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Kazakhstan: Justice is Might

25 Feb

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The authorities in Kazakhstan resorted to a show of brute force to keep a lid on protests in the commercial capital Almaty on 25 February. Hundreds of regular police in riot gear were augmented by special forces troops as an area of central Almaty was physically cordoned off by hundreds of officers in a bid to stop an opposition rally.

The organisers of the rally were rounded up before it took place, leaving other activists to lead the protest. Several arrests were made by snatch squads as the authorities came down hard on what it regards as an unsanctioned rally, despite Kazakhstan’s constitution safeguarding the right to free assembly.

This show of strength sent out a strong message that Astana is in no mood to compromise and that it will crush any dissent with an iron fist. Does anyone else sense an air of desperation in these actions, as the powers that be are increasingly backed into a corner with violence and intimidation as the last resort?


Kazakhstan: Artist Targeted in Crackdown

2 Feb

Kazakhstan’s crackdown on dissent, which has been unfolding since an ‘unsanctioned’ opposition rally in Almaty on 28 January, has seen performance artist Kanat Ibragimov hauled in to stand trial alongside well-known opposition figures such as Bolat Abilyov, Mukhtar Shakhanov and Gulzhan Yergaliyeva.

Kanat Ibragimov screams for democracy in Almaty on 28 January 2012

Kanat Ibragimov, unlike Bolat Abilov, escaped a prison sentence and was given a fine for daring to take to the podium and call for democracy. In the generally grey world of Kazakh politics, Kanat cuts a colourful figure with his history of protest actions. He posits himself on the side of art rather than politics, but his activities carry an edge that never fails to needle the authorities.

A panda meets an untimely end at the hands of Kanat Ibragimov, Almaty, January 2010

Kazaxia first came across Kanat at a rally in January 2010. The demonstration was protesting Chinese expansionism into Kazakhstan and Kanat’s response was to symbolically decapitate a toy panda. Other actions he has initiated include ‘A Fish Rots from the Head Down‘ in which he savages a fish with an axe on Almaty’s Republic Square. I wonder who the ‘head’ could refer to here?

While Astana can cope with any amount of shouting and barracking from the podium by the usual suspects, Kanat Ibragimov’s humour is an approach that the stilted grey men are ill-equipped to deal with. Fines and prison sentences will only spur this performance artist onto greater things.

Kazakhstan: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

20 Jan

Kazaxia has received the following contribution from Dr Boris B. Eltway of the Free University of Trans-Dniester Moldavian Republic on the recent election in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan has just been to the polls in what many observers are hailing as a major step forward on the long, rocky road to democracy. In the wake of Nur Otan’s crushing victory Astana is soaking up the plaudits for moving from a one-party parliament to a multi-party one with room being made in parliament for two other parties.

But hang on a minute, this is hardly Myanmar or some such place we’re discussing here. The one-party parliament only came about as no other party was able to exceed the seven percent threshold in 2007’s election. In 2004 Kazakhstan had a multi-party parliament with five political forces represented, including an earlier incarnation of Ak Zhol when it was a genuine opposition party, although it only took up its seat after a split in the party. So is this really a step forward?

Now the president’s party Nur Otan is being kept company by the latest model of Ak Zhol and The Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan (not to be confused with the outlawed Communist Party of Kazakhstan). We have a very cosy little parliament with Ak Zhol a pro-business party, the split-off commies on the left and the center dominated by the party of power. Both the newcomers are pro-presidential – no statements were made in the election campaign to suggest otherwise.

In fact, very few issues were mentioned in the campaign anyway. The elephants in the corner – terrorism and industrial unrest were kept off the agenda and the massacre in Zhanaozen was deftly spun by the state-controlled media as being down to mysterious ‘third forces’ and oil company executives mishandling the situation.

That these two new arrivals are sham opposition parties is not under discussion in Astana – it is enough for the spin doctors and window dressers to merely be able to provide a semblance of a functioning democracy to the outside world.

Real power remains in the hands of one man – no matter how many parties are represented in parliament be they sham or genuine opposition, it remains a toothless, rubber-stamp body that carries out the orders of the executive without question.

The people of Kazakhstan deserve better from their leaders and from their nascent democracy.


