19 April 2006

Stability Over Free Speech

I started off by asking the students about clans in Kyrgyzstan. Based on their answers, I'd say clan influence is on the decline here. I asked what clans all the Kyrgyz students were from and where I could get more information. There isn't much written about the clans in English. We also talked about the different ideas on the symbolism of the Kyrgyzstan flag.

Then I asked about Bakiev's demand that government employees not criticize the government. The students seemed a bit closed-mouth of this point (I've rarely felt that way with them), but nearly all said that they support Bakiev's decision. One student who has attended and plan to attend opposition demonstrations was very supportive of Bakiev. He said, "If there is a choice between free speech and stability and order, we will always choose stability." Only one student expressed concern about the order.

I had been interested to ask them about this because we have heard rumors that this decree has filtered down to the universities. We've heard that students have been called to meetings with Bakiev where they were told that criticism of the government in the universities would not be tolerated. Either the students have gotten a lot more supportive of Bakiev in the past week, or the rumors we've heard are true.

I asked about Edil Baisalov (he's blogging again as of today and sounds quite perky) and they were very positive about him. He attended the AUCU and also has a master degree from the National University which give him a good academic reputation. They admired his lack of fear of Ryspek Akmatbaev and said he is part of a patriotic new generation of leaders.

Then we started in on the HIPC Initiative, and my goodness, they were riled up about that. I had asked them about it a few weeks ago, but they hadn't heard anything about it. This week Kyrgyzstan was approved by the IMF and World Bank to go ahead with the program and the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan expressed her support for Kyrgyzstan joining the initiative. The story seems to have hit the local news this week and the students had quite the interesting version of the program.

First they said that the US was requiring Kyrgyzstan to join the program and that the World Bank and IMF set up the program for their own benefit. Actually, Kyrgyzstan chose to apply nearly a month ago. It has been reported the that WB/IMF will take control of all of Kyrgyzstan's natural resources and deplete Kyrgyzstan of any kind of mineral wealth. I don't even know where that one came from. The Russian Ambassador made a pointed statement that they weren't going to tell Kyrgyzstan what to do even though other countries might.

I told them that while I didn't know if this is the best option for Kyrgyzstan, it is a voluntary program that Kyrgyzstan applied for and that basically is set up to help countries in serious financial situations. Kyrgyzstan doesn't have to take the money (around half of the country's $2 billion dollars in foreign debt would be forgiven). It doesn't matter to the IMF/WB if they don't. It was interesting to see differently this has been reported on in different places.

We ended up talking about the US education system.


  1. Did they say anything to the point that the Kyrgyz government applied for HIPC itself? I tell you, the situation has me riled up too, but from the other end. I should probably hold my tongue lest I say some very nasty things. But it is worth saying at the very least that for whatever reason, I'm particularly impatient with the wrongheaded criticism of the US for supporting Kyrgyzstan taking part in the program.

  2. Nope, they didn't know that the Kyrgyzstan government had applied for it. I'm not sure they believed me when I told them it had. They definitely were not getting the whole story, and the government is not coming out and making their role clear.

    I tried to convince them that the US doesn't really care much about Kyrgyzstan's limited natural resources and if they want to drop international aid and go at it alone, great. This program is completely voluntary.

    I had a very hard time not saying anything nasty yesterday. They thought that it was self-serving of the West to write of nearly $1 billion of Kyrgyzstan's debt.

    But in the end, they said it was shameful to join the program. It's far more shameful to not take an honest look at the current economic mess in this country and not try to fix anything. I don't know if HIPC is the best option- it's had rather mixed results in other countries. But continuing to sit around and do nothing is worse.