Thursday, March 24, 2005

Thoughts on the Kyrgyz Revolution

First, there was the Rose revolution. Then there was the Orange revolution. Now, Kyrgyzstan seems to be the latest among the former Soviet republics to adopt democracy through a bloodless revolution. Except that in this case, the outcome is less clear.

Many in America will misguidedly look to Kyrgyzstan as the latest example of Bush's foreign policy success. Bush brought democracy to Iraq - and it's spreading throughout the region. But this is simply not true. Kyrgyzstan is not part of the Middle East. It is part of Russia's Near Abroad, and as such, is emulating not Lebanon, but Ukraine and Georgia. Bush's foreign policy in Central Asia is more likely to entrench the existing governments than to encourage new ones, and most likely to have little or no effect on the region. Central Asia is more firmly under Russia's influence than under U.S. influence.

Whatever the reasons behind the uprising, the outlook for Kyrgyzstan is not immediately optimistic. A broad comparison to Georgia and Ukraine is an oversimplification of the political issues at stake. Let me enumerate a few caveats to curb the unbridled enthusiasm of some:

1) Whereas Georgia and Ukraine were of interest to the West, Kyrgystan isn't. The case of Ukraine is obvious - it borders 3 EU member states - Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. The EU has a strong interest in its democratic welfare, and Ukraine has an interest in becoming part of the EU. Additionally, the process of moving to a new government occurred democratically, based on formal election challenges, peaceful protests, and a strong media campaign.

Georgia is less straightforward. It has no reasonable likelihood of becoming part of the EU. Neither the EU nor the U.S. have any significant interests in Georgia, since other than being a point of transit for pipelines, Georgia does not have vast resources. However, President Saakashvili is deeply connected to the U.S. Besides having a law degree from Columbia and an SJD from George Washington University, Saakashvili worked for a law firm in New York. He has American connections - and knows how to keep the West interested. Additionally, Shevardnadze, who Saakashvili replaced in the now-famous bloodless coup, was the former foreign minister of the Soviet Union and a strong ally of Gorbachev and of westernization. He was our ally, and his corruption as president of Georgia hurt and upset the U.S. He was also high-profile enough to allow Western eyes to occasionally glance at Georgia. Finally, Saakashvili developed a strong political base in Georgia before taking office, and the opposition was consistently well organized.

Kyrgyzstan is relatively insignificant. To the extent that the West cares about what is going on there, it is merely a reflection of Middle East issues. Consistently, the Terry Schiavo case has preempted the Kyrgyz uprising in American media. In the long run, they don't have what it takes to draw consistent western attention.

2) Kyrgyzstan's opposition leader, Bakiyev, is a former prime minister who took a hardline stance against demonstrations (see this article). Ukraine and Georgia have much more charismatic, politically untainted leaders.

3) Kyrgyz opposition is disorganized. Georgia and the Ukraine both went through a relatively lengthy process before toppling their governments. In Kyrgyzstan, it happened fairly quickly, without a chance for international organizations to thoroughly investigate the election fraud. Granted, point 1 implies that international organizations never would have cared about the election fraud in the first place, or at least not sufficiently to act on it.

4) Kyrgyzstan won't have the follow-through the other two former Soviet republics had, due to their insignificance. As Bakiyev attempts to deal with restructuring the country (should he manage to remain in office), he will face increasing economic woes that could lead him to turn more dictatorial. Just like most of the others.

5) The Kyrgyz president, Akayev, hasn't resigned yet. This is a slight problem. The opposition needs legitimacy if it is to succeed in governing the country in a more democratic fashion. The international community needs to recognize it, and the Russians will NOT be happy with this third attempt in two years to break away from its sphere of influence. The last two were successful - and Russia couldn't do much but stand by and wait.

In short, there is room for optimism, but it is important to be cautious. Kyrgyzstan could become the next colorful revolution, in the vein of Ukraine and Georgia, or it could become another failed state. The outcome is yet to be determined, but if there is one occasion where western commentary and media hype could benefit a country, this is it.