Kazakhstan Election 2012: Venal’s View

17 Jan

Kazaxia has received the following contribution from Britain’s Lord Venal, who was recently in Kazakhstan to observe the parliamentary elections.

I’ve just returned to Venal Towers after another successful observation trip to Kazakhstan (kindly subsidised by Kleptys Oil and Gas (KOG)) and I’d like to share my positive feelings that the election has left me with.

First off I’d like to offer my hearty congratulations to Kazakhstan as it enters an exciting new phase of multi-party democracy. The election itself was very well-managed and went off without a hitch in this vast country that straddles both Europe and Asia.

It was an early start on the Sunday as I was ferried to the nearest polling station from my diggings at the splendid Rixos Hotel. Polling was sluggish in the morning session, but that came as no surprise to me as Sundays are always slow to get off the ground in the Venal household. By the time my minder from KOG suggested a spot of lunch at 12.30 turnout was a somewhat low 6.9%.

After a splendid lunch – hospitality is something that Kazakhstan excels at – I was feeling a bit woozy so I retired to my suite for a quick power snooze. By the time I got back to the polling station at 18.30 there had been a surge in voter activity and the turnout stood at an impressive 79.1%.

The last 90 minutes of voting passed by quickly as we cracked open a few bottles of bubbly to celebrate a good day’s work. Then it was off to the KOG post-election party at a secret location where representatives of Kazakhstan’s high and mighty were schmoozed until the early hours.

When one has been observing elections as long as I have, one sometimes thinks that one has seen it all, but this election threw up a few surprises even for me. As I mentioned in my earlier report from the Presidential election last April, Kazakhstan has a splendid tradition of giving presents to senior citizens and first-time voters – take note Britain!

Some other innovations that could well prove popular in Britain included ‘carousel voting’ where the voters are taken by mini bus to different polling stations and ‘family voting‘ where a representative votes for all the family members.

My only regret is that the next elections in Kazakhstan will not be until 2016. But with KOG’s new contacts made at the post-election bash, I’m sure I will be visiting these shores again in the not too distant future.

(Editor’s note: Lord Venal is a contributor to this blog and his views are not necessarily those of Kazaxia) 

Kazakhstan Goes to the Polls

11 Jan

Lord Venal has interrupted his winter break to share his thoughts on Kazakhstan’s upcoming parliamentary elections with Kazaxia.

Kazakhstan prepares for the rush of voters

Kazakhstan’s big day is getting ever closer and I have decided to cut short my winter break in the Maldives and share my thoughts on the latest developments in the land of Abay. It’s been quiet in the Maldives this year anyway as the boisterous Kazakh contingent was conspicuous by its absence after allforeign travel for officials was banned in the light of the troubles in Zhanaozen.

I have been keeping a close eye on events in Kazakhstan. After the unrest in the west some observers suggested postponing the elections and it was even mooted to cancel the vote in Zhanaozen, which is still under lockdown, but the Leader wisely pooh-poohed this idea. It is important at this troubling time that the people get out to the polling booths and put their support behind Nur Otan and the other party that will be in parliament to maintain peace and stability in the country. The banning of troublemaker opposition candidates such as Bolat Abilov and Gulzhan Yergaliyeva can only be for the good of the country as a whole.

I found a copy of Jonathan Aitken‘s latest work Kazakhstan and Twenty Years of Independence: Surprises and Stereotypes After 20 Years of Independence in my Christmas stocking and have been dipping into it with relish. Recent events in Kazakhstan suggest that maybe Jeffrey Archer, that other disgraced former Tory MP who has done time in prison, would have been a better choice to pen something about the country with his prolific fiction writing skills. I hope Akorda was happy with the present I sent – a copy of Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, which has some interesting ideas for contemplation.

2012 will be an exciting year for Anglo-Kazakh co-operation, especially with Tony Blair advising Astana. Next time I speak in the house I will highlight some business opportunities I have uncovered for British firms. With at least 16 people killed and scores wounded in Zhanaozen on 16 December there would appear to be a gap in the market for some non-lethal riot control materials such as water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas. Britain’s long experience in Northern Ireland has made it a world leader in the production of riot control gear and this golden opportunity to assist Kazakhstan should not be missed.