Andrey Grozin: "Immediate here and now"
«At the moment it is a pre-election situation and people understand that it is necessary to use everything possible to attain a large number of concessions, preferences and promises from the authorities and candidates», - said Andrei Grozin, a Russian expert and the head of the Central Asia and Kazakhstan Institute of the CIS countries, in interview with the IPP.
IPP: According to the statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic, only during the first nine months of the year 2011, 1013 demonstrations and protests took place in Kyrgyzstan. What sources of conflict would you be able to emphasize that bring people to take part in gatherings and protests?
Andrei Grozin: I think it is obvious. The pre-election struggle is approaching its final stage and, therefore, multiple measures, including mass mobilization, that have been frequently used in Kyrgyzstan for the last 5 years are being used. Clearly, the first revolution, the second revolution and the period between them have provided very serious theoretical and practical experience, so much so that now Kyrgyzstan can be counted as the most advanced country in the post-Soviet area with regard to mass mobilization. In my opinion, the practical mechanisms of mass mobilization for achievement of objectives such as personal, group, political, party, regional and any others have not been practiced so well anywhere else. It is clear that, since the elections are approaching, these mechanisms will be used.
Besides the use of mass actions for political, party or regional goals, there is also another side of it. During these years people in Kyrgyzstan have become convinced that mass protest actions are the most effective mechanisms to achieve their objectives. They see that it is the most effective way to pressure the opposing side, and especially the authorities. It is possible to achieve much more with a meeting than by using traditional procedures as suing, turning to the authorities and responsible departments and so on. In other words, a large part of the population in the country considers that by going through official channels in Kyrgyzstan, one will not achieve anything.
I believe that the rejection of legitimate forms of protest is a very dangerous tendency, because all of this creates a focus on the most radical, the most implacable, the most dangerous methods, including mass protests and rallies, which at any moment could easily escalate into civil unrest by blocking roads, picketing authorities in central and local levels and so on. All of this is radicalism, which is ultimately on the verge of transforming into something like what we have seen recently in Rome. It all started as a peaceful demonstration but ended with an attempt to set fire on the Ministry of Defense, several dozen destroyed vehicles, tear-gas and so on. With the conditions of semi-democratic societies that exist in the post-Soviet area this line between a normal, democratic, legitimate protest to disorder is very thin and it is possible to cross it at any time. Moreover, authorities in the post-Soviet area do not function as effectively as the Europeans or Americans do in the case of riots.
We are more inclined to overestimate the danger to public order from such actions and, hence, overreact. That is to say, moderate force has been used against the opposition, against people going out to these mass demonstrations, and this is seen everywhere. Russia experienced this in the first half of the 90’s. We can say that this period of mass street protests ended after the well-known altercation at the “Belyi dom” (White House). In any case, those mass demonstrations that we see in Russia on holidays, including the constructive opposition, as well as actions of the non-constructive opposition are of course a pale shadow of what was could be seen in Moscow in the late 80s and early 90s.
It is another question that as the discovery of structural deficiencies in the world economy, in world politics we see that already in the West people who feel vulnerable are trying to practice direct protest actions, i.e., go out to the streets, occupy buildings and so on. In Kyrgyzstan, all these methods have been worked out long ago and many times during various activities.
Therefore, I think that now for Kyrgyzstan there is nothing surprising in the appearance of passionate, overflowing gatherings, people again stretched out to the streets and so on. At the moment it is a pre-election situation and people understand that it is necessary to use everything possible to attain a large number of concessions, preferences and promises from the authority and candidates.
I do not think that the root cause of social problems in Kyrgyzstan is the large number of gatherings. However, here, Kyrgyzstan obviously leaves all the other republics of Central Asia and in general the former Soviet Union far behind. Statistics cited by the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the number of authorized and unauthorized mass actions is impressive. Such civic activity is impressive. It is another thing that one is linked to the other. I think in Kyrgyzstan professional “mitingovschiki” (people who actively attend gatherings) have already formed a small compact, tight social group… or there is a group of people who participate in gatherings from time to time, in some sporadic events, when people want to solve a particular problem, so to speak, a regional or small-town.
Again, everyone realizes that mass action to intimidate the authorities is more effective. It is as such that, putting it mildly, the previous government and the current government have disparaged the judiciary, and have taken advantage of the judicial institutions and games around them. All of this contributes to the population’s understanding that by other means except as to close a road one cannot solve problems. Lawsuits are affordable only for the very rich, or for people who are not in a hurry to solve their problem.