Let's put aside our Schiavos and activist judges, our Michael Jacksons and our Robert Blakes, and put our money where our mouth is - let's help bring democracy to a country that sorely needs it and clearly wants it. Let's make sure Russia can't put its finger in the pie and ruin what could be a very good thing for Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia, and the Near Abroad as a whole. Let's speak up for democracy - the real kind - from the people, to the people. Let's keep this issue from fading from our news until a real election is held and true democracy is brought to Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan doesn't need our troops, or even our charity. What it needs is our constant verbal support, our loans, and our commitment to its development. Is this too much to ask?

The obligatory Terry Schiavo post

Every good blogger has to have at least one post on the Terry Schiavo issue. I'm not a good blogger, and I try to keep my blog non-partisan. But I've had it. I'm so fed up that I could take her feeding tube and shove it up Tom DeLay's ass.

So for the interest of sanity, I'm going to post a little something I emailed a friend earlier today. And that'll be my final word on the saga of the vegetable.

I get the feeling that the court system is really really really fed up with the Terry Schiavo case.

From the article: "The decision, announced in a terse one-page order, marked the end of a dramatic and disheartening four-day dash for her parents, Bob and Mary Schlindler, through the federal court system. Justices did not explain their decision, which was at least the fifth time they have declined to get involved in the Schiavo case."

I'd been wondering how pissed off they were...I think they're really tired of no one paying attention to them. How many times can you decline to get involved, or as in the case of the Florida court system, rule to allow her feeding tube to be removed until you finally get paid attention to?

I feel like the parents of Terry Schiavo are like kids and the court system is like their parents:

Schindlers: Can we go to the zoo tomorrow?
Fl. court system: No, you can't.
Schindlers: Can we please go to the zoo tomorrow?
Fl. court system: No, no you can't.
Schindlers: Please, please, pretty please, can we go to the zoo tomorrow?
Fl. court system: For the third time, NO.
Schindlers: You're mean awful people...come on...take us to the zoo...come on....
Fl. court system: I don't care how many times you ask - we are NOT going to the zoo tomorrow!
Schindlers: Oh, come on....other court systems would take us to the zoo...
Fl. court system: No, we're not going to the zoo. Quit asking. Go ask other court systems - see what they would say.

Schindlers: Supreme Court, will you take us to the zoo tomorrow?
Supreme Court: No.
Schindlers: You're awful meanies too! We don't like you....just take us to the zoo, ok...
Supreme court: No.

etc. etc. etc., ad nauseam.

Universal Soldier

Edit: I just discovered that the song was originally written by Buffy Sainte-Marie. Just making sure that I give credit where credit is due.

Last night while riding the subway home, I was listening to some Donovan. And stumbled upon this song that for some reason I'd never heard before. Which really is a crying shame, because it's one of the best anti-war songs I've ever heard.

So this blog entry will simply consist of me posting the lyrics, which I think are remarkably meaningful and not your standard 'oooh, I'm a pop star and I care about war...because baby seals and kittens and puppies and children are cute." This song actually has some depth to it. And even just the lyrics without the tune tear me up a little bit.

He's five foot-two, and he's six feet-four,
He fights with missiles and with spears.
He's all of thirty-one, and he's only seventeen,
He's been a soldier for a thousand years.

He'a a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain,
A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew.
And he knows he shouldn't kill,
And he knows he always will,
Kill you for me my friend and me for you.

And he's fighting for Canada,
He's fighting for France,
He's fighting for the USA,
And he's fighting for the Russians,
And he's fighting for Japan,
And he thinks we'll put an end to war this way.

And he's fighting for Democracy,
He's fighting for the Reds,
He says it's for the peace of all.
He's the one who must decide,
Who's to live and who's to die,
And he never sees the writing on the wall.

But without him,
How would Hitler have condemned him at Labau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone,
He's the one who gives his body
As a weapon of the war,
And without him all this killing can't go on.

He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can't you see,
This is not the way we put an end to war.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Subway delays

This morning, the subways were delayed. The conductor announced the delays with a note of disbelief in his voice.

"The A, B, C and D lines are delayed due to a police investigation at 59th Street," he said. "The 2, 3, 4 and 5 are shut down due to a fire in Brooklyn."

Given that this was rush hour, there were large numbers of somewhat ticked off passengers.

