Exclusive Interview with Atambayev Part 2

Since we published the first part of our exclusive interview from  Kyrgyz ex-president, Almazbek Atambayev 2 weeks ago we have received hundreds of messages (mostly positive). Most intriguing was that most comments were from neighboring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan probably mirroring their concerns for the future of current and past country leaders. 

Today on 63rd Birthday of Almazbek Atambayev we decided to release the second part  of that sensational interview, OCA goes even deeper into the personal feelings and ambitions of Atambayev just prior to his arrest. Happy Birthday Mr.President! 

 OCA: You are a person with great political experience who has devoted most of your conscious life to the participation in political processes. Has this always been the case?

AA: Actually, I wanted to do business. In the summer of 1989 I opened the first private company in Kyrgyzstan. It was thirty years ago. This was done was under Gorbachev, during the USSR.

OCA: What did the firm do?

AA: The first money that I earned was actually from book publishing. Now the book, which was initially published with just 1,000 copies but now has probably 10,000 copies, is considered to be very popular. In Soviet times, the most prestigious and most important riches in the houses of the intelligent people were crystals and books, therefore, the book as a product had become popular in the market. Books were distributed according to the order of the district executive committee.

I remember once, after I opened the company, my wife bought an old shabby book, “Modern Hostess,” and she began to leaf through it carefully. Then I asked why she bought this book. To which she replied that such books are not available for sale any more, there is a shortage in supply. At that moment, as a businessman, I thought about what goods I could procure for sale. Begging her to give me this book, I made copies. And by March 8th of 1990 we released the  “Book of a Modern Hostess” in paperback. We even tracked down the author of the book and thanked her. At that time, people were sitting without money, so that she was very glad.

Thereafter, I began to publish millions of copies of such books like “Angelica” by Ann and Serge Golon and “Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess. We sent all these books for sale to Moscow. Why? Because there was a political struggle in Moscow at that time. And all Moscow printing houses were busy with orders for political leaflets and newspapers. But the deficit for real works of authorship remained – the curtain fell, and people demanded Western literature. The same “Godfather” by Mario Puzo had not been published in the USSR due to censorship.

OCA: It’s great that you had a business connected with books, because today many people think that books are not profitable at all.

AA: Due to the fact that all printing houses were clogged up in Moscow, I was able to establish in-line production in Kyrgyzstan and then delivered the remaining books to Moscow, with print runs of around five hundred thousand copies. Each book, at that time, cost a couple of dollars.

Printing workers in Bishkek rejoiced: the printing house came to life and received orders, so salaries began to be paid. At that time, cottages around the Alamedin River cost $ 200 here. Now they are at least ten thousand dollars. In the 90s, I managed to form a very powerful start-up from minimal capital for a forum of an industrial group, and for my factories in Turkey. This was for independent political activity.

Of course, I did not spend all of my fortune on politics. I had years when I earned up to $20 million. I even kept all the notarised documents on the receipt of dividends from a particular enterprise. (Editor’s note – Almazbek Atambayev indicated that he had provided the necessary documents regarding dividends to the Radio Liberty branch in Kyrgyzstan (Azattyk) and to the April TV channel, and also linked them with his business partners in Turkey.)

OCA: It sounds like with book publishing in Moscow, you were in the right place at the right time. Is that so?

AA: The idea was right. Within two or three years, everyone in Bishkek had already seized upon this idea with printing houses. But the cream had already been skimmed. Then  in Russia they realised the profitability of the business. More precisely, they switched from political publishing to consumer interests.

OCA: So it turns out thirty years ago that you were young and successful. And yet now you are uniting a lot of young people around you. I think that your great experience, about which we spoke, will really be useful to the country, useful to young people. Who are the future leaders of Kyrgyzstan? Can you name someone already?

AA: Yes, I think that our old elite should already completely give way to the new elite: young, unsullied, fair, unsaleable.

OCA: And who is this? Because this question interests many: who will succeed and lead the country?

AA: Of course, I cannot give the name, otherwise it will not be serious from my side. But people are waiting for new faces, and not only in Kyrgyzstan. It’s just that people eventually get tired of old politicians and want new faces, if the old elite no longer justifies their hopes. This happened in Ukraine. But in Kyrgyzstan, we started to do this earlier. When I left the presidency, the prime minister at that time was 39 years old, and some ministers were 29-32 years old. It is a pity then that the new president crossed all this out.

The authorities, by the way, are still implementing the Taza Coom digital transformation program, which was presented to the public by the young Prime Minister, Sapar Isakov, before being imprisoned. But Jeenbekov actually went to the polls with him in tandem, and the popularity of Sapar Isakov, despite his youth, was higher.

