BISHKEK — When Kyrgyz opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva rose to the helm of her country’s government following the April overthrow of former President Kurmanbek Bakiev, she came sporting a squeaky-clean political reputation.
In an exclusive interview with Burulkan Sarygulova of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, Otunbaeva says her country is now undertaking its own clean-up process, which includes addressing and adapting to new political realities.
RFE/RL: How would you describe the events of April 7, 2010? Was it a “revolution,” and did it achieve its goals?
Roza Otunbaeva: In 2005, [with the overthrow of former President Askar Akaev], we thought that we did carry out a revolution. We revolted against corruption with a strong will. Unfortunately, the revolution was stolen. The Bakiev regime did not preserve even a trace of it. [Former President Kurmanbek Bakiev] used it for his personal power, for his personal family.
Regarding the April 7 events, the word “revolution” became a routine term. I would say that we are on the way toward cleaning things up. We are cleaning up [society], and we are heading toward the path of democracy.
RFE/RL: Why did those who identified themselves as a revolutionary force and advocates for parliamentary democracy not sweep to victory in the parliamentary elections held on October 10, 2010?
Otunbaeva: We are witnessing the difference between political ambitions and reality. The group which was united during the revolution was dispersed during the elections. They could not be a united force and they could not organize the [preelection] activities. They regarded their own opponents as a weak group who would not challenge them and they thought the people would only be on their side. They were influenced by such opinions.
RFE/RL: Why has Kyrgyzstan not managed to detain the family members of former President Bakiev, who are charged with committing crimes and have fled?
Otunbaeva: We should say, in truth, that we entered the legal field step by step. Before that, neighboring countries did not invite us to the big international summits. Only after the June 27 referendum could I attend summits as the sole, legitimate [Kyrgyz] official. Even after that, our neighboring countries and other partner countries waited for a [legitimate] parliament and government. They did regard that as the main issue, and that is why nobody helped us to detain and extradite both the family members of Bakiev and other [former] high officials.
“The first and foremost reason — the main reason for the June events — was the revolt of the local criminal elements there.”
RFE/RL: Will that change now that a government has formed?
Otunbaeva: Now we have [legitimate] grounds [to extradite the Bakievs]. We very dramatically left the constitutional arena and returned to it this year. We cannot enter the territory of another country in order to carry out actions to detain [people]. We are aware that Bakiev is in Belarus now. By comparison, Russia knows that [wanted oligarch Boris] Berezovsky is sitting in Britain, but even this great world power cannot be successful in trying to extradite him.
RFE/RL: Some Kyrgyz law enforcement representatives have said that they knew about the possibility of June’s deadly interethnic clashes in advance. Why did your government fail to stop it in time?
Otunbaeva: The first and foremost reason — the main reason for the June events — was the revolt of the local criminal elements there. It was a time when there was a power vacuum. Bakiev’s government had left and the interim government was still coming in. In the south, the family members of Bakiev — his closest circles, his cronies, and those who wanted to bring him back — resisted [the new government]. The criminal elements worked hard, standing up for Bakiev’s family and their own interests.
So we could not stop the criminality in time, because the old personnel, which were loyal to the previous regime, were continuing to work in the police and security agencies. We had to transfer some of them to different regions. Time was needed for that.
RFE/RL: U.S. President Barack Obama met with you on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September, and the United States has been closely following the situation in Kyrgyzstan. Russia has done the same. How do you balance U.S. and Russian influences in the country?
Otunbaeva: I met with [Russian] President Medvedev and Prime Minister [Vladimir] Putin five or six times between the April events and now. I met with them face-to-face and during the summits. We meet together for the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the CIS, the Eurasian Economic Community, the OSCE, and other meetings. Our achievements are also connected with our traditional relations with Russia. About 300,000 Kyrgyz citizens live in Russia now. I personally studied for eight years in Moscow at the university and for my doctorate. That is why I have close relations with this country.
Regarding America, it is on the other side of the ocean. Why should it be bad if this country pays attention to Kyrgyzstan and to our democratic developments with the intention to help us? I am against dividing politicians, labeling them as the pro-American and pro-Russian. I am Kyrgyz. I am a person who defends the interests of the Kyrgyz government and the Kyrgyz state. The Americans paid special attention to us among other 200 countries, as you mentioned, during the United Nations General Assembly in New York this year. It means that they are assessing our development and want democracy to prevail in Kyrgyzstan.
“I am against dividing politicians, labeling them as the pro-American and pro-Russian. I am Kyrgyz.”
RFE/RL: Have you and Obama discussed allegations that U.S. fuel contracts enriched Bakiev’s inner circle during his presidency?
Otunbaeva: I told President Obama about the oil supply issue at the American transit center [at Manas airport]. He also agreed [to deal with it]. I told him that the Mina Corporation, which has been supplying the center with aircraft fuel, had been involved in some wrongdoing, and we are working to check whether it was directly connected to Bakiev’s family members. I also said that we should stop all corrupt activities. We are trying to establish a state-run company that would supply the center with aircraft fuel and would bring money into our state budget. Mr. Obama agreed with that.
RFE/RL: And now a question related to your personal life. The newspaper “Asman Press” published an article alleging that you own a house in London’s Chelsea district. You rejected that claim in an interview with RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service in June. The newspaper recently republished its claim. What is your response?
Otunbaeva: I would answer it this way: Even when our lives were in danger, we fought for a free press. A free press like this will exist in Kyrgyzstan in the future. They can write anything they want to. However, there must also be responsibility. If I would sue this newspaper, it would not be a suitable step by me as the head of state. This is a [new] principle for our government, for our country. I responded to [the allegations] that I don’t have such a house. I have only a three-room flat in Bishkek. The press can [easily] find out what property I have.
RFE/RL: One year from now, you will conclude your presidential term. What will be the next stage of your career?
Otunbaeva: I suppose I will tirelessly help Kyrgyzstan. It is not necessary to be in an official capacity. Still, I can do a lot. I have a lot of ties and connections around the world. I personally know thousands of people inside Kyrgyzstan, in its seven regions. I will try to get them to help Kyrgyzstan. I suppose I will do my very best to achieve that.
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