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Window on Eurasia — New Series: ‘Belarus More Like Russia and Kyrgyzstan More like Ukraine,’ Schulmann Says

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Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 8 – In the course of a tour d’horizon of world events on Ekho Moskvy, Moscow political analyst Ekaterina Schulmann makes a critically important point: regimes based on similar political models are likely to behave in a similar fashion even if the countries they represent are geographically distant and ethnically dissimilar.

            That needs to be kept in mind, she says, when considering what is going on now in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan because “Belarus is more like Russia, while Kyrgyzstan is more like Ukraine.” Remembering that provides a way of understanding what has happened and is likely to happen (

            Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine are both countries “with a relatively weak central power but with strong clans.” They are divided regionally. “In Ukraine this is East -West; in Kyrgyzstan, it is North-South.” Groups representing these regions struggle for power, and if things go too far, the situation deteriorates, and protests or even revolutions become likely.

             The force structures in the two countries know that regime changes are likely and frequent, and therefore they are ready for change rather than dug in against even the possibility of some movement in a different direction, Schulmann says.

            The situation in Belarus where there has been one ruler for 26 years, when “there is no regional division, when there is a single elite and no clans,” is completely different. Challenging the powers that be is difficult and overturning them is even more so. Russia is not exactly the same, but it is more like Belarus than many assume. 

            The Moscow political scientist calls attention to another feature of the Kyrgyz political system that exacerbates this situation. To get into the parliament there, parties must gain at least seven percent of the vote. That is a very high barrier and means that from the outset many will vote for parties that don’t meet it. They will be angry, and they can be mobilized.

            “In a country in which there is no particular national unity, such a barrier in parliamentary elections is an evil,” Schulmann says. Too many people are likely to be on the outside and conclude that those on the inside don’t represent them. Given the country’s other problems, that can be enough to push people into the streets and challenge the regime.

Window on Eurasia — New Series