Qazaqstan: Return of eating out raises serviette-snatching concerns

14 May

14 May 2020

With Qazaqstan set to reopen small cafes and terraces from 18 May, a global shortage of extra-long litter pickers could scupper efforts to to eat out in a secure environment.

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Under strict social distancing guidelines, waiting staff should use 2-metre long garbage grabbers to serve food and clear tables, but the requisite poles remain in short supply.

Lord Venal, a frequent visitor to Qazaqstan’s hostelries, explained the serviette dilemma to kazaxia: “Anyone who has ever eaten out in Qazaqstan will know that waiting staff are trained to remove paper napkins [serviettes] at every opportunity. They hover around the table and snatch ones that are barely used.”

New social distancing rules mean that the over-zealous waiters and waitresses will no longer be able to lean in and grab the slightly soiled serviettes by hand. Instead, they will need telescopic rubbish pickers.

A search on Amazon produced no results for pickers of an adequate length, so it may be some time before it will feel safe to eat out.

“What bothers me is how they will maintain the 2-metre rule without the proper tools as I can’t see napkin-snatching habits changing anytime soon,” said Venal, expressing the concerns of many diners in Qazaqstan.

A beginners guide to Eurasian mask etiquette and social distancing

12 May

12 May 2020

If, like many, you have been wondering about the rules of mask wearing and social distancing in Eurasia, then kazaxia has gathered together some recent pictures to have a look at the region’s presidents and their response to this thorny question.

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Art Special: Ornamentum Online – Bringing the exhibition to you

20 Mar

20 March 2020

Almaty’s art galleries have closed their doors as the city shuts down in its bid to halt the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. So, kazaxia has decided to bring the exhibition to you – here’s a chance to see some of the works that were on display at the Ornamentum group show of contemporary art from Central Asia in the city’s Aspan Gallery recently.

Artworks include Uzbekistan artist Dilyara Kaipova’s spin on traditional weaving and graphic works by Kyrgyzstan’s Murat Raiymkulov, Kazakhstan’s Bakhyt Bubikanova and Almaty-based art duo Yelena Vorobyeva and Viktor Vorobyev.

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Uzbekistan book review: The Vanishing Generation by Bagila Bukharbayeva

13 Mar

13 March 2020

The Vanishing Generation is a harrowing yet compelling eye-witness account of the state’s fractious relationship with Islam in Uzbekistan in the 1990s and 2000s. Bagila Bukharbayeva, who was AP correspondent in the region, gives an intensely personal take on what happened as the state went to war with the influential preachers of the early 90s and their followers.

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Bukharbayeva saw childhood friends and neighbours caught up in the dragnet as Islam Karimov’s regime sought to root out what it regarded as radical Islam in Uzbekistan following incursions by Uzbek extremists from Afghanistan and a series of bombings in the capital Tashkent in 1999.

In the last years of the of the Soviet Union and after its break-up in 1991, Uzbekistan saw an awakening of interest in Islam with scholars going to study in madrassahs in the Arab world. Prior to Russian colonization in the late 1800s, the Khanates of what is now Uzbekistan, were at the heart of the Islamic world, with many venerated shrines and religious buildings found in their territory.

After these scholars returned to Uzbekistan, many took to preaching their views of the religion, challenging the status quo of the tightly controlled form of Islam allowed by the state. Spooked by this existential threat, the state came down hard on these preachers and their growing base of followers.

The book takes us to the notorious Zhaslyk prison camp, looks at the rise of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and enters into the heart of 2005’s Andijon massacre, where hundreds were killed as months of protests were violently put down. This important work tells these forgotten stories of disappearances, torture and brutality with the author’s own testimonies and also from the point of view of the people caught up in Karimov’s dragnets.

Since Karimov’s death in 2016, Uzbekistan has been opening up to the world under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Zhaslyk was finally closed in 2019, some long-term inmates have been released and there have been tentative steps on the long road to reconciliation. On 11 March, Tashkent approved the registration of the NGO Huquqi Tayanch (Legal Support) at the fourth attempt.

Huquqi Tayanach is headed by Azam Farmonov, a former Zhaslyk inmate who was imprisoned for 11 years in the camp on spurious charges. While this is a welcome move in the right direction, it must be remembered that while all these abuses were going on President Mirziyoyev was Uzbekistan’s Prime Minister and many members of his cabinet were also in government in those days. Will they ever be held to account for their part in these miscarriages of justice?

Qazaqstan: Hunt is on for Head of State Hoaxer (#hoshoaxer)

11 Mar

11 March 2020

The hunt is on in for an elderly gentleman who has been masquerading as Qazaqstan’s head of state at various events around the world in recent months.

