Bruce Sterling on Fri, 11 Feb 2005 12:18:19 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Tactical Media for Central Asian Ruling Elites

*I especially like the part where the oppressor
of the NGO's media outlet, instantly halving
their audience and rupturing their credibility.
What a hack! -- bruces

RFE/RL Central Asia Report
Vol. 5, No. 5, 9 February 2005

A Weekly Survey of Developments in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.



By Daniel Kimmage

	As Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan prepare for parliamentary
elections on 27 February, information wars are heating up in both
countries. The basic ammunition is the word, but battles go far
beyond dueling declarations to include struggles for control over the
means of generating and disseminating information. Tough tactics are
the order of the day, with opposition newspapers facing legal
travails, duplicate organizations springing up to sow confusion, and
dubious leaks envenoming the atmosphere. But the real victim is the
political process itself, which can easily lose its way in the fog of
information war.

	The first front in the information wars involves ideas, and
it is often the meanings of words that are at issue. A hard-fought
polemic over the meaning of the word "revolution" is underway in
Kyrgyzstan, which many outside observers have suggested could the
next candidate for political change in the emerging tradition of
Ukraine's Orange Revolution or Georgia's Rose Revolution.

   Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev has made it his personal quest to
explain that these were not true popular movements, but rather
foreign-inspired coups, and that a repetition in Kyrgyzstan is a real
and pressing danger. As the president put it at a cabinet meeting in
Bishkek on 11 January, "The most dangerous thing is that our
home-grown provocateurs now have qualified trainers who have learned
how to coax from provocations the flame of revolutions of various
colors," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In an address to young
people on 5 February, he depicted revolution as foreign contagion
attacking the traditions of the Kyrgyz people. "I believe that the
Kyrgyz people, with their ancient democratic culture, will
demonstrate their immunity to the attempts by extremist forces
advancing mercenary goals to infect the country with dangerous
revolutionary viruses," he said, according to Kabar.

	The opposition, careful to avoid the appearance of openly
fomenting revolution yet intent on stressing that conditions are
right for political change, has offered its own definition. When the
BBC asked Roza Otunbaeva, the leader of the Ata-Jurt opposition
movement, on 2 February whether Kyrgyzstan is "ripe for its own
'velvet,' 'rose,' or 'orange' revolution,"
she replied, "I believe that it is absolutely ready. But I would like
to make a significant correction. We're not talking about a
revolution, but about the peaceful, calm, and constitutional transfer
of power in our country. Revolutions, which ordinary people associate
with blood, theft, and looting, are not what took place in Tbilisi
and Kyiv. And they won't happen here [in Kyrgyzstan]."

	Another front in the information war involves the means of
disseminating information. Television is far and away the most
important medium, and in both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the ruling
elites have a firm grip on the airwaves. In Kyrgyzstan, for example,
three television stations have significant broadcast range. The
largest of them is state-controlled KTR. Another, KOORT, is
controlled by Adil Toigonbaev, President Askar Akaev's
son-in-law, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) reported
on 10 September 2004. The third is Piramida-TV. In August 2004, only
a few months before February 2005 parliamentary elections, a group
called Areopag acquired a stake in the network. As Eurasianet
reported on 28 August 2004, Areopag has a number of links to
President Akaev's family and administration. In Tajikistan,
state-run television predominates.

	With television less contested, the dissemination front in
the information war often shifts to print journalism. In Tajikistan,
the independent weeklies "Ruzi Nav" and "Nerui Sukhan" have
experienced a host of difficulties since the tax police shuttered
their printing house in August 2004. Further run-ins with the tax
police ensued, despite an international outcry. At one point, the
staff of "Ruzi Nav" even printed up an issue of the newspaper in
neighboring Kyrgyzstan, although Tajik tax police impounded it when
it arrived in Dushanbe in November. Most recently, tax police
confiscated an issue of "Ruzi Nav" in late January. In Kyrgyzstan,
the newspaper "MSN" now faces a defamation lawsuit from a rival
newspaper involving damages in excess of $100,000. The lawsuit, and
possible criminal charges against the newspaper in connection with an
earlier regulatory dispute, led the opposition People's Movement
of Kyrgyzstan to appeal to President Akaev on 1 February, charging
that the authorities "want to close 'MSN'...on the threshold
of parliamentary and presidential elections," "RFE/RL Newsline"
reported on 2 February.

