13 April 2006

Roza Otunbaeva, the Soviet School System, and What Bakiev Should Do

Another interesting discussion with the students yesterday. I can't call them law students anymore because there are usually students from at least two or three different universities. Some come every week and listen quietly, others talk a lot and have many questions. And I always have a few questions of my own.

They laughed when I asked if another revolution was imminent. While there were rumors to that effect a few months ago, they do not see a revolution coming now. These are students from every part of the country with differing opinions on Bakiev. Some attended Saturday's protests, others stormed the White House in the revolution and are now disillusioned, and others think Bakiev is a good leader. Things aren't going well certainly, but it seems that few people think a revolution is the way to go, since things didn't turn out well with the last one. Things may fall apart in other ways, but a [relatively] popular revolution isn't likely.

I've asked them before who they wish the president was instead of Bakiev and they've always said there really isn't anyone who would be much better. But yesterday when I asked specifically about Roza Otunbaeva (a major opposition leader who played a significant role in the revolution; she also was a foreign minister under Akaev and is generally respected internationally), I was surprised by the positive response. Some of the students, especially from the south, weren't very familiar with her, but most thought she would make a good president because she is strong and has good ideas about policy. She did want to run for president last summer, but when Bakiev and Kulov decided to run together, she knew there wasn't much hope.

I also asked about Beknazarov (a current member of Parliament who was fired last fall as the prosecutor-general; he was seriously injured in a car accident last week and it's hard to find more than statements of "his health is satisfactory"). This time, the students from the north didn't know much about him and the students from the south were reasonably positive about him, although they don't think he is well educated. They seem to see him more as a popular man than an excellent leader.

I do wish now that I had asked about Edil Baisalov. He is the head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society and was a major organizer of Saturday's demonstration in favor of the rule of law and against letting Ryspek into Parliament. He also has a blog (in Russian). He was seriously injured yesterday evening, possibly shot in the head. He is alive, but obviously not feeling too perky. I'm not sure the students would have known a lot about him, but one did go to the demonstration on Saturday.

There was quite a bit of concern before Saturday about that demonstration. There were some efforts to ban demonstrations entirely, or to limit the places where they could be held. One of the students yesterday said he thought demonstrations promoted instability (and they certainly have here in Kyrgyzstan), but I pointed out that this demonstration didn't and that it is important to let people demonstrate. Certainly there can be rules about where you can demonstrate, and certainly violent demonstrations should be stopped, but trying to eliminate all demonstrations isn't the way to go. I was pleased that the Bishkek city council ruled that demonstrations are fine and allowed Saturday's to go ahead.

We also talked about education in Kyrgyzstan. One student who has in the past said she has never bribed a teacher (and was rightly proud of the fact) said that she has now had to bribe math teachers to pass her required math classes in law school. I told them that math classes are required in universities in the US (they seemed to think US students didn't have any required classes), but I would be interested to see what level of math they are required to get to in the university- if it's higher than what US students are required to do.

I asked them what they wish Bakiev would do to help the country. The general consensus is that he has no vision and no plan. They'd like to see him promote manufacturing, get rid of all of Akaev's cronies still left in the government, put some younger people into government, and start on some of the reforms he promised.

I asked what they could do (besides wait- maybe in 20 or 30 years things will improve). They said to study hard, try to stop corruption in the school, and work together.

Personally, I think student efforts to stop corruption in the universities would be valuable. It's likely to take a generation that sees the crippling effects of corruption to stop it at government levels, and starting with university students could help.

As always, a fascinating few hours and talking to them really does give me hope for the future of this country.

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