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Vlad and Yelbasy (aka #hoshoaxer) take in the last instalment of “The Way of the Leader,” a multi-part epic about Qazaqstan’s first president, following an argument over whose turn it was to buy the popcorn

The most recent sighting of the septagenarian trickster, who goes by the name of Yelbasy, was in Moscow  earlier today, when he popped in to see President Putin for a friendly chat about succession versus prolongation.

Yelbasy is said to working out of a library in Qazaqstan’s capital Nur-Sultan, from where he plans his forays into top-table meet-ups.

According to an unofficial spokesperson for the actual head of state, President Qassym-Jomart Tokayev, Yelbasy was sent along to the meet Putin as President Tokayev was otherwise engaged attending the opening of a horsemeat processing facility in Kyzylorda.

Uzbekistan: The Golden Road to Democracy

22 Dec

Lord Venal has been in Tashkent to observe the unprecedented democratic changes taking place in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan goes to the polls today in its most vibrant and competitive election ever. Since the arch reformer Shavkat Mirziyoyev took the reins in 2016, this central Asian powerhouse has seen unprecedented reforms that have unleashed the full potential of this sleeping giant.

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Voters flock to the polls in Uzbekistan

I have been fortunate to witness up close the dawning of democracy in this once dark state. Uzbekistan now has a true multi-party democracy with cheerleaders from around the globe urging it on to ever greater reform.

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Lord Venal gets into the spirit of  things for the elections in Uzbekistan

I will be telling my good friend BoJo to look east as we finally exit the evil shackles of the European Union. It is the rising powers of Asia, such as Uzbekistan, who will be the partners of the future for the United Kingdom of England and Wales, not tired old Europe.

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Uzbek plov to UK in post-Brexit trade deal?

Uzbekistan Turns to Gérard Depardieu to Attract Tourists

12 Nov

Looking to attract a different kind of tourist, Uzbekistan has appointed French actor Gérard Depardieu as its tourism ambassador to France, although it’s not exactly clear what kind of tourist the country hopes to attract with this move.

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Googoosha and Gerard in happier times

The veteran actor has had a colourful past. In November 2012, he was arrested in France for driving while intoxicated after he fell from his scooter. He subsequently fled France and became a citizen of Russia at Vladimir Putin’s invitation. More recently he has been accused of sexual assault and rape by a 22-year-old actress and dancer in France.

The formerly pickled thespian – Depardieu says he has stopped drinking alcohol, is no stranger to Central Asia – his long association goes back to 2012 when he recorded a duet with Gulnara Karimova, Googoosha to her friends.

At the time Googoosha, eldest daughter of Uzbekistan’s first president Islam Karimov,  was at the height of her powers. This was shortly before her spectacular fall from grace when she was jailed on corruption charges. Karimova is currently languishing in prison in Uzbekistan and was last heard of in August 2019.

Non-News from Nowheresville Round-up

23 Jul

As the temperature hits the mid-30s in Almaty and remains super-scorchio across the region as a whole, the non-news generator has been working overtime in Central Asia and beyond.

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Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov – not waving goodbye just yet?

On Sunday, 21 July, rumours of the untimely demise of Turkmenistan’s beloved leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, started doing the rounds on social media – Turkmen officials have denied that he’s popped his clogsdenied that he’s popped his clogs, but at the time of writing he still hadn’t been seen in public since before the rumours began…

Atambayev'den Kırgızca açıklaması

They’re coming to take me away, ha, ha….

Not to be outdone, rumours have been swirling around Kyrgyzstan that former president Almazbek Atambayev is about to be arrested after falling out with Sooronbai Jeenbekov, his protégé and now incumbent  president  – something else that has yet to come to pass.

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The UK in dire straits – please give generously…

Meanwhile, over in Britian, this piece of unbelievable news is actually true – Boris Johnson has become Prime Minister, elected by 66% of the Tory party’s 160,000 members – a fine day for democracy.

In a move that may well stun London’s political establishment, Britain’s newly-minted prime minister could make his first foreign trip to – Qazaqstan. While observers in Britain may be baffled by this move, this came as no surprise to leading circles in Nur-Sultan.

“A novice prime minister like Boris has to play a delicate role of projecting continuity with the previous regime and at the same time espousing change,” our source in Akorda told kazaxia. “So naturally he would want to seek out the world-renowned expert on this, Qasym-Jomart Toqaev.” Ironically, both have similar nicknames in their respective local media, BoJo and QoJo, the source added.