Within a few minutes, however, the train was back up and running, to the muted cheers of the passengers, whose inconvenience was now over, but who were returning to their mundane Tuesday morning routine.

On my part, I couldn't help but enjoy the brief hitch in an otherwise dull and sleepy morning ride. In fact, instead of my usual quadruple latte, I only needed two shots of espresso this morning to get me going.

Imagine what would happen if I ran into a giraffe while walking from the subway stop...

I can only dream...

Monday, March 21, 2005

Twice in one day...

It's been months since I posted twice in one day. I feel exhilarated by this newfound blogging freedom.

I have so many things to write - my head is full of thoughts - on subjects as diverse as Che Guevara and...well....Che Guevara. Actually, come to think of it, I haven't really thought about much else since picking up Motorcycle Diaries a couple of months ago.

Che is like Russell Crowe, an Uzi, and Albert Schweitzer all rolled up in one - dashing, dangerous, humanitarian, intelligent, a doctor, a weapon, a sex symbol, powerful, sensitive...the list goes on.

I've read so much Che that I think of him in the oddest moments. For instance, while using the restrooms I think about his mockery of the U.S. plan for economic advancement in Latin America after the Cuban revolution where he refers to U.S. desires to make Latin America a successful region with many latrines - he mocks their low standards for developmental success.

So maybe I obsess a bit much. For now, I will get back to my daily routine, and attempt to banish all thoughts of the heroic icon from my mind. Or at least count down the minutes until I leave work and can read more Che on the subway.

Blogging from work - the illicit pleasures of an otherwise mundane life

I've finally broken down. You're reading the first blog entry I've written from work. No longer does the fear of getting caught guide my actions. I am reckless - a fearless workplace warrior. In other words, I'm leaving in two months and my boss loves me.

Most of my random thoughts that are bloggable occur at work. By the time I get home, I'm too tired, too preoccupied, or too lazy to take the effort to blog. And as such my darling readers are missing out on many of my adventures.

Adventures...not of the jungle-expedition sort. No, there are no Dr. Livingstons for me to encounter. No struggles to free the oppressed peasantry. No wild nights of debauchery and clubbing.

No, my adventures are more mundane. They're the sort of adventures that involve a cockroach in the shower, or a rat on the subway tracks. They involve nothing more than the daily routine of a 9 to 5 worker.

At the moment, I must curtail my storytelling, for my boss has called.

I will return, oh precious readers!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

El Che

This post reflects how much I've been neglecting my blog recently, since it assumes my readers know a) what I've been obsessing about, b) where I'm going to law school, and c) what has been going on in my head.

Let's quickly run through some highlights:

1) I decided to go to the University of Michigan for law school. It's a fabulous school, I adore Ann Arbor, and although it took me a few days to think through whether I wanted to go there or to Columbia, I realized that especially since I want to do a PhD alongside my JD, spending 6-7 years in New York City wasn't for me.

2) At some point after I moved to New York, I finally got a chance to read Motorcycle Diaries. I hadn't seen the movie, but the book struck a chord with me and prompted me to go running off across New York to find more of Che Guevara's writings. Surprisingly hard to find - I ended up largely resorting to the internet. Nevertheless, as I made my way through his writings - which were not excessive since he died at the age of 39, I began an obsession with the man and his message and continue with that obsession at the present moment. I will explain this in more detail in some later post. Let it suffice to say that yes, Che Guevara and Henry Kissinger are my two heroes. They are my Florestan and Eusebius and they get into surprisingly few fights in my head.

3) After my law school decision was made, my parents decided to buy me a car. Now, originally it was supposed to be some crappy used car that I was to get in May. Due to a set of circumstances including the theft of my parents' minivan, I am now the proud owner of a brand spanking new, bright red Jeep Liberty.

El Che

Couldn't be happier - I've never had a car - I always wanted a Jeep, and I think it looks smashing. My parents in turn decided that as an only child, they wanted me to be safe, and besides they had never given me any graduation present either after high school, my bachelor's degrees or my master's. So this is the culmination of all my graduations to date.

All good cars need to have names. And since it is red, it is a Liberty and I'm obsessed with Che, I decided to name it "El Che." So let us all welcome El Che to my family, which now consists of me, Kissinger (my cat) and El Che (my car).