Thursday :: Mar 24, 2005

Kyrgyzstan's Claim To Fame


by larre
"Eat, destroy, swallow, devour, gobble, despoil, maraud, munch, slay, smash. Hurrah, cheers, kudos, honor, exalt, extol, salute." -- The Yes Men
OK. So, the landlocked, mountainous nation of Kyrgyzstan may not be the easiest to pronounce or the most inviting place in the world to visit, unless you're partial to wild goats and drinking fermented mare's milk.

However, should you find yourself there by some chance, the nation's official tourist site, Kyrgyzstan.com , does offer this very helpful suggestion (one that is good almost anywhere, I would imagine):

"[I]f you feel bad - the best cure is to go down."

Kyrgyzstan boasts the "world's largest natural growth walnut," which raises the troublesome question of where the world's largest unnatural walnut may be. But you're not likely to find the answer in Kyrgystan, because at the moment they're having a revolution .

As Yahoo explains, essentially, outside the capital of Bishkek:

[T]ourist infrastructure is either minimal or wretched, transport is limited, fuel overpriced, roads unpoliced and there is a growing crime rate, fuelled by alcohol and desperate poverty."
Kidding aside, Kyrgyzstan can make one other claim to fame: In 1998, it became the the first former Soviet republic to be accepted into the World Trade Organization. Therein lies the explanation for the unfolding developments in this central Asian nation: Kyrgyzstan's problems have less to do with a native hunger for democracy than with the wretched results of the World Trade Organization's enforced one-size-fits-all 'liberalization' of the economy, which has enriched a few autocrats and devastated the lives of ordinary people.

As a USAID report to Congress crowed --

Kyrgyzstan's major achievement since independence in 1991 has been to establish the basic framework for a market economy... . Foreign investment is strongly encouraged and the country's privatization is regarded as among the most ambitious of the former Soviet republics. * * * Kyrgyzstan has been successful in implementing a tight fiscal policy which contributes to economic stability.
There is another way to describe the changes. As various other reports here and here and here and here and here and here and here document, what was largely a poor but stable managed economy with a substantial barter exchange at its core has been transformed into a capitalist nightmare that has enriched a few and is impoverishing many:
  • Almost all of the government-owned enterprises have been transferred to private hands.
  • WTO-mandated budget cuts diminished the resources of the government and balooned its debt
  • The value of the nation's currency fell by 50%
  • Exports of gold, antimony, mercury, electricity, dead animal skins, and other natural resources have increased while --
  • "There is a tendency of slow but consistent displacement of Kyrgyz goods" with imports
  • "Depreciation of the domestic currency rendered foreign debt unserviceable"
  • Increased gas-powered vehicle use and rapid de-forestation are threatening air quality and wildlife
  • Mortality has increased
  • Life expectancy has decreased
  • The quality of schools and medical care has deteriorated
  • The cost of medical services has escalated
  • "Social inequality substantially intensified..." --
  • While "a thin layer of rich and indeed very rich persons emerged, amongst the wealthiest individuals in the world."
Three years ago, Mark Ames of the Moscow-based alternative newspaper The Exile vividly described the deterioriating conditions that have led to the events unfolding today. He wrote:
Entry into the WTO didn't do a single good thing for Kyrgyzstan. In fact, in the 3-1/2 years since joining, the country's economy, which was one of the best performing in the region until then, slowed dramatically to the point of contraction this year, its debt ballooned and foreign investment has practically disappeared. The WTO-enforced liberalization of the economy meant that neighboring autocratic regimes like Uzbekistan, which violate neo-liberal orthodoxy by subsidizing industry, have since undercut the Kyrgyz and devastated local industry.

Worse still, its experiment with democracy, which according to the dogma preached by fundamentalist neo-liberals... is supposed to walk hand-in-hand with free markets, has, since joining the WTO, been abandoned for the usual Central Asian autocracy. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists recently chose Kyrgyzstan as one of the 10 worst places for a journalist to work in the world due to government harassment. President Askar Akayev brutally cracked down on the opposition and arrested his critics, leading to a massive rebellion in the south this year in a nation known for its once-docile population.* * * Quite clearly [the WTO is] a cover for transnational companies to open up new markets in underdeveloped countries hiding under the guise of once-fashionable late-20th century economics dogma.

In the press, there will be a lemming-like urge to see in the turmoil of Kyrgyzstan a replay of recent events in the Ukraine, but as the U.K. Guardian reports there are differences as well. The easy one to see is "that, until now, no single opposition leader has emerged for the protesters to unite behind. As a result they are not able to offer a viable alternative to Akayev's regime."

Behind that explanation there lies another, one you are unlikely to see mentioned in the conventional media: the World Trade Organization is at it again, trying to force a dogmatic one-size-fits-all privatization scheme onto every people in every place. As The Yes Men so aptly describe the WTO dogma, it's --

"Eat, destroy, swallow, devour, gobble, despoil, maraud, munch, slay, smash. Hurrah, cheers, kudos, honor, exalt, extol, salute."

larre :: 7:27 AM :: Comments (2) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!