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All aboard – timely tips from Qazaqstan on how to deal with demos

BoJo is likely to take advice on how to turn a coronation by a tiny circle into a broad popular mandate: a speedy general election, the deployment of seasoned international commentators to back the transition and, no doubt, the deployment of fleets of Boris buses to handle those pesky opponents.

“I hear that the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Qazaqstan, who was quick to praise the endorsement of QoJo, has arranged for many of his friends in Nur-Sultan’s elite to be ready to observe a similar public endorsement of BoJo by Britain’s grateful electorate,” the Akorda source added.

“Boris is, like QoJo, an inspired choice, and all should back him,” seasoned election observer Lord Venal told kazaxia. “I was lucky enough to meet him only once and regrettably, as the music in the nightclub was rather loud, I didn’t have the chance to talk to him. But he seemed a convivial cove. I hope to meet him again on his forthcoming visit.”

Qazaqstan: Free Bus Travel for Astana Day

5 Jul

Almaty Bus Company is proud to announce that new routes on Days of National Importance will become a permanent feature of our transport solutions for citizens in Qazaqstan’s premier city. The new routes were successfully trialled for the first time on 9 June 2019.

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Almaty Bus Company: After successful experiment, new routes on Days of National Importance

“Almaty Bus Company did a fantastic job getting people to their correct destination on 9 June,” Almaty pensioner QZ Qotaev declared. “Everyone appreciated their prompt, efficient service – and it was free for the travelling public.”

Almaty Bus Company therefore advises its customers that on all future Days of National Importance (which will often coincide with elections), where many people love to gather in the streets of the city centre, some routes will have to be suspended. But they will be replaced by a team of shuttle buses, ready to take you from central city locations directly to your destination (police station or other national security facility).

Please note that while such shuttle buses will be free for all passengers, you will have to be among the lucky people to be selected to travel. The free travel on offer will, however, only be one-way.

Qazaqstan: Venal Resurfaces after “Preventative Chat”

14 Jun

Seasoned election observer Lord Venal, missing in Nur-Sultan since last Sunday, election day, has resurfaced in Almaty. He was in Nur-Sultan to observe the election but was not seen again for a few days after a heavy lunch.

Voters head to the polls in Almaty, Qazaqstan

“We were in a polling station in the morning,” he told kazaxia, “Then we went for lunch. I must have had one or two Pravda Punches too many and then felt sleepy. The next thing I recall is waking up in a sauna with a high-ranking police officer who told me he wanted a little ‘preventative chat’ about my observing.”

You can’t run away from Pravda Punch!

Also present at the ‘briefing’ were Venal’s fellow observers Wanda Ditt, from the Tax Avoidance Advisory Committee, and Bungle, an old-Etonian and Tory MP from the UK. “I was distressed to learn of the intemperate attacks on my good friend and learned parliamentarian [Bungle] because of his long-standing friendship with the people and leaders of the great nation of Qazaqstan. Although we did not go to the same school, our paths crossed later on numerous occasions, most recently over a most congenial drink where the subject of Qazaqstan’s remarkable progress was eagerly applauded,” Venal told kazaxia.

Commenting on the peaceful protests that marked election day in many cities, Lord Venal had this to say: “As for the unfortunate reports of one or two cases of rowdiness on the streets by mostly the youth of the cities, I can say I personally saw nothing untoward and I am sure the guardians of law and order acted with their usual impeccably high standards. Regrettably I will have to make mention of such unfortunate incidents in my election monitoring report, but I will stress how efficiently the law-enforcement agencies dealt with such isolated incidents, which did not mar an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable election experience for all.”

We have received this from Bungle’s solicitors:

British MP’s comments on Kazakhstan’s Presidential Election – Important Advisory Note from Shilling and Pence

Our client has been quoted in Qazaqstan’s media commenting on the free, fair and democratic presidential elections there and the isolated but unfortunate cases of unruliness by a very small minority of people on the streets of several cities.

Our client notes how frequently constituents in the part of London our client represents, who follow developments in Qazaqstan with keen interest, ask our client about the inspiring progress in the country.

Our client has asked us to make absolutely, completely and utterly clear that these remarks were motivated uniquely, solely and only on the basis of facts known to our client, a close student of the remarkable transformation of that emerging country under wise and steady leadership.

Any insinuation, implication or hint that these views are motivated by anything other than an honest assessment of the facts will attract an immediate response, not excluding the possibility of libel action in any jurisdiction, including in the English courts.

Our client has also asked us to make clear that any hospitality from Qazaqstan’s Embassy in London, not excluding visits to view live football matches in a spirit of conviviality, is accepted on the basis of politeness and is duly entered as appropriate in the House of Commons register of members’ interests.

Shilling & Pence

London, EC4