Monday, January 23, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Economic Crisis behind ‘Winds of Change’ in Post-Soviet States, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 24 – The leaders of the post-Soviet state and in particular those who have successfully constructed “administered democracies” no longer fear “orange” revolutions, but they are being pushed toward “reforms” of one kind or another by the economic crisis and the demonstrations that have already taken place across the Russian Federation.

            In today’s “Novyye izvestiya,” Konstantin Nikolayev, Olga Gorbacheva and Elena Antonova argue that recent weeks, “the former USSR has become an arena of unexpected political developments … [as] one after another leader … begins to talk about reforms” that would change “the entire political landscape in these states.”

            And what is especially striking, these three journalists suggest, is that this trend is clearly in evidence “even there were practically nothing has changed from the moment of the disintegration of the USSR” – specifically, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan (

            Moreover, the “Novyye izvestiya” writers continue, this outbreak of “reformist initiatives in the near abroad looks particularly surprising if one takes into consideration that it is occurring at the time of the real triumph of ‘administered democracies’ over ‘the orange threat’” that earlier brought change to Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

            Mikhail Khazin,the president of the Neokon Consulting Company, provides an explanation, the journalists say. He suggests that the economic crisis presents “a far more threatening challenge” to such leaders than any “hypothetical ‘orange’ threat’” to existing arrangements.

            “If an individual lives in a situation in which his material well-being constantly grows, he will not particularly reflect about who is leading the country. But when incomes fall and the question arises as to whose incomes must be reduced, then people immediately become interested in just how legitimate the authorities are.”

            The December protests in Moscow and other Russian cities sent a message not only because of what participants in them were saying but even more because those taking part were very different than “the ‘orange’ meetings of the times of the revolutions of 2003-2005” and because they came together spontaneously.

            Belarusian leader Alyaksandr  Lukashenka in a recent speech drew a specific link between these protests and his suggestion – “for the first time during his administration,” the journalists point out – of the need for “political modernization,” whose nature perhaps not surprisingly, he has not yet been willing to specify.

            Lukashenka’s opponents including Anatoly Lebedko of the United Civic Party and Aleksandr Milinkevich of the For Freedom Movement thus remain skeptical, with the former saying that Lukashenka is taking his cue from Moscow but perhaps and the latter suggesting this may all be nothing more than “a playing at democratization.”

             However that may be, the three journalists write, the upcoming elections in Belarus may provide an opening: Lukashenka might permit representation from the opposition to make himself and his regime appear more legitimate not only among his own hard-pressed population but also among European governments.

            Kazakhstan provides another example, the “Novyye izvestiya” writers say. Indeed, it was the leader in this regard with President Nursultan Nazarbayev calling of changes at least in part because of the protests in Zhanaozen, demosntrators which resembled those in Moscow in one key particular: in both, the protesters were largely drawn from the angry middle class.

             But the most intriguing examples of these “winds of change” may be in Turkmenistan and Moldova. In the former, for the first time, several candidates will take part in the presidential election. And in the latter, precisely because the economic crisis calls for unpopular measures, politicians are talking about direct election of the country’s president.

             How things may develop remains uncertain, the journalists suggest, and they offer as a concluding remark the observation of Mensk political scientist Vsevolod Shimov that any serious reforms will require public consultations. If that doesn’t happen, than “the probability is great” that things will go wrong, with negative consequences for all.

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