A population which is experiencing constant emotional stress is focused on solving problems on an immediate here and now basis. Namely a gathering, mass demonstration, perhaps even smashing windows, is the most effective way to reach the authorities and to ensure a decision in their favor. Such an approach, in turn, is one of the elements that generate common social disorganization and chaos in social life, which is being observed in Kyrgyzstan, and problems in the economy. It is a kind of vicious circle, when a difficult situation forces people to gatherings and demonstrations and, in turn, provoke general political instability.
Talk to any European official informally. Officially, they all say that Kyrgyzstan is the most democratic state, it is going on a peaceful path and gatherings are simply one part of this process and the political activeness of citizens. But this is said from podiums and it is said to tape recorders. But on an informal level, talking even with very high European bureaucrats, those who award your country with various orders, I hear a very different assessment. At an informal level they talk about the fact that a reasonable investor would invest, for example, in mining and metallurgical complex of the republic, and if at any point the whole thing might end up in a protest, a demonstration, demanding some sort of supplementary benefits and so on, then no sane businessman, not a speculator, namely a person focused on long-term work in the country, would take such a step.
We see a situation where vibrant political activism deters foreign economic players. Therefore, when on a government level the members of the ministers’ cabinet of Kyrgyzstan make agreements, for example, with Kazakh or Russian counterparts about quite interesting economic projects which could reap benefits and stabilize the situation in the social sphere, it is in everyone's head that riders will come galloping in and demand additional payment. And everyone sees this political activeness basically as a racket. I'm not saying that this is the truth. The picture is still much more colorful and complex, including these mass protests in Kyrgyzstan. But the attitude of a casual observer towards the republic, one who is risking their money, quite frankly, is very cautious due to these “mitingovschiny” (frequent demonstrations) and for fear that problems may arise at any time and at any stage of the project.
IPP: What effective methods of conflict resolution do you see in a country such as ours?
Andrei Grozin: When a significant part of the population perceives power as a hostile source from which it is necessary to obtain as many concessions as possible, then it seems that it is necessary to act radically, blocking the roads, going out to protests and demanding as much as possible. Especially as long as the authority is dependent on public opinion, as it always was and is everywhere. In my opinion, this is very influential.
In addition, during these five years that we are talking about, the system of relations between society and government has changed in the republic and, in my opinion, for the worse. Government is perceived as something alien, perhaps, as something hostile, and the people must make their voice heard through violent methods including civil disobedience, or actions bordering on civil disobedience. Only by intimidating the authorities we can achieve solutions to many of our problems. Many people think so, and not only in Kyrgyzstan; a certain small proportion of the population in Russia thinks so, a small proportion of the population in Kazakhstan thinks so, and in my opinion, much of the population in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan thinks so, but it is so suppressed that so far it keeps its opinion to itself.
It is clear that in order to overcome such a state of affairs and to get out of this system there is no need to reinvent the wheel; the solution has been known for a long time: a dialogue within the framework of civil society. Here's all you can imagine. But many would like to solve this problem radically, rapidly and immediately, to mitigate social mores, to set the dialogue along the line of government – society, government – non-governmental organizations and so on, so that everyone talks to each other and so that the problem quickly dissolves itself.
In fact, without being diplomatic, it is clear that in Kyrgyzstan everything is neglected, and counting on a change in this evident negative trend is not necessary when people see government as the enemy from which it must be obtained as much as possible, taking advantage of the moment. It is crucial to use certain formal or informal mutual codes of conduct. Government, of course, in this case should make the first move.
At the rhetorical level everyone recognizes that we must engage in dialogue and we must seek more effective implementation of these decisions, economic, political, and social. It's all rhetoric. In fact, in my opinion, for at least the last 3-4 years in government in the country, both the former and the current administrations are entirely isolated from the overwhelming mass of the population. It says the right things, especially before elections, but is not in a hurry to fulfill them.
Most likely, it is not necessary to just imitate the public dialogue, rather, it is necessary to create a really good platform on which to conduct this dialogue. But looking at the members of the parliament, at Jogorku Kenesh, I have a feeling that these people, who live in some parallel reality, just do not see the need to take some practical steps on the path of the proposed dialogue.
For example, the recent statement by Medvedev on the need for creating a so-called wide government. By and large, as it was mentioned the idea is about an interactive forum for a dialogue on which not only the constructive oppositionists and but also constructively oppositionist non-profit and non-governmental organizations will meet, but there is the possibility of integration of so-called irreconcilables into the dialogue. I do not know how practical the introduction of this idea will be, how realistic these words are, and to what extend under our conditions they can take shape into actual practice. But even at the rhetorical level it is clear that the course is indicated quite correctly. It is clear that in this way there will be lots of objective and subjective obstacles, but the direction of social movement and dialogue with the authorities is correctly outlined.
