Those who come to power by revolution can be removed by it. Five years ago Kurmanbek Bakiyev overthrew the government in Kyrgyzstan in the so-called Tulip Revolution, a popular uprising widely applauded by the outside world. Now, a popular uprising has unseated Bakiyev in the capital, accusing him of many of the same crimes that he damned his predecessor with – corruption, authoritarianism and the promotion of a family dynasty to positions of power.
Only this time no one knows whether the forces of revolution have the authority to run the country, whether Bakiyev himself (who has fled to his home town of Osh in the South) could lead a successful counter-revolution and whether indeed the triumphant opposition can hold together.
The initial statements from the revolutionary leader, former Foreign Minister, Roza Otunbayeva, are calming enough: that they will not threaten the Russian and US bases, that they want a peaceful resolution with the deposed president after a week of bloodshed that has left 75 people dead and more than 1,000 injured, and that they will hold elections in six months' time. But no one can be certain quite how things will turn out in the end.
The first rule in these circumstances is for outsiders to refrain from interfering. From this point of view, the first reactions from Moscow and Washington, implicitly accepting the change in power, are reassuring. But over the coming months as the situation within Kyrgyzstan may become more confused, it is important that neighbours such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as well as the major powers, do not try to determine events.
That should also be the watchword for the longer term. The outside world applauded the Tulip Revolution too easily, believing it would bring both stability and democracy. In fact it did neither. Kyrgyzstan is a desperately poor country. The present riots occurred because of rising fuel prices and increasing economic desperation. Washington and Moscow may see the primary interest in maintaining their military posts in the country, but what the people of this country need is support to progress to a better future. That is where our energies and our aid should be directed.