Roza Otunbaeva, Acting Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan, visited the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) on June 10, fresh from her trip to Washington, D.C., to meet Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
Andrea Bartoli, director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution, organized the talk. Catharine Nepomnyashchy, director of the Harriman Institute, chaired and moderated the discussion.
Otunbaeva stressed to a packed crowd at SIPA's Harriman Institute that the country's interim government seeks to create a democratic and egalitarian state that reduces corruption and stimulates the economy. The first test of the new system will be whether the country can hold just and transparent elections next month, Otunbayeva said.
Many citizens of Kyrgyzstan, located in a region of Central Asia where mountain tulips bloom in spring, hope to bring popular rule to the least democratic region in all the former Soviet empire. Otunbayeva played down fears that her country's "Tulip Revolution" in March would end up replacing one authoritarian regime with another.
President Askar Akayev was overthrown during the parliamentary elections of Feb. 27 and March 13, 2005. The revolution sought the end of rule by Akayev, his family and their associates, who were widely believed to be extremely corrupt and authoritarian.
The dangers of privatization and the concentration of wealth in the hands of few of are special challenges for the former Soviet republic. "Now it's not enough to be rich and have a lot of (material) things," Otunbaeva said. "Now those people want power" and they are willing to use any means necessary to get it.
Otunbaeva also emphasized the importance of having a media outlet that is not merely an apparatus of the state. In particular, she credited American Radio Liberty with providing an alternate account of developments during the revolution. Without American Radio Liberty, many citizens of Kyrgyzstan would have had to rely on the heavily biased coverage of four state-run channels for the news.
Columbia's Harriman Institute is the oldest and largest academic center of its kind in the United States devoted to the interdisciplinary study of Russia and the other successor states of the former Soviet Union, East Central Europe, and the Balkans.