post-Soviet space. Hence, over time, differences between ethnic groups increased over their participation and representation in social and political life.
After the first coup, the situation in the republic was complicated in many respects by outbursts of violence based on interethnic hostility. Thus, in early February 2006, in the village of Iskra, located 70 km from Bishkek, clashes broke out between representatives of various ethnic groups. There were also registered cases of violent actions directed against the communities of Meskhetian Turks, Uighurs and Kurds.
At the same time, there is an increase in activity among the Uzbek ethnos in the south of the country. Particularly acute disagreements began to form on the basis of political speeches by the former leader of the Uzbek communities, Kadyrzhan Batyrov. Batyrov advocated giving the Uzbek language the status of a second state language, opening Uzbek schools, increasing the role of the Uzbek ethnic group in local self-government, with a high number of Uzbeks, and so on. This caused a painful reaction from some politicians and activists, who perceived such statements as hostile.
Under the Bakiyev regime, practically no effective and efficient measures were taken to unite the multiethnic community. As noted by some political scientists, from 2006 to 2010, there was a growth of regionalism, and the growing corruption contributed to the intensification of interethnic contradictions. Following the tragic events of June 2010, ethnic minorities were expelled from leadership positions. The Osh events prompted migration from the southern regions and the titular population: citizens sought to move to a more stable north. This led to a decrease in the civilian population in Osh, Batken and Jalal-Abad oblasts.
Internal migration to the economically more developed Chui oblast and Bishkek began to exacerbate contradictions over limited resources. Here, a division began to form according to the characteristics: urban-rural, newcomer-indigenous, and so on.
Losses from instability in the country
The state suffered social, political, economic and image damage from the coups. Each coup was accompanied by a redistribution of property and the resignation of the government. The financial losses were also quite large. According to the estimates of the Provisional Government of Kyrgyzstan, in 2010 alone, it took several years and up to 1 billion USD to restore the affected cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad. With regard to the consequences of October 2020, according to some expert estimates, Kyrgyzstan suffered about 104 million USD of damage.
A difficult situation was also observed in relations with neighboring states. During the coups of 2005 and 2010, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and China closed their borders to Kyrgyzstan. International organizations and countries were concerned about the situation in Kyrgyzstan and decided to suspend the allocation of funds for solving state problems. The latest coup has had a negative impact on the locomotive of the Kyrgyz economy – the mining industry. Image costs at the foreign policy level made it possible to predict a decrease in the flow of funds and other resources, which may further reduce the rate of economic growth and the welfare of the population.
Today, the strengthening of authoritarian tendencies, and the destruction of state institutions of power create a complex and unstable situation with unpredictable consequences. The destruction of the systems of checks and balances, the transfer of responsibility for the decisions made to the head of state lays the foundation for political conflicts. Internal actors engaged in resource sharing actually strengthen quasi-public education. Under these conditions, it will be extremely difficult for Kyrgyzstan to realize its identity.
The authorities of Kyrgyzstan have to do a lot of work on the formation and development of the economic model, state building, nation building and so on. Moreover, the state will have to realize itself as a subject of political relations, taking responsibility for the decisions it makes. It is necessary to comprehend the essence of the cycles of instability and upheavals taking place in the republic. Otherwise, we run the risk of going our own way of our becoming by falling into old traps.
This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or the donor.
 In Kyrgyzstan, 1.4 million residents experience food shortages // IA 24kg? April 05, 2011, (link to the news: https://24.kg/archive/ru/parlament/97022-v-kyrgyzstane-14-milliona-zhitelej-ispytyvayut.html/)
 Murat Ukushov: The source of the current crises in Kyrgyzstan is not the current Constitution, but the “human factor” // IA 24kg, May 13, 2011 (link to source: https://24.kg/archive/ru/politic/ 100017-murat-ukushov-istochnikom-nyneshnix-krizisov-v.html/)
 “Rollback 25 years ago.” In Kyrgyzstan, the economy is falling, as in the 90s // IA Kaktus-Media, November 28, 2020 (link to the news: https://kaktus.media/doc/425807_otkat_na_25_let_nazad._v_kyrgyzstane_ekonomika_padaet_kak_v_90_h.html)