Mirsulzhan Namazaliev awoke to the sound of gunfire in his downtown Bishkek apartment on a Tuesday night in early April. By Friday, a new government was in power and he was sharing his opinions of the transition on CNN International. In this edition of Atlas Highlights, we feature the story of the Central Asia Free Market Institute (CAFMI) in Kyrgyzstan, of which Namazaliev is executive director.
Since his election victory in 2005, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s administration had become increasingly authoritarian. Widespread corruption, election fraud, threats to cut off internet access and silence journalists and opposition leaders marred Bakiyev’s term. His increasing control over the daily lives of the Kyrgyz people culminated in a citizen revolt last month. Riots in the capital were met with a crackdown that resulted in more than 80 deaths and over 1,000 wounded.
Namazaliev is familiar with this environment as there have been rallies against Bakiyev in the past. He was arrested in 2004 for holding a simple sign at a protest stating “I Don’t Believe” in response to a proposed government policy.
This time was different, however, as the opposition dissolved parliament and forced Bakiyev to flee Bishkek. So when the interim government took power on that Friday following the uprising, CAFMI staff recalled Milton Friedman’s thoughts on social change, “Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” They saw the perfect window of opportunity to put forth their bold agenda for reform. The fine-tuned and well-organized CAFMI team includes Namazaliev and Gulmira Aidaralieva, both graduates of Atlas’s Think Tank MBA management program, Canadian-educated accountant Seyitbek Usmanov, and recently appointed acting Minister of Economic Development, Emil Umetaliev. Working tirelessly until 2:00AM each night, the team is preparing the Justice and Prosperity Agenda: 11 Steps to Freedom to be unveiled before the national elections in the fall.
Atlas’s Tom Palmer encouraged Namazaliev, Usmanov and Umetaliev to establish CAFMI at a meeting in Bishkek in February of 2009. Since then Atlas has supported this institute by advising on strategic planning, providing management training and introducing CAFMI to the broader network of liberty-oriented activists throughout the world. Umetaliev’s appointment to Minister coincided with a recent visit by Palmer following the unrest. After a series of strategy meetings with CAFMI, Palmer was invited to make a special presentation to the deputy ministers, advisors, and staff of the Economics Ministry. With CAFMI active in the public square and Umetaliev’s guidance in office, there is great hope for reducing the power of the state, eliminating waste and creating a prosperous Kyrgyzstan and Central Asian region.