Why Kyrgyzstan Said: "Yankee, Go Home!"

by Z*

When once in a decade, my dad argues something, banging in a Khruschev fashion his fists on a dinner table, my mom — the negotiator — never stops him. She lets him remind our tiny family who the boss is. Even if the point of discussion is his 20-something-year-old daughter going out with a group of friends.

And with this image in my head, I’m digesting the news from Kyrgyzstan from this past week.

Even the shallowest news reader knows that Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced that Kyrgyzstan will close the U.S. air base at Manas International Airport. There are several questions around this issue dominating the mainstream media: What does Russia have to do with this? How will it affect the ongoing war in Afghanistan? Is this the beginning of a renewed imperialist conflict over Central Asia?

Who really knows what happened that day in Moscow when Bakiyev officially cut the cord with the U.S. Not even Bakiyev knows, because if he knew he probably would have done it differently. He would have announced it a week before he received a generous financial aid package from Russia. Or he would have sent the news from a less obvious spot than the Russian capital.

Instead, a week before his Moscow announcement, Bakiyev appeared on national television for the annual address to the people of Kyrgyzstan. In his address — which some critics perceived as written on the same level as a “pathetic middle school student’s essay”
Bakiyev promised that with the support of the Kyrgyz people the country will make some real changes in 2009.

And lo and behold, the prez got real in a week with what he called his “thoughtful and not spontaneous” decision to kick out the Americans with their miserable yearly $150 million (including $64 million for rent) contribution to the Kyrgyz economy, their contributions to the fight for security in the region, and despite the fact they improved the infrastructure at Manas (which is located not far from the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek). Yankee, go home! (A curious observation: in the Commonwealth of Independent States even those who don’t speak English know the phrase.)

Rather than behaving like a mature, elected, perhaps even democratic, diplomat, Bakiyev chose to be an unpredictable, mysterious (and, of course, significant) politician. Taking Americans by surprise with his bold unilateral decision secured him global headlines. Now those hateful critics at home who didn’t like his national address can suck it. The Kyrgyz Security Council spokesperson’s official statement only proves the president’s sad attempt to remind that, yes, Kyrgyzstan is a real country, and that it has a say on the global stage: “It is pleasing when the head of the state plays a key role in international affairs.”

Well, what pleases the Kyrgyz Security Council embarrasses the Kyrgyz people while intoxicating the Russians. To some people it seems obvious that Kyrgyzstan faced the dilemma: the West or Russia? To others, the dilemma seems to be different: money or much more money? And about everyone else thinks that no matter what the dilemma was, the decision is certainly now Russia’s win. But in this region, one has to be mindful of the logic: “my win is someone else’s loss.” Unfortunately, in this ridiculous gamble, everyone has lost; it is a loss for humanity. Letting politics take over sound policy is selfish and ignorant.

Bakiyev and everyone else in this political mess should try to explain to the people of Afghanistan that their lack of a normal secure life is a product of the Soviet complex. The inferiority complex is that if you don’t bang your shoe on the table no one is going to listen to you.

Postscript: I’m not discussing how Americans messed up this region because that is now history. Now is the time to clean it all up with everyone’s help.

*Z is from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home from the U.S., so she writes under a pseudonym.

(For more background on Russian imperialism, please see: "Russia & Europe: A History Lesson." For more background on the Afghan War, please see the short series: "The U.S. in Afghanistan & What the Afghans Want.")

(The photo of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of Kyrgystan is from the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office in the Kremlin and released in 2006; the photo is in the public domain.)

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Turk said...

Similar to the Uzbeks kicking us out in 2006, this move reeks of a shift back towards Moscow for post-Soviet Central Asia. The entire region has been sliding that way since the Andijon massacre, in my opinion. Bush's cowboy mentality was not nuanced enough to strike the appropriate balance of carrot and stick when dealing with CA, so let's hope Obama spends a little more effort negotiating with these crucial and too-often ignored states.

Z said...

Some countries never really turned their backs on Moscow, its presence has always been quite strong (of course not immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a bit later). It's just that before 2006 no one really had paid attention to that part of the world. And still don't, which is pretty clear from the last week's events.
We'll see what kind of deal the Obama administration can offer the 'stan' region.

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