Re-publishing my interview with Central Asia’s first female president Roza Otunbayeva. This piece was originally published by Contact.az
In the heart of Caucasus, Central Asia and Middle East people are watching with solidarity as events unfold in the Arab world. But even before the events in Tunisia set off the “Arab Spring”, there was another democratic revolution that took place — in Kyrgyzstan, a beacon of democracy in autocratic Central Asia, spearheaded by the first female president in the region, Roza Otunbayeva.
“The path to democracy is not easy, but it is the only way forward,” says President Otunbayeva, who has shown up in Washington DC on Thursday, December 13th, to receive the 2012 Bill Maynes Award from Eurasia Foundation, a US-based international development organization promoting civic and economic participation…
The Award was given for demonstrating visionary leadership throughout Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional transition and providing a lifelong example of public service.
TURAN’s Washington DC correspondent has interviewed Ms. Otunbayeva during her visit.
Question: You are among very few leaders in the CIS region who stepped down from presidency voluntarily and promoted free and fair elections… Meanwhile, in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan presidents seem to plan ruling forever, and in Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, the son of the previous president, plans to run for presidency for the third time in 2013… What is your take on such situations?
Answer: I think there are a lot of messages around. The whole Europe and other parts of the world are trying to reach to explain that you can’t stop democracy! You cannot! Especially with Arab Spring phenomena countries today are very cautious, — I mean authoritarian countries, — that, it might touch upon them as well. I think every country should have its own analysis and they should realize that people do not tolerate authoritarianism anymore and patience of the people is not endless, to realize that the so called stability is not a solution at all.
Democracy is a very hard stuff, it is a very difficult system of governance, but unless you wouldn’t give the freedom of speech, of movement and expression to the people, I think the globe today is today at another mood and another pace, and my message and understanding is that democracy is your only destination.
— Alakbar Raufoglu (@ralakbar) December 14, 2012
Question: When the Arab Spring started in the Middle East later in 2010, there were huge expectations for “changes” among post-Soviet democrats as well. We’ve even witnessed series of rallies in Russia, Azerbaijan back then, but it didn’t go beyond that. The Arab Spring phenomena bypassed them.. What should the democrats in those countries do, what would be your message?
Answer: I’m not an Arab Spring messenger and not at all a revolution expert, but any change in the country is the result of its own developments…
Again because the world’s communication is so close today, we do know about any news in any country, even a remote, small one, immediately by breaking news on big world channels. So with this regard I think everyone should make their own conclusion.
Question: When you became a president Kyrgyzstan has started one of its major reforms that are still undergoing – the police and overall Interior Ministry reform. How is this reform advancing now in Kyrgyzstan and what are the tips other countries, such as Azerbaijan, could pick from it to possibly advance in such reform in future?
Answer: We learned a great deal from the reform in Georgia. We knew that it was successful, we tried to get the best of such examples from a team of experts (that this project was by the OSCE), and it started during these (ethnic) clashed in the south in 2010. Unfortunately, I must say somehow it stopped these days. President has appointed other people, a new minister of interior was appointed three-four months ago, and we do hope that this reform of the ministry of interior will be renewed. I do know that our civil society was also unhappy with the pace and the depth of this reform, simply many things have been stopped, because the level of erosion and corruption is difficult to overcome, simply to polish is not the meaning of the reform. Sounds like we still need a deeper understanding what parts of force we should repair, what parts totally remove to build a new system. So this reform is undergoing.
Question: Among other things you are popular for advocating for women rights in Kyrgyzstan. Bride kidnapping, although largely condemned, still seems to be a huge concern in the country. What is Kyrgyzstan doing to address this issue and has it been successful in your opinion?
Answer: You are right, this so called national tradition, is a wild and shameful tradition, I would say. Now a lot of aggressive efforts have been done to sustain and work against this tradition. We didn’t succeed yet, the scale of this tragedy and pain is quite significant, we have about probably 10,000, as I have heard, or even more cases per year of such kidnappings. So many tragedies per year. This is the problem of communication, problem of working with the people, with the young girls, with their parents, with the whole society. Unfortunately in the process of kidnapping the women’s part is also very much in place to help this kidnapping take place. So we should work with both men and women, and we should overcome this tradition with aggressive measures.
Question: As the international coalition is planning to pull out of Afghanistan next year, analysts across Central Asia and the Caucasus fear a huge threat to regional security. What should the countries of the region do to prepare for the possible terrorist outbreak from Afghanistan?
Answer: 2014 is the deadline for the American and western troops in Afghanistan, it is time for all of us to realize that we should be ready for that. So in our countries we keep building our security. Today we face many problems with security and border issues are vital in our countries, and strengthening the borders takes a lot of resources. European Union and American government help us a lot with that.
Trafficking is another big problem today and (while being a president) I issued a decree in 2010 to reconstruct the agency dealing with this, which was totally crashed under the Bakiyevs’ government. We rebuilt this agency in two years, and I hope that this agency and its work will be one of successful works with this regard. We’ve been challenged within our countries with the aggressive approach of the religious extremist organizations and some facts of terrorism, so we want to learn more about terrorism in our part of the world.
The fact is until recently we didn’t have too many of such cases and such experiences of terrorism. But when we are talking about 2014 and Afghanistan, I would say that our mood is mostly positive, we would like to have trade infrastructure with Afghanistan, we want to learn and explore the routes towards Afghanistan. Today a lot of good projects are underway, such as how to do sale, how to bring goods from Afghanistan; how to train young Afghans, so these days I guess we are in every Central Asian country we are working to build up new relations with this country.