	Yet another front in the information war involves the actual
generators of information -- political parties and organizations. The
aims here range from confusion to usurpation, and an important tactic
is the splitting of existing organizations or the creation of
duplicate structures. In Tajikistan, the Socialist Party has split
into two factions. When the faction led by Abduhalim Ghafforov, an
Education Ministry official, held a party conference in June 2004,
the faction led by Mirhuseyn Nazriev protested that the split was a
state-sponsored attempt to divide and demolish the opposition party,
Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 21 July 2004. The Central Election
Commission's eventual decision to recognize the Ghafforov-led
faction and approve its party slate for inclusion in parliamentary
elections would appear to lend credence to Nazriev's claim.

	The Kyrgyz student organization Kel-Kel provides a textbook
example of cloning. Kel-Kel arose in mid-January amid protests over a
district election commission's refusal to register opposition
leader Roza Otunbaeva's candidacy for parliamentary elections.
Kel-Kel did not associate itself with any particular party, but
billed itself as an organization to defend electoral and civil
rights. Almost immediately, however, another organization appeared
calling itself Kel-Kel, using the same color schemes and logos, and
even involving leaders with the same last names, IWPR reported on 28
January. As IWPR noted, the second Kel-Kel is pro-government; it has
echoed President Akaev's anti-revolutionary rhetoric in its
condemnation of "velvet revolutions" and "hysterical demonstrations."

	The final front in the information wars is disinformation, or
compromising materials, usually of unclear provenance and purpose.
Two outstanding examples have appeared in Kyrgyzstan in recent
months. The first is an alleged action plan penned in September 2004
Bolot Januzakov, deputy head of the presidential administration; it
lays out clandestine measures for monitoring the political situation
in Kyrgyzstan in the run-up to parliamentary elections, including
surveillance of NGOs that maintain contacts with the opposition. The
second is an alleged transcript of a secret meeting in late 2004,
with Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev crudely admonishing officials to
"liquidate" nettlesome opposition politicians. The documents first
surfaced in the Internet, and both officials have vigorously denied
their authenticity.

	Purported "smoking guns," which are almost always
unverifiable, usually give rise to myriad interpretations. The
individuals impugned cry foul and allege defamation. Their opponents,
caught between an unwillingness to embrace possibly tainted materials
and a suspicion that the compromising material may contain a grain of
truth, revel in complexities. In an article in "MSN" on 15 January,
Rina Prizhivoit, a staunch critic of President Akaev and his
government, opined that Akaev's political advisers may have
cooked up the "Tanaev transcript" "to show the firmness and
decisiveness of the president, who defends democracy and the law,
against the backdrop of the outrageous excesses that Nikolai Tanaev
has blessed his underlings to carry out. And they did it expressly so
that all of Kyrgyzstan's independent media would publish it." But
Prizhivoit allows that the transcript might also represent an attempt
to portray Tanaev "as an idiot and a criminal, so that there would be
someone to blame for 'unacceptable' methods of combating the

	In the end, compromising materials and disinformation sully
the political process itself more than any concrete individuals. For
while they leave analysts guessing at sources and motives, they exert
a disheartening effect on the real participants in the political
process -- voters, who are left to blunder about in a haze of
insinuation. But if the fog is thickest on the disinformation front,
it is also considerable on the front of information generation as
well. The fight for control over information dissemination, where
most of the battles have gone to ruling elites, forms a further
impediment to the political process. Taken together, the shifting
fronts of the information war greatly reduce the possibility of a
fair fight on the front that is supposed to matter most -- the one
that involves ideas.

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