Apparently the OSCE has been monitoring U.S. elections since 2002. Who knew? I’m sure that, like the NAACP, all Americans now feel a tremendous sense of comfort that foreign observers from well-established democratic bastions like Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are keeping an eye on those nefarious blue-haired ladies who staff our polling places. Countries with such strong democratic traditions no doubt have a lot to teach the nation that is the oldest, and most successful, functioning democracy on Earth.
I don’t think we should threaten the OSCE observers with prosecution, of course, but let’s not kid ourselves: representatives of other countries should be coming here to learn how free and fair elections are held, not to judge whether our processes stack up to whatever odd standards have been devised in the bureaucratic depths of an organization like the OSCE. And, if the OSCE is one of those organizations that is largely funded by U.S. tax dollars, don’t expect us to pay for the useful education that the OSCE representatives will receive.
I drove to work today listening to stories of opposition demonstrations, deaths, and chaotic conditions in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, and by the time I got home tonight the media was reporting that the government had been toppled and a “people’s government” was being formed. My first reaction was to think: where in the world is Kyrgyzstan? — and my second reaction was to feel a sense of shame that I couldn’t quickly point to it on a globe. About the only thing I knew about its location is that it is one of the cluster of “stans” found north of India and south of Russia on the Asian continent. It is appalling to be so ignorant about basic world geography.
It turns out the Kyrgyzstan borders Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakstan, as well as China. Interestingly, Kyrgyzstan is home to both an American military base and a Russian base. (How many countries can make that statement?) The American military base is of some significance, because it is used as a supply point for American forces in Afghanistan. Today’s unrest comes only a few years after the 2005 Tulip Revolution, in which another government was toppled. Americans obviously will have to hope that the conditions there don’t affect our military base or our ability to support our troops in Afghanistan.
What else do we know about Kyrgyzstan? According to the CIA’s World Factbook website, the country is slightly smaller than North Dakota. It is a mountainous land, with a climate that ranges from polar in the Tien Shan mountains along the southeast border to subtropical in the southwest to temperate in the north. It is an incredibly young country — the median age is not even 25 years old! — and is predominantly Muslim. The country’s economy is centered on agriculture, and it is struggling with problems caused by water pollution. The big body of water shown on the accompanying map is a large, saline lake called Ysyk-Kol, which means “hot lake” in Kyrgyz.
Opposition coups are a good excuse to learn a bit about faraway lands.