I think, here Kyrgyzstan we do not need to invent anything new. I hope after the election the situation will somehow be stabilized. Yes, there will be problems with the formation of the government, there will be serious problems finding a compromise between members of the winning group or groups that will consider themselves defeated. But if the country will be able to survive this period with minimal loss then for the new leader, whoever he will be, there will be an opportunity to outline the proper direction by creating something that will unite all regions, all ethnic groups in the country, dialogue platforms on which people could hear each other and create a similar kind of structure at all levels of government from the center to the region.
There are of course more problems with the realization of this project, even more than in Russia, but there is no other option. Another trend is to try to reduce the frequency of demonstrations through forceful methods. Therefore, only the organization of a broad dialogue, education of the population, the inculcation within different social groups of at least the rudiments of political culture, this is the only option for a culture of political dialogue; no other is given.
IPP: How civil society should participate in conflict resolution?
Andrei Grozin: What has increased in the recent years, namely, is the grassroots civic engagement including all these various civic initiatives which are often unpleasant to the authorities, the work carried out within the framework of the Public Chamber and the structures that are around it, perhaps one can say that all this is a display of greater political maturity of Russian society.
Nonetheless, civil society is not formed by decrees and enactments but namely by the will of the large majority of the population. I think people in Russia experienced such radical disposition early in the first half of the 90s. Now even the most massive meetings in Russia do not collect more than 1.5-2 thousand people, which would be the best case. For example, it was possible to observe this when there was a peak surge of mass activity in Kaliningrad. But activity there was not political; rather, it was due to pure social and economic reasons. But after making relevant decisions, including a change of key personalities in the leadership of the region, the civic action disappeared itself. The Kaliningrad enclave in the sense of meeting activity is now one of the most peaceful in the Russian Federation.
The capital is a metropolitan city, and of course here there is high political activity. But even here 200-300 people gather at the urging of agitators. They argue with the police on how many participants actually came to this or that meeting; while the opposition says it is 1.5 thousand, the police says 300 people, and the truth lies somewhere in between. But in a city with 10 million official residents, and even with a giant number of people who are not registered, it is quite funny to argue whether 200 people participated in the rally or 500. Clearly, this is an indicator of the lack of significant frustration that would bring people into the streets.
I'm not saying that this will continue in the future. It is possible that next year, when we are promised fairly harsh decisions and reforms, including in the social sphere, this may spur the overflowing grassroots activity. But first and foremost, the government in Russia is trying to avoid similar blunders, for example, like that at the same Manege Square, or like a few years ago when monetization of the population reforms were quite sloppy. But it is clear that, for example, the Manege Square episode was a common situation.
Ethnic crime in a metropolitan city enjoys the patronage of law enforcement agencies of different levels. Actually, this was demonstrated and it sparked a wave of indignation. On the other hand, it is the fault of the xenophobic attitudes that infect a certain part of Russian society. The authorities conduct a serious enough struggle against the same xenophobia. It is possible to look at how many criminal cases of provoking inter-ethnic hatred have been filed in the current year and in the past; the dynamics are upward.
A lot of pressure is applied to the conflicting groups that use grassroots activism and active demonstrations. But every year the pressure has become more and more effective. First of all, the authorities conduct a more detailed approach. Secondly, the authorities take into account the possible consequences of certain actions. In other words, government does not roll up all radical opposition into the concrete asphalt; rather, it tries to be proactive. You can add the fact that probably it is impossible to count on the population to reach a certain common peace.
In many ways Russian society and government are in parallel spaces. But my personal opinion is that the gap between these two spaces in Russia is smaller than it is in Kyrgyzstan. Our government, which is now facing the same challenges that exist in Kyrgyzstan, I mean the pre-election situation, perhaps acts more reasonably. Government understands that one cannot force the population into a situation when there will be no other way to reach the authorities, except to go out to the central square of the country. Our authorities are more careful, especially after these excesses I spoke about such as Manege Square, the meetings in Kaliningrad, that situation that periodically flares up around the most radical opposition, ultra-opposition movements and those of nationalist and liberalist inclinations.
