Yesterday, running late on our way to school, Farrell and I sat in a cab at one intersection for about ten minutes. A traffic cop seemed to simply refuse to let an entire street move, and as the starting time for Russian class ticked closer, we started expressing to our (non-English speaking) driver about how it seemed just a tad ridiculous to not cross the street for that long.
And then two or three police cars raced through the intersection, followed closely by two black SUVs and more police cars. The cab driver told us, “Otunbayeva, president.”
Ahh, a presidential convoy holding up traffic, just like home in DC!
Farrell and I had been planning to move to Kyrgyzstan for well over a year, since before I went to work in Iraq. Why? We wanted Central Asia and we wanted to study. Kyrgyzstan, from our research, looked to be the safest, most politically stable and democratic, foreigner-friendly, and it has AUCA.
See, look at this. I’ve been talking about moving to Kyrgyzstan for freakin’ ever.
Then, April rolled around. Suddenly the safe, unheard of country we’d been gushing about for months was the new buzzword on every news channel. Things only got worse in June with reports of ethnic violence claiming the lives of hundreds or maybe even thousands of people. One of those free newspapers that’s handed out at the metro stop said “Slaughter in Kyrgyzstan” on the front page during my commute one day. (Since I hadn’t yet told my boss I was leaving the company, I had to hold back the potential moment for bad-ass-ness and tell my co-worker reading the article, “Ya know, I’m moving there. No big deal.” *cocky shoulder shrug*)
Suddenly everybody knew that Kyrgyzstan was dangerous and politically unstable. Farrell and I attended a wedding a week before we left and were bombarded with the typical “Where do you live? What do you do?” questions. With an answer like “packing for Kyrgyzstan”, you get people’s attention. One man just threw back his head and laughed, saying “They don’t even have a government!”
Well, neither does Australia. (Oh, wait. Nevermind.)
Nevertheless, we arrived to a city that appeared to have solidly moved on from the previous months’ upheavals. The U.S. State Department mentions “the possibility of further unrest,” but for now there are no travel warnings for the country. Elections are coming up in October and from the attitudes of the people we’ve talked to, people seem genuinely excited to participate in forming their new system of government.
In my Political Research Methods class, a discussion popped up about how April’s events will lead to greater political participation and informed voting in the elections. The discussion wasn’t always relevant to the class subject, but it was interesting how open and forward these kids were with their beliefs about the future of the Kyrgyz government. They understand the gravity of what happened in April and June, they know that things weren’t working out too well for the country under the previous leader, and they’re prepared to completely overhaul it.
Separately, Farrell and I had a chance to talk briefly with a cab driver and his friend about politics. A lot was said about how the new parliamentary system will better represent Kyrgyzstan’s population, rather than being led by one power-hungry individual. There was no anger, just an overall sense of, “I, as a citizen of Kyrgyzstan, am ready take part in deciding my country’s future.”
Anyway, I know it’s easy for the naive American girl to talk to a few people and make a lot of sweeping assumptions about hope and change, but as an apolitical and apathetic participant in the biggest democracy in the world, it warms my icy little heart to hear about this stuff from my Kyrgyz peers.
Election posters have started plastering billboards and sidewalks already and things seem to be running smoothly (as far as I can tell).
To steal a bit from my research methods class, how can one measure political instability?
Answer: Not applicable, because Kyrgyzstan doesn’t look to be that unstable after all.