I agreed with my successor that he would be like an “aksakal”: to help young people, to help a young technocrat prime minister, to prepare the country for a complete transition to a parliamentary form of government and to the raise. But it turned out that absolute power was more important to him.

OCA: Having taken this step, you actually brought in the youngest prime minister in the CIS (Sapar Isakova). And that was unusual because …

AA: There was Zelensky. 

OCA: But Zelensky came only recently. We are talking about what happened five years ago.

AA: But the “aksakals” in Ukraine are among those who have not gotten into politics, there are only new faces. For myself, I also set the task that a new elite should come, no matter what age: young or solid.

OCA: And to continue this issue, there are a lot of talented people from Kyrgyzstan who have gone abroad. Do you have any plans to work with compatriots, with young professionals who have gained experience and education abroad and attract them to the development of a new political system in Kyrgyzstan?

AA: Forcibly returning compatriots to their homeland is not entirely correct – the right conditions must be created first. But in Kyrgyzstan, thank God, there are worthy young guys to be proud of. I think there are many people here who can work and promote their country who are already here. 

OCA: You could appeal through the press with a proposal to return, to take part in the development of your own country. Wouldn’t that also be an interim solution?

AA: It would be nice, but most young people have a mood about the lack of future and prospects, therefore, there is a need to leave their homeland.

This situation needs to change but it will change only when the power itself changes. The authorities will either go to radical reforms, or completely change.

OCA: What do you think, the current government is capable of reforming and negotiating? Or do you need to change it?

AA: I think we saw everything in two years. The current government is not capable of anything. In any case, I see this clearly, and not just me. They know how to deceive people well, but on this deception they lived well for a year and a half, and now it has begun to crumble. People need to show prospects and a real fight against corruption. Unfortunately, the people at first believed that the new government was purging the system.

I saw who is who. And whether this power within itself can overcome corruption is doubtful, because they will have to bite and discard their own pieces of the body.

I know that both ex-prime minister Sapar Isakov and former head of the customs service Kubanychbek Kulmatov “sat down” trying to really fight corruption at customs. I could calmly leave the country many times, or “make peace” with the authorities just by shutting up, but I have to talk about it. And I will talk about it.

OCA: The country probably needs a new generation of politicians to get out of this crisis. But when will this be ?

AA: Now it’s hard to predict anything unfortunately. 

OCA: So far, is there any specific scenario?

AA: (laughs) I was accused of preparing a revolution in the country. During my life I have already seen two revolutions in Kyrgyzstan. A revolution is always prepared and made by the authorities themselves. The authorities create such a situation, as Lenin said, when the tops cannot steer, people do not believe and do not want to live in the old way. And so the revolution turns out. We are all going into this, to be honest. People are already mistrustful of the new authorities. 

When I transferred presidential powers almost two years ago, the country was stable and steadily developing, all indicators were growing, and now the situation is completely different. For the first time in the history of our independence, tax and customs duties are falling, and there is a worrying increase in the amount of imported goods into the country.

OCA: And this is your anti-corruption activity, you are collecting young people, what do you want to achieve?

 AA: For young people to come by themselves.

OCA: It seems they believe you. There must be a leader for them, and you are that leader. But what happens if you Are not released and cannot be that leader?

AA: You know, even the previous chairman of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, Erkin Mamyrov, stated six months ago that I still remained inviolable, referring to three articles in the Constitution. His truth was then immediately removed from office, and his seat was given to the former assistant of Asylbek Jeenbekov (younger brother of the current president of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbai Jeenbekov).

I won’t go to interrogation, because all these accusations, decisions made against me, they were accepted in violation of all laws and the Constitution. Therefore, I’m not going to play along and take part in the booth, the main argument is that the Constitutional Chamber has not confirmed yet the legitimacy of the summons themselves. I suggested to them that if they had questions about the case, to please make them in writing, not during interrogation, but simply as a person who wants to help the investigation. But it is clear that they do not need the truth, they do not need evidence or facts, they need something completely different.

OCA: That is why the risk is very high that more people will come to you, especially if you are silenced or forcibly arrested. 

AA: If there is an attempt to use force, then the authorities will light a match that they can not extinguish. They are so unreasonable that anything can happen 

OCA: Are you planning to visit somewhere else to bring up your cause? What can you tell about the flight to Moscow for example?

AA: It so happened that Vladimir Vladimirovich invited me several times. It was decided to organise my departure from a Russian military base in Kant. A whole escort of hundreds of cars accompanied me and met me at the airport.

 I think that the authorities are smart enough to correct their mistakes or radically change the situation, but is there enough wisdom? They still have time to work on mistakes, let us wait a couple of months.

And so I am a fatalist. What is destined will be, there is no sense in fearing or worrying about something.

The main thing is to go for the truth, for justice and the interests of people. If you know that you are right, you will always win.


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