Faced with such challenges, first of all, the government is trying to improve its strategies to respond to these kinds of things. Recently, there was an attempt to repeat Manege Square after an incident of ethnic crime, where the Russian fans caused the death of another fan. In a psychological sense the authorities have much more technically worked out everything and the attempt at repetition of this scenario simply did not work. On the one hand, the reaction against the ethnic criminals was more forceful than was expected in comparison with the situation that caused the conflict in the Manege Square. On the other hand, the actions of analytical agencies, including law enforcement agencies, have been more robust than before. That is to say, government is learning from its own mistakes, and every time it turns out to be better prepared for next challenges of mass unrest and mass protest, which is fraught with some serious disorder.
But, apparently this is a permanent process. Movements that are now taking place in the western states, in wealthy countries, in countries with a long democratic tradition, suffice it to say that each new stage of historical development of world civilization creates entirely new and unexpected configurations, including political participation of the population.
Who could have predicted that massive protest movements would appear in the United States? It seemed that, after the 70s and after the anti-war rallies against the Vietnam campaign in the U.S. nothing like it would ever be observed. In any case, the scale of civil protests which could be observed in the U.S. during the 90s and 2000s are not comparable with what is beginning now.
If the government will be wise enough not to arrest 700 people and lock them in “obyazanniki” (jails in a police station for pre-charge detention) and establish a dialogue with the protesters, then this process can be moved into a civilized stage and likely it will gradually come to nothing and dissolve itself. But the problem is that it is difficult to identify with whom to engage in a dialogue. In addition, the American establishment lacks the culture of conducting a dialogue with the opponents inside their own country. They have become disaccustomed to it. I think the practice of such dialogues in the United States is lost and in this sense is inferior even to the Russian practice.
The European protests that we are seeing now are a more interesting model simply because there is a mental level, the level of preparedness for a dialogue and compromise is higher than in the States and Russia, and overall in the post-Soviet area. Therefore, most likely, despite the painful excesses as in Rome and Greece, the Europeans will be able to settle with the protesters through dialogue. This of course cannot be claimed with one hundred percent certainty, if the economic situation declines at the same rate as it is now, they may not manage to organize any dialogue. But, theoretically, they have a chance to give both Russia and Kyrgyzstan, and in general to all post-Soviet states, a model of how to overcome such situations, and examples of how to direct the energy of the masses in a peaceful direction. We have to see how they will get out of this quandary.
IPP: Will Kyrgyzstan be able to overcome the «active democracy» in the near future?
Andrei Grozin: Certainly it can, because it's just a part of the political process and the political process is a dynamic system.
The timeframe will depend on the actions of the government. If the authorities will continue to limit themselves to promises, and do nothing in practical terms, then you will have to wait very long. If the socio-economic situation worsens, then it will surely push people into the streets. If the weak, if not positive, changes in the economy that we have seen over the last six months continue and are not interrupted, then the grounds for public protest will shrink.
It is obvious the people are forced to protest not only because of the desire to solve their problems, be it political, party, or anything else, but also due to poverty. We see the protests in Europe, and in Kyrgyzstan we see the same thing. The Europeans lived very well, but now they are afraid that they will not live very well and it pushes them onto the streets. In Kyrgyzstan, as in all of the post-Soviet countries, people did not live very well. They lived more or less poor. As written by the classics: “Way of life determines the consciousness” and pushes people onto the streets. Therefore, everything will depend on the actions of the government, whether it will focus on the harsh suppression of the protests or the bringing of opposition parties to a dialogue, in order to reach a consensus and so on.
The second is what surrounds the population. Everything will depend exactly on what the situation will be in the social sphere. How fast it will change and will there be further stagnation or deterioration.
No one in Kyrgyzstan nor in Moscow can make any exact predictions of whether political participation in 2013 in Kyrgyzstan will be less than in 2011, or more. Nobody can know it, because Kyrgyzstan’s development strategy is not clear. Will the country be focused on investors, the Customs Union, or will it remain an independent economic player? How will the situation in Afghanistan develop? Will the security situation in the region and in the country worsen or will it remain at its current level? How will things develop for your nearest neighbors and so on. So, there are lots of objective and subjective reasons why we cannot make accurate predictions.
But what is important is the focus on normalizing the situation in the economy and letting off steam, which occurs in society through the organization of dialogue, moreover, to create not just an empty talkfest, but fora that will influence the adoption of certain policies, because it is not right to deceive the population and simulate a dialogue. Until recently, in Kyrgyzstan the dialogue has been simulated and the NGO sector, and government and labor unions, and all parties were involved in imitating a dialogue and political activity, thus sometimes solving very different and utilitarian issues.
Depending on how the elite will be responsible and how it can move from the stage of simulating dialogue to a normal stage of literate dialogue and different political and social segments of society, the country will overcome this stage of development.
Material prepared by Tatiana Vikhareva
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