The intrigue of an unexpected revolutionary

| Staff Columnist

Mother of two, former ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom, deputy of the United Nations special envoy to Georgia…leader of a violent political revolution in Central Asia? What?

I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest guru on Central Asia/former U.S.S.R. state politics, but I’ll also admit that I’m fascinated with a rising political figure in Kyrgyzstan—Roza Otunbayeva.

On April 7, the people of Kyrgyzstan stormed their capital city, Bishkek, and forced their president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, to evacuate. At the helm of this massive governmental coup was Roza Otunbayeva, now interim leader of the newly established government controlling Kyrgyzstan. I’m not going to go into details on the specific political maneuvering that’s sweeping through the Central Asian country, but I would like to point out how interesting the leader of this revolution is.

I won’t lie, when I first read about the revolution in The New York Times, I had to do a double take. I was expecting to see someone like Viktor Yushchenko or Vladimir Putin on the front pages. But to my surprise, I saw Roza Otunbayeva. After some thought, I’ve come to a conclusion as to why Roza Otunbayeva fascinates me: She’s relatable.

First, her credentials are inconsistent with regular—at least in my opinion—revolutionaries. As she was a foreign ambassador to both the United States and the United Kingdom, Roza Otunbayeva’s ties to firmly established Western democracies appear solid. Second, the fact that Roza Otunbayeva is a woman makes her seem, if not more relatable, at the very least, less like traditional revolutionists in Eastern Europe.

There’s an irreconcilable tension, then, between Otunbayeva’s history and persona, and her recent overthrow of the Kyrgyz government. While her résumé may tout some concrete examples of Western engagement, her involvement in the revolution is completely the opposite. It pulls from strong disestablishmentarian cords that are far from the daily considerations of established Western democracies.

To complicate matters more, even though the propensity of Otunbayeva’s revolution leans toward democracy, the country is showing strong signs of fostering stronger relations with Russia than with the U.S. This development in its foreign policy signals that the new Kyrgyzstan is actually less in line with the traditional Western influences that surrounded Otunbayeva throughout her career and more in sync with Russia—a force that often disagrees with the United States and United Kingdom politically.

But it’s not only Otunbayeva’s résumé that I find interesting. It’s the fact that she’s a woman wielding so much power in an Eastern European nation. I’ll totally acknowledge that our world (thankfully) is becoming more and more gender neutral with respect to leadership and political clout. But it’s also significant to note that in the history of the U.S.S.R.’s dissolution, men have, by and large, controlled the political scene. Otunbayeva’s projection to the top of all power in Kyrgyzstan is not only unexpected politically, but also personally.

Roza Otunbayeva is precarious. On the surface, she’s completely atypical for a revolutionary in Eastern Europe/Central Asia. Both her background and gender starkly contrast the traditional archetypes of political leaders in her region. It’s these differences, I think, that make Ms. Otunbayeva appear so relatable to me. I may not actually have that much in common with Ms. Otunbayeva; as a matter of fact, I probably don’t. But there’s something in me that wants to reach out toward her and get to know her better. For better or for worse, I’ll follow Roza Otunbayeva’s political arc with anticipation and intrigue.

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