March 29, 2005

Contagious Democracy - The Second Breakup of the Soviet Union

The liberal revolutions that swept through Eastern Europe toppled communist dictatorships like dominoes in a chain. But most of the Central Asian republics remain authoritarian - and in some cases, totalitarian. Some, like Chechnya, weren't able to throw off the yoke of the Soviet Empire at all, and are still officially parts of Russia.

But it looks like that process might not have stopped. It was just put on hold. Parts of the old Russian empire are convulsing again. And revolution may be just as contagious this time as it was last time. The Christian Science Monitor explains.
BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN – The shock waves from Kyrgyzstan's lightning revolution are spreading around the former Soviet Union - and into the heart of Russia - leading analysts to wonder which regimes might be next to face the peoples' wrath.

Recent days have seen a spate of copycat protests launched by opposition groups that were perhaps hoping their own local authorities might fold and flee under pressure, as did Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev when demonstrators stormed his Bishkek complex last week.

About 1,000 people rallied last Friday in the capital of Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko runs the last Soviet-style dictatorship in Europe, to demand his resignation. Police quickly dispersed the crowd and dispatched the ringleaders to prison.

Two Russian ethnic republics, Ingushetia and Bashkortostan, have seen mass street demonstrations this week directed against Kremlin-installed leaders. Even in remote Mongolia, the former USSR's Asian satellite, hundreds of protesters gathered last week to “congratulate our Kyrgyz brothers” and demand a rerun of last June's disputed parliamentary polls.

Some experts see a common thread among these upheavals that began 17 months ago when Georgians overthrew Eduard Shevardnadze in a peaceful revolt and continued with Ukraine's “Orange Revolution” late last year.

“Every situation is different, but a single process is unfolding,” says Valentin Bogatyrov, a former Akayev adviser and director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Bishkek. “Kyrgyzstan is a kind of trigger that will spread this unrest to our neighbors, and beyond. We are witnessing the second breakup of the Soviet Union.”
Bashkortostan is an absurdly complicated ethnic hodgepodge that makes Lebanon look like Japan by comparison. If it breaks away from Russia it, too, could fracture.

Ingushetia, like Chechnya, is mostly Muslim. The Islamic tradition there is, again as in Chechnya, a liberal/moderate one. If the people want out of the Russian Federation we had better loudly support them. Because if we don't, the Islamist jihadis certainly will. Nothing good can possibly come of that, not for Ingushetia, not for Russia, and not for us. Look no further than - yes, once again - Chechnya for that object lesson.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 29, 2005 7:38 PM
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