Unfortunately the only time many people hear about Kyrgyzstan is in relation to political upheaval – but I suppose that is what happens when a country of five million people has two revolutions in five years.
In 2005 the Tulip Revolution ousted recently elected Askar Akayev and ushered in 5 years of Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s leadership. This past summer civil unrest resulted in the unseating of ex-President Bakiyev. Causes of the unrest are disputed, although significant increases in state controlled energy tariffs, spiraling food costs, as well as rampant rumors of international interference each probably play some part.
Bakiyev was brought in to counter rampant corruption during Askayev’s regime. One of the most common indices used to measure corruption is Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (www.transparency.org):
- In 2005, when Bakiyev was elected, Kyrgyzstan ranked as 28th most corrupt out of the 158 countries being ranked
- In 2010, when Bakiyev was forcibly removed from office, Kyrgyzstan ranked as the 14th most corrupt country out of the 178 countries being ranked
It is clear that there were no drastic wins in the fight against corruption. I should say that besides an attempted shake down by a drunken policeman the first day I got here, I personally have not experienced any direct corruption during my 2 months living in Bishkek. However, there is an exhaustion that comes up whenever I bring these problems up with local friends and colleagues. This is the first time that I have lived in a place that has this level of corruption and dealing with it on a daily basis, or at least the prospect of dealing with it, is an exhausting proposition.
Amazingly, amid the huge swings in consumer prices (a recent World Bank study estimates close to 60% increases in food prices since 2007), an unstable political atmosphere, and a culture of corruption, lenders here in Kyrgyzstan continue to repay their loans at admirable rates. Some credit for these rates can surely be attributed to an almost 75% increase in remittances since 2007 (see the same World Bank study), but there is something more. While I cannot place any statistic to it, anecdotally it is clear as rain - the everyday Kyrgyz citizen is working as hard as he or she can to raise Kyrgyzstan out of past and current problems. The inset video shows some of the destruction left from last summer’s rioting. What it does not shown are the hundreds of homes and businesses that have been rebuilt as the people of Kyrgyzstan rebuild their lives.
Look out for a post after the new year discussing my observations regarding development in Central Asian post-soviet countries…until then have a great New Year!